#‎PaintTheirHandsBack and #‎MoroLivesMatter: Common ground

Nery N. Ronatay
Two seemingly sincere social media campaigns share more than just a common cause to highlight the issues of those marginalized by the majority of society

In unpacking power relations, we start by acknowledging that our privilege is tied to someone else’s oppression. If we look deeper, one’s oppression is a thread criss-crossing another oppression to form a fabric of social injustice, an essential garment for human cruelty and misery.

Such is the juxtaposition of  #PaintTheirHandsBack and #MoroLivesMatter in the social media recently. The former is a cry of indignation for defacing the interlocking hands of two gay men in a Bench billboard, the other is calling out the abjection of the Moros who died in an unfortunate encounter that saw the valorization of the SAF 44.

Like a lemon on an ulcer, it was revealed that the billboard wasn’t vandalized by a random homophobe but by Bench itself, in acquiescence with a recommendation by the Ad Standards Council who used “traditional Filipino family values” as a reason for rejecting the image of two men holding each other. This tells us homophobia in this country isn’t just an isolated behavior. Instead, it is an industry standard.  


The defacing of LGBT people couldn’t be far from the erasure of the Moro history in our national narrative.

People tend to fear what they don’t understand and easily demonize those whose lives and worldview are different from their moral canvass. If you were following Jennifer Laude’s murder and the Mamasapano encounter, what put them in the same gutter were the toxic and ignorant comments on the internet: some convinced that Jennifer and the Moro people deserved to die violently. 

Randy David described Alan Peter Cayetano’s historical faux pas on Moro history (and Nelson Mandela) as dangerous ignorance. Cayetano’s “ignorance” might have been a deliberate misstep to whip some electoral brownie points, however our ignorance of the Moro history is, actually, socially constructed.

Our earliest history books were published by Western colonizers  who wanted to control the Filipino narrative. This narrative is subjugation. It profited the empire to make the “natives” believe that the occupiers were stronger and superior – hence the more desirable object of loyalty. Those who resisted  being subjugated, specifically the Moros, were labeled juramentados and butchers (iterations of what we label as ‘terrorists’ now). The occupiers mythified their brutality and ignored the natives’ sophisticated mastery of Southeast Asian trade or the image of European and Chinese businessmen bowing down to Sultan Kudarat.  

The dominant Philippine historians were Manila-centric. Do you ever wonder why we knew more about the womanizing ways and laundry receipts of Rizal than the story of Shariff Kabunsuan (which would tell us of the origin of our Arab-Malay links) or of the Jabidah massacre?

Well, someone decided what to include, and exclude, in our history textbooks. Someone also decided which day becomes a holiday and which memorials to disregard. That political decision of inclusion and exclusion is wielded by powers largely concentrated in Manila.

This is the same path how the heteronormative Filipino society decided that non-heterosexual subjects are best excluded in the national discourse. The Spanish machismo, confronted by the political and spiritual influence of early Filipino transgenders, the Babaylans, decided it was convenient to burn them. The deaths of the Babaylans also erased our oral histories that could have linked us to our ancestors beyond our colonial past. 

The stigma and shame around homosexuality in Filipino society remains chronic, long after the American Psychological Association removed homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (1973) and the World Health Organization doing the same in the International Classification of Diseases (1990). The first thing LGBT children learn is to hide their truth.


The struggle to be visible by LGBT people is a thesis tracing how media represented, or misrepresented, their identities: from Dolphy’s Pacifica Falafay to Roderick Paulate’s Petrang Kabayo,and more recently to Vice Ganda.

They were afforded a space but they were placed in a box: just do comedy and queer stuff like talking animals. When LGBTs love stories are made as a drama, one wonders why often a character has to die battling HIV or cancer. Is their love story only valid if it’s presented as a tragedy? It’s as if the media industry tolerates gay people as long as they don’t break away from their thematic prisons.

You bring the same template of interrogations to the Moros in media. Indeed, when was the last time mainstream television and movies presented regular Moro stories? In occasions these are produced , you get a tragic Muslim-Christian love story or an action movie where the Moros are depicted either being in a gunfight or evacuating (Thy Womb is a rare exception). Like LGBT people, Moro stories are reproduced as tragedies.

The LGBT and Moro people shared similar struggles, albeit different paths, against invisibilization in the Philippines. Their histories of discrimination were primarily authored by an empire (Western, white, militarized, “Christian,” patriarchal and heteronormative) who benefit from keeping them “otherized.” These imperial values that reproduced unequal power relations was continued, enabled and guarded by Filipino political elites who profit from normalizing the asymmetry.

So as we defy the oppression heaped on our identity/ies, we may like to see what oppression other Filipinos are fighting against. We might be surprised our enemy is the same oppressor who makes the decision which lives matter less. – Rappler.com

Nery N. Ronatay is a Fellow of the Asian Peacebuilders Scholarship where he took up an MA in Gender and Peacebuilding at the University for Peace in Costa Rica and Ateneo de Manila University. He previously worked in Africa and Asia  and he currently works for a governance program in the Bangsamoro region.

iSpeak is Rappler’s platform for sharing ideas, sparking discussions, and taking action! Share your iSpeak articles with us: move.ph@rappler.com

Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.