[OPINION] When each night could be our last

Since March 7, each night in Southern Tagalog has been tough.

There is an inexplicable, yet almost tangible, sense of fear among citizens across this region, especially among activists like myself. The show of violence that has marred Southern Luzon – nine martyred activists at first, turned 10 in three weeks’ time – made most, if not all, of us ask the question:

Could this night be our last? 

The tenth activist slain in Southern Tagalog died around the same time I was supposed to prep for my research defense the following day. All I should have been thinking about then were the theoretical assertions and graphical explanations our group would use for the defense proper — but then the news broke out, in the same way word of the Bloody Sunday killings had been shared.

Pang Dandy was a name all-too-familiar to me, as it was to many other activists and unionists in Laguna. I had interacted with Pang Dandy several times, whenever I visited workers’ strikes or attended mobilizations before the pandemic struck. To me, Pang Dandy was more than the Dandy Miguel featured in recent headlines. He was flesh and soul – a worker who had high hopes for his family, his co-workers, and his country. He was more than a casualty.

Now, he is a martyr.

Three days after Bloody Sunday, Rappler came out with a feature on how the activists in our region marched on after the massacre. Pang Dandy was the first in that piece to share what he had felt. Upon reading the story again hours after death squad killers had murdered him, his words had become electrifying:

“Kinabahan ako, syempre natakot, kasi kabi-kabila. Sinabihan ako ng aking kasamahan na umalis muna ako ng bahay.”

Pang Dandy uttered this after several of his comrades in the trade union movement were arrested, and after nine from the progressive movement in the region were killed. He couldn’t have been more prophetic about his violent fate. But now, with reality starting to sink in, Pang Dandy’s words have reached their heaviest.

As with all activists throughout this country who have been harassed, detained, or killed since Rodrigo Duterte assumed the presidency, Pang Dandy, too, was red-tagged. As Emmanuel “Manny” Asuncion was. As Esteban Mendoza and Mags Camoral, also trade unionists, were. As Reynaldo Malaborbor was. 

Pang Dandy was the tenth activist killed in Southern Luzon according to the media, but there have been more. Before the 10, two farmers had been killed in Kalayaan, Laguna. A barangay captain known to be sympathetic with activists had also been killed. A man named Reynaldo Malaborbor had been shot dead in the same manner as Pang Dandy was gunned down: while he was headed home.

It’s not the violence that keeps many of us awake at night, nor is it the brazenness with which these killings and detentions are being conducted. It’s the uncertainty that this spate of attacks brings that makes us more anxious, careful, and downtrodden. To hear one activist imprisoned, much more killed, in line with their advocacy is already demoralizing in itself — how much more demoralizing would it be, then, if 9 of them were killed at the same time?

The trepidation over whether this night, or tomorrow night, or the next day’s night, would be our last is the pebble under every activist's shoe since Bloody Sunday occurred. And to think that we are not even criminals, like Duterte’s own drug lord friends and corrupt political allies.

No matter how valiant an activist you may be, when the threat of murder looms over your consciousness, fear will kick in. Many of us, including myself, have had a hard time catching up on sleep.

Would I be next on the list? Who would be next? Would it be someone I knew personally, yet again?

I write this piece at three in the morning, around the same time state forces swooped into the offices and homes of activists in Southern Luzon three weeks ago. I write this not only as an activist, but more so as a campus journalist. I write this as a form of outrage over the senseless killings of activists. I write this with a heavy heart, thinking of how I had shared a coffee, a laugh, a passion for our people, with these selfless citizens. I write this with fear, and despite fear, that it could be my name next stricken off this regime’s execution list, that the next volley of gunfire would pierce my heart.

Nevertheless, we will rage on. – Rappler.com

Karl Patrick Suyat is a campus journalist, writer, and activist in Southern Luzon. Currently, he is a convenor of the Youth Movement Against Tyranny-Laguna and works as a provincial staffer for the College Editors Guild of the Philippines-Laguna.