The recent spate of critiques against activism brought about by the violence at the SONA rally – one by the way, that could’ve been avoided had PNoy himself told Bistek to allow the rally as it has been allowed all these years – is not just a bandwagon bias against street protests per se (because you know, it gets so traffic right?), or activism in general (there are other ways of helping nation, you know). Neither is it just unconscious redbaiting (jail the communists!) or love for our policemen (because, yeah right!).
At the heart of this discussion made larger and gone longer than most, one that has revealed how superficial Pinoy discourse – within and beyond social media – can be, is happiness and contentment. At the heart of this discussion is the notion of positivity, if not the need for it. Being critical is a negative by default.
At the height of the SONA rally for example (at around 1:20 PM), filmmaker Pepe Diokno tweeted: “Tell me what you’re rallying for, not what you’re rallying against. That’s how you message for <sic> this generation.”
It surprised me only because it’s always clear to me that at the core of any rally at all is what we stand for alongside what we stand against. If this is a measure of how Diokno’s generation thinks, then it seems that it is not a matter of getting the message across, as it is the refusal to get the message. Worse, it might not even be about the message, as it is about whether it’s being delivered positively or not.
No wonder it’s become easy to turn racist against the activist Thomas Van Beersum; he was an angry white man screaming at our policeman, and there’s no positive in that. Never mind that his mere existence on our streets is a question for us: why were we not there with him?
What a negative question that’s also way too critical. We do not know to answer questions like that truthfully anymore. Instead we fall back on the question: what right does this white activist have to talk about my nation? Layered now with the positive message of nationalism, no matter how superficial, we accept these assertions, and redbait for good measure. It is easy, and motherhood statements are always things we want to hear.
Throw in old journalism’s pretend-new media site’s predisposition to publish pieces that will certainly gather hits, because it is agreeable with the general opinion of Pinoy social media, and you’ve got words that could be part of PNoy’s next SONA. An OFW talks about having lived in poverty, having been evicted from his apartment, having to deal with informal settlers, having suffered in a family that had a grandfather for a political prisoner during Martial Law.
He gladly mentions that he has never walked the streets in protest, and wonders why Thomas has to do that. Of course this man’s freedom to speak at this point, is borne of countless Filipinos who have gone to the streets in protest, and kicked Ferdinand Marcos out. But we like to forget that.
In fact, we like to forget the many instances in which street protest has done this nation good. We like to forget how activism has brought about most every law there is that protects our rights as citizens, as workers. Your weekends, your eight-hour days, your maternity and paternity leaves, your overtime pay. Your right to vote!
I could go on and on, and show you positivity like no other. But this is not what you want to hear about activism at all, and as such all this would fall on deaf ears. The truth is, Pinoy social media discourse is one that has proven itself to conveniently echo what government thinks of criticism: that is we question why there must be critics, versus actually engaging the questions they raise and giving them some answers.
Now, of course, the every man is not expected to do that; and we don’t expect Diokno and everyone on social media, least of all old journalism pretending to be new media, to even know to engage those questions. But certainly it is an expectation we must have of our politicians, Bam Aquino included.
The presidential cousin turned senator, who has nothing on his platform but motherhood statements about youth engagement and social entrepreneurship, was recently quoted to have said that there is more for the youth to do than just “voicing <their> opinions in protest.” According to the presidential cousin, “It’s not enough to just voice our opinions. The biggest challenge is going from voicing your opinion to going toward working in communities where you’re actually changing people’s lives.” And he was not done: “We’re never too young to contribute to society. We’re never too young to take that challenge and say, ‘I’m ready to join the development process.”
The question of course for Bam is: what development? That premise in itself is problematic, isn’t it, because he will be hard put to explain how exactly social entrepreneurship means development, when it doesn’t effect fundamental change, as all it does is merely fill in for what it is that government fails to provide for its citizens. Social entrepreneurship, lest we forget, is also about profit. Bam is just in the business of selling the positive; he has yet to be asked the more difficult questions such as, again, what development, and development for whom.
Ah, but we don’t like difficult questions, do we? We like things easy and simple, we’d like to think positive about government’s foibles and nation’s travails. As such it is easier to gang up on activists and dismiss them as nuisances that are not of this time – things have changed after all, we are not under Martial Law, as Commission on Human Rights chief Etta Rosales likes to say – and there is no reason to be so grim and determined.
And yet it is is precisely this insistence, that protest is passé, that should give us all reason to do it. Because the most dangerous thing about the enterprise of positivity is its falsity; the scariest thing is the silence that it breeds, the one that teaches people not to complain, lest you be called unproductive.
On the road to Tiaong Quezon, where Maharlika Highway became a parking lot that we were stuck in for two hours, we wondered why no one was honking their horns. We had no idea what was going on, and the security guards of SM San Pablo were certainly making things worse, but it was so quiet. I realized then that we do not know to complain anymore, we take the hours that we lose on the road, a road that should be a basic service, and we think it but part of living in a nation that refuses to care for our needs.
Now we will be told by positivity to spin that and think instead: see, Filipinos are such a happy people, they do not complain.
But we will be told by truthfulness and honesty, we should be pushed by the task of critical thought, to think about what the smiling and silent Filipino stands for, and not take it as good enough. Because that happiness is about conceding to the state of things, no matter how unacceptable, regardless of how unjust. What positive spin limns over is the need for fundamental change, the fact that that is still possible.
Now, of course, if as far as we’re concerned this system works, and like the presidential cousin Bam we think that development is ongoing, then there is every reason to color this nation happy. You’d be living in a bubble though, but then so does government.
*because The Times’s website has been unreliable today, am posting this here. it’s August 1’s Opinion piece.