It was in early August when I was asked to be convenor of the Movement Against Tyranny (MAT), a multi-sectoral gathering of various groups and individuals who are taking a stand against the killings, the state of tyranny, and the return of dictatorship.
Admittedly, I was hesitant about saying yes. I was not part of any organization, and was being invited primarily as independent writer. At this point I had already resigned my column with The Manila Times, which I realized afterwards was a security blanket I didn’t ask for — I was rarely the target of pro-government trolls and propagandists, and I would be told by a highly reliable source that it’s because the paper is considered “kakampi.”
While I was deciding on whether or not to say yes to MAT, Kian delos Santos was killed by policemen, adding to the thousands dead in the war on drugs. The Cultural Workers’ Statement (dated August 20) was written, gained traction, and has since gathered 1,279 signatures (and counting) from cultural workers across advertising, TV, film, theater, music, dance, visual arts, education, journalism, writing, comics, graphic design, social sciences. People I didn’t expect would put their names on that statement, actually did. There was hope, I thought.
I also took it as a sign that I should say yes to MAT. After all if 1,200 artists dared put their names on a statement taking a stand against these killings and the culture of violence, does that not demand of me to do the same for a broader, larger coalition that stands against the same things?
The good surprise was that many of the convenors were also individuals, un-affiliated and independent: Senator Rene Saguisag, CMFR’s Vergel Santos, UP Chancellor Michael Tan, Audie Gemora, Mae Paner, among others. The first signatories to the petition were also individuals from across the sectors, including the cultural sector. At the launch of MAT, it was clear that while we were all coming from various sectors, that what we were uniting on was far bigger and more important than whatever differences we might have.
The same remains true, I’d like to think, given the different groups that have stood against these killings and the return of dictatorship (such as Block Marcos), and the recently launched Tindig Pilipinas. The thing is, it’s clear to me — and I think to a majority of us who are not part of any organization or any political-ideological divide — that the only person who benefits from divisiveness is Duterte. We know it, because he had tried to feed that divide late last week, when he was trying to spin the September 21 protest. We know it because Mocha etal insist on only seeing issues in terms of Dilaw vs Duterte, or (recently) Left vs Duterte, because it’s easier to always only discuss things in terms of black and white, either-or.
Yet if there’s anything these killings and the drug war, the human rights violations and the moves towards dictatorship have revealed, it’s that there’s a bigger collective of citizens who are un-organized, un-affiliated, but just as disgusted, dismayed, and angry at the current state of violence, and just as ready to take a stand and put in the work towards ensuring that these moves towards dictatorship are met with protest every step of the way, and the killing of the poor in the name of the drug war is stopped.
I am one of these individuals, and I’ve decided that I will go beyond differences political and personal, and be the first to reach out to people who are on the same side of this battle. I’ve said this before, and I say it again: we do not need to like each other in order to unite on issues. We only need to agree that some issues are bigger than us and our differences.
Right now, that bigger issue is this government systematically stepping on our basic rights, condoning the killing of thousands of Filipinos in official police operations, watching as thousands more die in summary executions. The bigger issue is Congress, doing all it can so Duterte can get away with everything and murder, serving everything to the President on a silver platter, arguably in exchange for ensuring charter change and federalism which will mean more power for these Congress Reps we should so despise.
The bigger issue is one Duterte, who has normalized violent, homophobic, misogynist rhetoric, who insists that brutality and bloodshed are routine, who threatens us with repression and creates a culture of fear.
For the past 15 months, we have systematically been losing our rights, one by one.
The past 15 months, I’ve come to realize that writing is not enough, that sitting in front of my computer, doing research, studying documents, in order to write essays, is not enough. It is but part of the bigger battle that can only be won out on the streets, with other individuals and groups who stand where I do against this culture of violence Duterte has built.
This battle can only be won with unity. But maybe yes, let’s start by actually having better conversations, outside of troll discourse, beyond long-existing differences, and personal gripes. And yes, go out an protest on Thursday, hopefully I see you in Luneta, and we can start that conversation there.
It’s what these times demand. We should rise to the occasion.