Today, indigenous people, peasants, and human rights groups among others, protested in front of the United States (US) Embassy as they call for the pullout of military troops that have inflicted harassment to thousands of lumads and farmers and have been instruments for the continuing land-grabbing incidents in many regions in Mindanao. They also showed their support to the seeming anti-US pronouncements of Pres. Rodrigo Duterte. They were there to save the lives of what make up the majority of the Filipino people and, ultimately, to save the country from the hands of the imperialist U.S. But their call was responded to by a violent dispersal.
Just as their protest was about to end, a police van ruthlessly ran over the protesters, as if injuring them, tear-gassing them, and blasting water cannons at them were not enough to show the nonexistence of their regard to the masses.
This is not an unusual case in the country. It can be remembered how farmers were welcomed by bullets in Kidapawan as they asked for rice assistance after they were affected by drought. Even more violent was how farmers were killed and wounded by anti-riot forces in the unforgettable Mendiola Massacre that took place after they called for land reform. With this constant ruthlessness, rallyists may express that they are used to police violence. But this should ultimately not be the case.
In our present state, the only time that a marginalized group feels empowered is when it takes to the streets the grievances of its members. Our current policies drag them down to the bottom of the hierarchy (which, in the first place, should have never existed), and as they attempt to lift themselves by speaking up, they are silenced violently.
In the eyes of the uninformed, these “noisy” protesters deserve a “lesson”. But these “noisy” protesters are the same people who toil their lands they cannot own in exchange for wages that could not even sustain their families’ needs; who are forced to leave their own homes exploited by self-serving mining industries; whose children cannot step inside the classroom without the threat of being labelled as insurgents; who, for many times, in different ways, have tried and tried to tell the government of their unfortunate situations as many of us rest comfortably in our homes, enjoying the system that favors those who can ‘afford’ justice. What, then, can justify the “lesson” that these “noisy” progressive groups are getting every time they open their mouths and lift their fists?
Pres. Duterte himself has spoken up against the atrocities that the US government has inflicted to us, and many Filipinos support him. Now, it’s time to support the groups that, for a long time, has been making the same call and has been directly experiencing the same sufferings. As Ateneans, it is time to live up what is taught to us over and over by the Jesuits: social justice.
The real heroes here are not armed men in uniforms. The real heroes are those stand up for their rights despite continuous oppression, those who reveal the realities in our society, those who fight. To serve. To protect.