“The history book on the shelf is always repeating itself.” This is a notion that has been said over and over again. The booms of gunfire, shackled jingles of prison chains, the united chorus of war calls. A rich history of the Philippines, often just remembered through the pages of history books stacked up on a dusty bookshelf. With burning hearts so pure of justice, Filipinos have always stood their ground to fight for what they ought to be right, from the times of colonization up to the present.
A battle for justice and equality continues to loom over the country, though we may not see it from the glazed glass of our modernity and innovative society. Take a stand on school dress codes! Discrimination be tossed away! Never again, never forget! Familiar cries? Indeed, these are our new war cries in the time of modernity. As we walk through the city streets, we often catch the signal tune of a megaphone or perhaps a loud chanting band somewhere; our eyes are then greeted with posters and signs, all advocating for a truth adorned by advocacy groups.
But every now and then, we may have already experienced questioning as to why these individuals go to such lengths to fight for what they believe in. To give the public a clear push, or maybe a shove, with their call to action.
In 1903, the first recorded protest happened in the Philippines, The Union Obrera Democratica de Filipinas’ case, the first laborer’s union in the country to argue the eight-hour workday and the recognition of May 1 as the public holiday that we all know today, Labor Day. The benefits that come with the fight, however, always have a mask adorned, or instead, it is merely one face of a coin that is the personification of justice. While activism presents itself as a solid act of democracy’s presence, the unmistakable existence of cruelty and injustice stands.
A Rappler article revealed that during Duterte’s presidency, many protesters and activists who ramped up their criticism against the government’s decisions and problematic policies were faced with harassment and threats. What’s worse is that the shadow of death looms above them. On March 7, 2021, at least nine activists were killed by police and military officials, earning it the nickname of “Bloody Sunday”. Documented by the rights group Karapatan, the numbers continue to rise, with 421 killings from 2021 since July 2016, 504 recorded frustrated killings, and the detention and arrest of over 1,138 activists over the past six years. With this number of cases against activists, the notion is: Just how many of these numbers were actual cases of bringing upon justice and retribution? How many innocent people were tagged as terrors of peace?
As a person from the outside looking in, the situation seems less dire and more trivial at times, but the shoes of an activist tell a different story, a narrative that is often unseen and or purposely ignored. A college student named Grace shared her experience with Atenews regarding red-tagging. Grace introduced herself as an average student who utilizes her acquired skills and talents for the good of those she swore her life to. She is also a proud student activist, advocating for change and freedom. Still, this does not make her a stranger to red-tagging in her line of work.
“The way I see it, red tagging is a form of intimidation and [is] used as a way of silencing those who speak out against their regime. And yes, it is easy for us activists to be red-tagged..”
According to Advox (2023), red tagging is the act of labeling or accusing activists as “communist fronts,” communists-terrorists,” or “communist sympathizers”. Grace emphasized that the previous administration has strengthened red-tagging by issuing Executive Order (EO) 70, which emphasizes and empowers the regulations, policies, programs, and mechanisms for the so-called promotion of peace directed by the National Task Force. However, this EO enabled red-tagging, allowing the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (ELCAC) to openly redtag activists.
Although Grace did not personally experience red-tagging, she saw friends, acquaintances, and fellow activists who saw the consequences of red-tagging. Some were threatened, some could not leave their own houses and schools, and even worse, killed.
In 2020, a human rights defender and land rights activist named Randall “Randy” Echanis was found dead in his hometown. In 2018, Angelo Karo Guillen, an advocate against anti-terrorism law and counsel for indigenous people in many cases, was accused as a member of the terrorist group New People’s Army, with his photography being disseminated in Iloilo City, framing him as a terrorist. Two years after the incident, two men stabbed him while he was getting out of his car. In 2022, over four journalists were killed, one of them being Percival “Lapid” Mabasa. Mabasa dedicated his life to journalism, exposing government dishonesty under Duterte and Marcos Jr’s administrations. In October 2022, Mabasa was shot near his home.
The Line Between Activism and Terrorism
In a country where political activists are tagged as communists or leftists, when does one draw the line between activism and terrorism?
According to the United Nations, terrorism is the act of doing criminal acts—including those directed against civilians—with the intent to kill, seriously hurt, or kidnap someone to incite terror in public, among a specific group of people, or both, intimidate a populace, or coerce a government or international organization to carry out an act or refrain from acting. Derived from the word “act,” the Council of Europe defines activism as a movement that actively advocates for change, usually concerning social or political issues. The difference there exists, though it could easily be blurred, perhaps by societal design or inter-political conflicts. Grace revealed one of the key ideas that is part of the spirit of activism.
“It is true that it is a misconception that an activist is a terrorist. However, if we look at it properly, activism and social movements exist because the state no longer respects the democratic rights of its citizens.”
Consequently, this brings us to the infamous Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020. The Senate passed the Act with the aim of “preventing and halting” terrorist attacks within the country, focusing on individuals identified as having a higher likelihood of joining recognized terrorist groups or engaging in such activities. However, the vagueness and subjectivity of the definitions of the law still stir arguments, criticisms, and controversies alike. Its imposed benefits and danger could be easily tipped from one scale to another, making the act seemingly easy to misinterpret and manipulate. CNN Philippines wrote in an article that because of these vague methodologies written in the act, several reports of activist organizations cried out that this bill would only further blur the already fine line between activism and terrorism, therefore serving as a way or an excuse to legalize violence and hostility towards acts of activism and activists.
If we open our history books, we see yet another victim of this said subjectivity on what it means to be a terror of peace. The cries and praises of Filipinos cannot even save a national hero, Andres Bonifacio. The Father of the Philippine Revolution is a name that he has carried with him even to his afterlife, the burden of changing reality as he still balances it on his shoulders. Even before founding the Katipunan or Kataastaasan, Kagalanggalangang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan, he had already seen what he must do for the sake of his countrymen. Hundreds of years of being in the Spanish rule’s shackles made him thirst for freedom that not even Dr. Jose Rizal could stand for, completely breaking free from everything the Spaniards had drilled into the motherland.
What started as a silent group protest turned into a revolutionary movement, with the Katipunan spreading far and wide all across the country, reaching the ears and consciousness of the higher-ups. Enraged by this self-proclaimed act of democracy, the group was victim to a coup. While Emilio Aguinaldo was hesitant and restrained in the retribution of the Katipunan and Bonifacio, the pressure and labeled tagging from the higher-ups gave him an ultimatum. In the end, under the false pretext of treason, Andres Bonifacio was executed in the mountains of Cavite, leaving a devastating blow to the Katipunan but never wavered their hearts’ resolve. Today, at this age, we celebrate Bonifacio’s sacrifice every November 30. Unlike most Philippine heroes, Bonifacio Day falls under his birthday instead of his death day on May 10, which stems from the shame and the painful mysteries of his death (READ: The death of Andres Bonifacio).
The Call for Revolution
As activism is commonly misunderstood in the country, one cannot deny that revolution has significantly contributed to nation-building. The country has experienced a long history of activism, from attaining independence and freedom amidst colonizers, dating back to Andres Bonifacio’s courageous act to defend the masses, to modern activism’s People Power Revolution against martial law.
Given the different unsettling consequences activists encountered, activists in the country remained undaunted and unfettered to express their views and opinions, opting to achieve a better life not for their benefit but for the hope of marginalized Filipinos.
In an article by Domar Balmes, opposing the government is not the objective of activism. Activism motivates the youth to actively examine the reality to find analysis of the injustices and inequality; and if the government fails to attend to the people’s necessities, then it is the duty of the people to demand their supposedly given rights by engaging in dialogue or by direct action.
Our duty as responsible citizens is to respond actively to the issues our country faces, with technology at constant advancement and resources present on the internet. Any materials are readily available to stay informed and educated about the current realities. However, knowing something is wrong is not enough; one must do something about it and stand against the injustices brought about by the tyrants. Through the same objectives, one can opt for the best possible solutions to current social, economic, and political issues, such as crime, corruption, social injustices, increasing poverty and damaging economy, and agricultural and food insecurity. By amplifying the voices of the unheard, engaging, and aiding the marginalized community, one can solidify the practice of our rights.
Ultimately, as we commemorate the birth of our hero, Andres Bonifacio, may we remind ourselves that the freedom and independence we experience today stem from the blood and sweat of the former revolutionists and activists who fought for our country,