By Philip Xavier Li
A few days ago, the renovated walls in Manila’s Lagusnilad underpass were again sprayed over with progressive calls: “Presyo ibaba, sahod itaas!” “Atin ang Pinas! US-China layas!” A group of youth artivists known as Panday Sining claimed responsibility for the act as part of their “graffiesta”, sparking public outcry. Public opinion skewed very negatively towards the group’s work, no doubt stoked by Mayor Isko Moreno’s grandstanding threat to make them lick the walls clean. But evidently actions speak louder than words, as much debate centers around the ethics of the group’s actions: why choose an unlawful and crude route to voice their message? Could they not have chosen a “better” way of protesting?
The answer is no. To presume that there is a “right” way to protest is absurd, and to push for as much is a tacit expression of dismissiveness: the idea that if you file a strongly-worded letter in triplicate, have it notarized and submit it to the proper authorities, they might give more than a passing glance to you. Given the fact that under the Duterte regime, journalists, human rights groups and even members of the opposition are either thrown every dirty trick in the book or outright shot dead, the appeal to protest through the right channels comes off as downright farcical.
This contradiction is nothing new. It has existed since the emergence of an increasingly beleaguered proletariat and the repressive state. The people have always fought an uphill battle against a government with a monopoly on the law, propaganda, and violence. The government is given the right to manipulate the law as they see fit to punish dissidents and criminals, the ability to condition society to believe that both are one and the same, and the weapons to enforce their will.
One does not need to look hard to see how these intersect in the government’s favor. You have the people who nominally express sympathy but in the same breath condemn resorting to vandalism – as if the state of some wall in an underpass in a city, really no different than from any wall elsewhere in any city, matters more than the people these activists claim to represent. You have the people who on the surface claim to support them, until they decide to lash out in visceral but ultimately nonviolent ways. More harmful than any acts of violence against a wall are these statements of shallow understanding.
With such a stacked deck, the idea of “proper channels” and “right methods” of protesting is an oxymoron, and the obsession with it is an obstruction to the end-goal of justice and civil rights. We cannot wait until public opinion rectifies itself, for justice delayed is always justice denied. Wait too long: to the point where these problems become too pervasive to ignore, and the marginalized find themselves with their backs to the walls, and social upheaval will become the only choice left, an ultimately nightmarish kind that could have been prevented had we paid attention earlier.
In the end this all pales in the face of a few important questions: is the spirit of the law more important than the letter? Is the presence of negative peace, free of tension, more imperative than positive peace and the presence of justice? Steadfast adherence to a system with a knack for perverting the law is at this point untenable and indefensible. It is our imperative, as future servants of the country, to follow and defend what we know is right, not what we are told. [P]