Artikulo ni John Toledo
It’s almost a month now since 23 professors from the UP School of Economics hurled harsh criticisms against student demonstrators who reportedly threw coins and placards, and pulled the collar of Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, the spearhead of the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).
Days after the incident, these professors labeled the September 17 activists in their statement as “hooligans” who decries their “hooliganism” on social media, blowing up the university’s honor and becoming “enemies, not of Secretary Abad, but of the university itself.”
Student demonstrators and some UP professors criticized this sensationalism of the protesters as veering away the public’s attention from the real issue which is the lambasting of people’s taxes in the controversial DAP, previously declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
The groups composed of STAND UP, Anakbayan-UP Diliman, Alay Sining, LFS-UP Diliman, CNS-UP Diliman, and Student Christian Movement of the Philippines-UP Diliman, has expressed that Wednesday’s anger is standing up against the unforgivable greed and suffering of each Filipino under the Aquino government.
Significantly, the words “hooliganism” and “protest” drew up some flak and dismay among opposing parties especially in the derogatory labeling of activists done by the mainstream media. These words, used interchangeably, attempts to re-imagine a name for many decades of dissent in the social practice of UP’s student movement. But do these labelers really know the origin and essence of these words?
In the polemics of Philippine society, those who are powerful in institutions would demand and reproduce significant, and most often violent or racist meanings, icons, and labels for a certain group of people.
The power to name brings forth with it the power to represent a common sense or an official distortion of truth. This act of legitimacy is often owned by the State itself and is articulated in various cultural institutions.
Throughout Philippine history, label of a certain group has been inherently unstable from the articulation of the State and its intellectuals holding present institutions such as media, law, families, and universities. Much of this has to do with the fact that in writing our history the dominant actors are themselves the writers too, creating a much distorted representation of the grand narrative of colonial domination in our society.
Grand narratives of Philippine history are those which have been in line with the natural progress of societal struggles, acted by not only the ruling oligarchs and bureaucrats but also by those voices from lower and under class. In reproducing a history, a certain dominant representation of dissenting Filipinos from below comes with a derogatorily labeled identity. The names comes from common use such as bandits or taong labas.
The taga-loob/taga-bayan and taga-labas reveal the opposing statuses in Philippine society, the former are those who readily accepted the acculturation of their bodies into the powers of the West while the latter are those who resisted and maintained their consciousness free from such acculturation.
Yet, these taga-labas are supposedly named and renamed with terms such as tulisan, bandido, ladrones, or masasamang loob from the Spanish colonization until today. All of these were articulated from the State’s perspective and immediately accepted by the taga-bayan. It was always in the bias of the enlightened to side and articulate the ideas of the ruling power, according to historian Frances Gealogo.
Examples in Philippine history were found in the naming of bandido and tulisan such as the peasant revolutionary Macario Sakay, who was one of those who fought for the liberation of the Philippines from American imperial power. He was charged with rebellion under the American colonial regime.
Even the naming of rebels are themselves a State creation as in the case of the peasant revolutionaries in the countryside. The constant media hype of a taong labas, taga-labas, or taga-bundok imagery habituates hatred towards a group that constantly struggled for political, economic, and cultural liberation from imperial powers such as Spain, US, and China.
Derogatory labels, therefore, is not only a name but a being. It is a demon painted by the State as someone who wreaks havoc and discord when in reality; they are only active agents struggling against Philippine poverty and human suffering.
Cases of derogatory labeling on student activists need not move away from the most famous abduction of UP students Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan, for both were accused as communist rebels by the Armed Forces in 2006, when in fact, they were only students immersing and researching in Hagonoy, Bulacan.
Derogatory labels are not new to student activists. It has been so easy for the State and its media to name them: lazy, sick, dirty, red, dogmatic, poor, and hooligans (see sidebar) being the most recent.
Their protest action was popularized by the State media and UP School of Economics professors as an act of havoc. If we are to return and reassess the core of protest, throughout history, student activists have been asserting and witnessing how those who wield dominant power in the society continues to progress in the act of greed and corruption. (see sidebar).
Student protests are therefore an act of resistance that tries to revel and face the dominant power with a huge slap on the face. Sometimes, it tries to stop an emerging discord in the space. One example was on March 2013, when Polytechnic University of the Philippines activists burned their classroom’s chairs to stop an incoming tuition hike. Even the 2010 and 2011 series of mass student protests against budget cuts in UP, signaled the need for Congress to insert extra for the UP budget.
Therefore, there is a need to reassert essential meanings in the war of words, those meanings that are not biased to an exploiting power. The cultural blurring brought by media hype of hooligans could not equal the weight of corruption that continues to exist and persist in government especially in the variations of its essence in daily language.
Who would have wondered in the beauty that words can fight back through words? PDAF, pork barrel, DAP, DAPat Managot. There is a need to reassess political meanings in culture. For whom do these words serve their purpose in reality? ●
References: Thefreedictionary.com; http://www.princeton.edu; http://www.etymonline.com; Google Books Ngram Viewer; Gealogo, Francis “Ang Mga Taong Labas, Ang Kabayanihan, At Ang Diskurso ng Kapangyarihan ng Kasaysayan.” Mga Ideya at Istilo. 123-138.