“Makibaka! ‘Wag matakot!” is a cry that has been heard for decades as activists who march on the streets time and again express their resistance against a system that they feel has failed the people. One of the biggest ripple of activism in history is the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution, often touted as a spontaneous—and bloodless—revolution that was borne out of 21 years of dictatorship. But contrary to popular belief, resistance had long simmered in the countryside before it erupted in the streets of EDSA, where countless activists were tortured, murdered, or simply disappeared.
(Fight! Don’t be scared!)
It is in these injustices that the National Democracy Movement (NatDem) traces its roots. With ideals spanning long before the 60s, the movement tackles three fundamental problems: the feudalism that has continually displaced and marginalized farmers and indigenous communities, the imperialism that has shackled the Philippines to colonial masters, and the bureaucrat capitalism that only serves the interest of the few.
It is with these pillars that the movement—and the various organizations that adhere to its principles—strives to break the wheel. But above all, they believe in the power of the masses to shape and change the country.
The friction of resistance
Activists, with their cleverly crafted placards and rousing slogans, are often branded as antagonistic individuals devoted to causing social disorder—a problem rather than the solution. Reeya Beatrice Magtalas (III, EED-ECED), chairperson of Kabataan Partylist-DLSU, remarks how they are often regarded as a bunch of unproductive complainers whereas, in truth, activists merely demand accountability from the government.
She recalls her experience during one of the rallies that she attended, “Mayroong mga dumadaan na [ibinababa] ang bintana ng kanilang kotse upang sabihin na wala namang kuwenta ang ginagawa namin. Mag-aral na lang [daw] kami.” This is a familiar criticism usually thrown at youth activists.
(There were people in cars passing by who would stop just to tell us that what we’re doing was pointless. They told us to just go back to studying instead.)
But as Trisha Ann Tarun, a student from the University of the Philippines Manila (UP Manila) and the chairperson of Gabriela Youth-UP Manila, points out, the essence of having a formal education is to use it to uplift the circumstances of the people in the country, highlighting the role of the youth in activism. She further adds, “We either become part of the liberation process or we become tomorrow’s perpetrator of oppression and tyranny.”
Aside from the camaraderie found within their ranks, NatDem organizations continually make efforts to go beyond their own bubble; “lumubog sa masa” is a common saying, emphasizing the need to amplify the voices of the marginalized sectors in the Philippines. Magtalas expresses, “Hindi naman nagsisimula at nagtatapos ang gawain ng mga aktibista sa pag-rally lang.”
(Immerse with the masses.)
(Being an activist is more than just attending rallies.)
These organizations educate the public regarding social issues and their inherent rights. But most importantly, they advocate for and help draft progressive policies and laws, ensuring that the concerns of the masses are considered by Congress when passing bills. These concerns reflect their countless interactions with their partner communities.
Solidarity in action
An activist’s journey may be a road less traveled, but it’s far from a solitary path. More than just advocacy-driven movements, NatDem organizations are tight-knit communities who share similar passions. Tarun remembers protests where she and her fellow activists have to sprint under the rain just to catch up with the rest of the protestors—a mark of dedication and camaraderie.
While activists unwaveringly fight for justice and equality, the community eventually becomes their own family during this endeavor; a place
where they can air out their personal troubles and receive unconditional support. Josh Valentin (II, AB-POM), chairperson of Anakbayan-Vito Cruz, explains how even the mundane parts of protests become essential means to bond with one’s fellow activists. “[During] commutes and convenience store visits, [we would] talk about things like the political situation and even joked about memes at some point.”
Tarun admits that the process can get overwhelming but it’s the community that allows her to continue the good fight. “A simple ‘laban tayo’ and knowing I have these brave people with me definitely helps me keep going and sane,” she shares.
(Let us fight.)
Nowadays, even speaking up may be dangerous as the act of red-tagging can be used carelessly especially with the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 in effect. Citing a journal by an international non-government organization,
Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen writes that red-tagging occurs when someone is accused of being communists or terrorists and is thus labeled as a threat or an enemy of the state.
Organizations like the Kabataan Partylist face unprecedented threats not just online but in real life where tarpaulins and flyers bearing activists’ faces plastered all over some cities. The growing danger comes at the wake of the Anti-Terrorism Law, and the slayings of human rights defenders Randy Echanis and Zara Alvarez, who were named in a “terrorist” list in 2018.
However, to label activists as “terrorists” dismisses them as stereotypically hostile and misleads the public to easily overlook the advocacies the movement fights for. Doing so strips these activists of their humanity and misrepresents their principles, as they become hounded by a distorted public image. Despite this, they remain undaunted. Tarun points out that by giving in to fear, one is effectively silenced by the oppressors. “So, rather than fear, we try to be cautious and just continue our fight.”
Another challenge that NatDem organizations face is cultivating a sense of urgency among those who remain indifferent in the wake of blatant injustices. As Tarun emphasizes, “Paano ipapaliwanag sa masa kung bakit sila naghihirap? Paano ipapakita at ilalapit sa bituka ng tao itong mga malalang nangyayari sa bansa natin?”
(How do we explain to the masses why they are suffering? How do we show and make them feel the severe issues that are happening in our country?)
Empowering people of their vital role to solving our national issues and identifying the root causes of our society’s problems is essential to the NatDem Movement—which ultimately, draws its strength from manifesting the power of people to create an impact for the collective good. For Tarun, this means that the true heroes are the masses that fight for a better world, and not them. “We are not the people’s ‘saviors’. True solidarity is seeing the people as our equals and therefore carrying out the fight with them,” she says.