Writer’s Recap: Music and advocacy harmonize in Agham Youth’s “Beats Not Bombs”

For International Students Day, youth artists and activists sang and danced along the beats of resistance and hope for the better living conditions of indigenous communities.

Last November 17, Agham Youth National brought the persistent fight against the exploitation and violence inflicted on indigenous people at Beats Not Bombs: The School Supply REVival, a music gig held at Mow’s Bar, Quezon City. A crowd of students, activists, and artists gathered in the spirit of resistance against the militarism and indiscriminate bombings of indigenous schools and ancestral lands.  

Agham Youth Chairperson Ardee Guerrero criticized the wide-scale destruction of indigenous territories, not only in the Philippines but also in the genocidal war launched upon Palestine. “Binobomba nila ang mga kabataan, mga ospital, [at] ang mga unibersidad,” he said, recognizing the young people whose lives were harshly taken away by violence. In commemoration of the International Students Day, Guerrero asserted, “Nakikiisa tayo sa lahat ng kabataang estudyanteng na patuloy na lumalaban sa sistemang mapagsamantala.”     

(They are bombing the youth, hospitals, and universities. We are one with the youth and students who continue to resist the exploitative system.)

Inviting a diverse crowd into a collective experience of musical transcendence, Guerrero encouraged everyone to challenge the discord of our times and stand in solidarity with those whose rights are constantly being stepped on. What transpired after was a spectacle of rhythm and beats that reflected the people’s hopes of achieving a free and just society.

Hymn of the people

The night continued with a mellow set by SeatmateS, a band that emerged in 2020 who made a name for themselves through their pop rock and alternative take on Filipino music. Serenading the audience with their original song Takure, the band woefully captured the attention of the crowd with their hard-hitting lyrics: May pag-asa kaya? Madalas nag-aabang. Mapapansin pa ba?” 

(Is there hope? Always waiting. Will I ever get noticed?) 

Hard Head Collective, a group of local musicians and visual artists, then fired up the room with the catchy beat of HOLDAP!, together with singer-songwriter Sinag from Quezon City. The rap ensemble led the crowd into a compelling chant, “Itaas ang inyong kamay, ang unang magbaba sige mamamatay.”

(Put your hands up, the first one to bring them down will die.)

The collective emphasized that music can shape the socio-political awareness of people amid threats posed by the current political climate. “We have to overcome the fear of oppression and violence kasi hindi natin dapat hayaan na ikahon lang tayo ng mga taong ito, ng gobyerno,” the group proclaimed. Hard Head Collective found purpose in creating music that amplifies the voices of the marginalized and oppressed. 

(Because we should not let these people box us.)

Other musicians like Jon Bonifacio, ladybedspacer, Tema, H.S.T., ACT!, and VITRUM also graced the crowd with their dynamic music and powerful lyrics. Local art merchants and artist collectives like Art Atak, Kaya Tinta, Helga Crafts, and Panday Sining also joined in the fun, proving that art and advocacy are truly interconnected.

The fight for indigenous peoples’ rights continues

In his opening remarks, host KR Abalos, also a member of the Philippine Task Force for Indigenous Peoples’ Rights, emphasized that Beats Not Bombs is more than a music gig; it is a platform to defend the rights of indigenous peoples over their ancestral lands. 

For Abalos, the gig provided a space for the public to understand the dangerous conditions of indigenous groups amid large-scale destructive projects. Mega-dam constructions such as the Kaliwa Dam have displaced 200 families of the Dumagat-Remontados tribe in Quezon, while the OceanaGold Corporation’s gold-copper mine in Nueva Vizcaya has affected the Tuwali tribe due to water depletion and land degradation. 

These operations continue to make the country dangerous for indigenous peoples and environmental activists. The Philippines remains to be the deadliest country in Asia for environmental defenders, according to human rights and environment watchdog Global Witness. Among the 177 defenders that were killed in 2022 globally, 11 were Filipinos, most of which were linked to mining projects. Many of these defenders have been forcibly disappeared due to their resistance. Abalos called for the immediate surfacing of all victims of enforced disappearances, including indigenous peoples’ rights activists Dexter Capuyan and Gene Roz Jamil “Bazoo” de Jesus, who were reported missing in April earlier this year. 

Indigenous peoples are still vulnerable in terms of their recognition by the law. The Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA), despite its provisions to protect ancestral lands and recognize the self-determination of indigenous peoples, still lacks clear guidelines in its policy and implementation. This has provided little safeguard with regard to the peoples’ ancestral domain, preservation of cultural heritage, and even the protection of their basic human rights. 

Seen in this light, Beats Not Bombs hit two birds with one stone: attendees got to enjoy musical performances while showing solidarity with activists and advocates alike. In a resounding call among the crowd, Abalos led the chant with “lupang ninuno”, to which the audience answered with “depensehan, depensahan, ipaglaban!” 

“I’m an indigenous people’s rights advocate and a human rights defender,” Abalos declared. At hindi natin hinihiwalay ang pakikibaka ng mga katutubo sa pakikibaka ng napakalawak na hanay ng masa.”

(We cannot separate the struggle of indigenous people from the struggle of the vast masses.) 

Science for the masses

Amid the crowd’s roaring and glaring chants is an advocacy that necessitated support that was just as loud. Agham Youth National recognizes the use of military-grade weapons—such as wildfire bombs and drones—to ransack the lands that the indigenous population calls home. 

Agham Youth National introduced its Tech4Good campaign, which aims to use science and technology as a means to protect and preserve indigenous communities, providing assistance and relief to those wrongfully stripped of their homes. Its objectives come in line with the five main concerns of science and technology: public utilities, environmental rehabilitation, national industrialization, food security and self-sufficiency, and nationalist, scientific, and mass-oriented culture. Guerrero noted that with the current state of the Philippines, none of the five points are being met. “Nagkakawalaan talaga ng priorities ‘yung state sa pag-address ng mga concerns na ito and it’s [because] the culture [is] more commercial and colonial,” he explained.

(The state’s mishandled priorities are highlighted with the addressing of these concerns and it’s because the culture is more commercial and colonial.)

Guerrero added that the government’s mishandled priorities favor foreign interests instead of its own citizens. For years, foreign conglomerates have been accommodated with their profit-making ventures on Philippine soil; this in turn has targeted many indigenous schools, preventing the youth from accessing proper schooling.

With the alarming effects of these events on indigenous youth, Guerrero urged for a government that would recognize quality education as a basic human right. Through Tech4Good, the organization hopes to call out repressive administrations to make science and technology serve their genuine purpose. 

Beats Not Bombs’ ear-shattering chants and melodic sing-alongs reminded us that when voices go hand-in-hand, a simple message can be heard thousands of miles away. Agham Youth National encouraged everyone to clamor and join them in their fight to make science serve the people and preserve human life. 

Unplugging the mic, the community of reformers—with good music and passionate advocacies—continue to amplify the voices of those silenced in the countryside.

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