To better understand the history of Anarchism in the Philippines and the state terror unleashed by Rodrigo Duterte, we spoke with the Bandilang Itim collective. They do incredible work building solidarity, supporting abolitionism & organizing anarchism in the Philippines.
Part one of our conversation can be found below. Read part 2 here.
Asia Art Tours: From this summer of global uprisings, one of the main lessons I took away was the importance of translation. When it comes to Bandilang Itim (a Tagalog translation of ‘Black Flag’) could you let us know (and take as much time as you’d like), historically what are some of the most important abolitionist/anarchist/communist terms that define the leftism of the Philippines?
Butingtaon: With the recent laws passed to supposedly mitigate the effects of the pandemic, I think one term we should be keeping an eye on is “Solidarity,” which we at Bandilang Itim translate as “Bayanihan.” As opposed to the “Patriotism” and “Nationalism” that is constantly being invoked by those in power and those with harmful motives (very often, the same people) to maintain unity with those who continue to exploit the inhabitants of this archipelago we’ve come to call the Philippines; We offer in its place Solidarity, caring for and supporting your fellow human being, recognizing that overcoming your shared weaknesses is how we build our shared strength.
We have more in common with the Black communities in the American Empire, living in fear for their lives every time a cop car comes blaring down their neighborhoods, than with the billionaires and landowners in our own country. We have more in common with Syrian refugees than we do with the career politicians running this country nor with the political dynasties they hail from. We should not allow the State to co-opt the term Bayanihan! And we do that by actually engaging in acts of Bayanihan!
Ponkan: If I had to pick a word to describe the Philippine left today, it’s “trapo.” The biggest folly of local activism has been how much the National Democratic (Nat-Dem) Movement has tried to co-opt and bottleneck all of them towards their singular purpose. Which is ironic; a lot of what we could call social revolutions and other sorts of upheaval in these islands have been brought by the masses who aren’t that invested in the Nat-Dem programme. That monopolistic attitude has stifled any meaningful spontaneous mass movement that could be compared to the global uprisings that we’ve witnessed since 2019!
The Philippine Left is mired in its own tendency to shut its radicalism up to participate in what they denounce as liberal democracy, and they don’t seem eager to shed that radical image as they keep on shooting their movement and every potential activism in the foot in their quest to become the establishment party of the “left.” It’s been said that “you cannot perform activism outside the movement” in a display of ugly vanguardism. Especially in the time where the State is using the pandemic to further their agenda and expand their coffers at everyone’s expense. When a broad call for social resistance gains steam, the “Movement” will undercut it to further their own decaying programme. Fuck that. We need spontaneity. We need decentralized resistance. We need kids acting out their desire towards social change on their own. Not “comprehensive” ideologues inspiring kids towards 10% social work and 90% performative politics.
Poster by Bandilang Itim expressing solidarity between the Philippines movement against their anti-terror law, Hong Kong’s fight for the democracy and an US BLM movement that was brutally suppressed by law enforcement
Asia Art Tours: In contemporary times, what were some of the most important concepts/slang to come out of Filipinx movements that define the struggles of the Philippines?
Lahumbuwan: This is a pretty good opportunity to build upon the previous answers, I think. As Butingtaon points out, you hear words like “Bayanihan” everywhere, but it’s co-opted by the State. Meanwhile, as Ponkan mentions, the Nat-Dems have developled their monopoly on resistance. With that comes their development of their own lexicon, which helps them cement their claims to the legitimacy of their monopoly—but also makes them easily identifiable by State forces.
Questions like this are harder to answer than they appear because the language of struggles in the Philippines is subject to the same challenges mentioned above. There are familiar words that need to be reclaimed—like “Bayanihan”—but there is also a challenge to develop vocabulary outside of the Nat-Dem lexicon. The avenues of resistance in the archipelago must be widened by way of critique, sure. But in the Philippines, it also demands that we (re)imaginine the language we use to refuse domination and the language with which we build alternative methods of organization.
Graphic advocating for anarchist alternatives in the Philippines & for solidarity to the George Floyd movement in the United States.
Asia Art Tours: This summer saw (perhaps) the largest uprising in US history against police violence and Donald Trump. I know that similar discontent has been happening in the Philippines against Rodrigo Duterte and his empowerment of police violence.
Could you tell us from the Philippines, was their significant solidarity or interest in the George Floyd Uprising among Left Filipinx? And if so, how did they try to build or express solidarity?
Lahumbuwan: There was definitely interest in the summer uprisings amongst young people, but not much done to generate a significant sense of solidarity. There were connections made about how the US and the Philippines have police brutality in common, but while we saw abolitionism gain traction in the United States, that call wasn’t heeded by a massive amount of people over here. So again, interest, but not much solidarity.
In fact, one of the more viral infographics that was being circulated at the time was one that trivialized the violence of cops in the US by saying that Philippine cops kill way more people in a year. And while that might be a fact, it was unnecessary to make that specific comparison at that time. This is not to say that such facts should not be brought to light, but rather that we need to do better when showing solidarity with the struggles of those living outside the archipelago.
Magsalin: We are probably experiencing the largest wave of protest against policing globally and here in the Philippines distrust against policing and incarceration is at an all-time high. Indeed as Lahumbuwan said, Filipinos are well aware that Filipino cops are deadlier than the racist American cops just from measuring Duterte’s war on drugs alone.
Generally Filipinos from across the left political spectrum can connect police violence in so-called USA to police violence in the archipelago by comparing criminalization of Black and Indigenous communities there to the criminalization of communities here such as peasant, Indigenous, and urban poor communities. However there is a lack of specifically abolitionist conciousness that questions not merely police conduct but policing itself. Despite the leathality of policing and incarceration in the Philippines there is not yet a demand to abolish policing altogether. There are some Nat-Dems who might say “abolish the Philippine National Police (PNP)” yet still suggest alternatives that keep policing in place in a different form of institution. However the problem is not merely the conduct of police officers; the problem is not merely the institution of the Philippine National Police; the problem is the very notion of policing itself as a social relationship based on control and predicated on violence.
Just in December 2020 yet another high-profile police killing occured where an off-duty cop fatally shot two of his neighbors, a mother and her son. It was revealed that this cop was part of multiple police killing incidents but had all charges of misconduct dismissed. It is clear: this cop killed before. Had not this gruesome murder been videotaped and gone viral, I do not doubt that this cop would have gotten away with these murders too. Like in prior high-profile police killings, there was popular outrage, there was outrage. This time calls to defund or abolish the PNP grew, yet as I mentioned before these models of abolition did not question the very notion of policing and the bolder proposals merely called for a change of guard.
National Democrats, social democrats, and socialists have all failed to articulate a critique of policing itself. I think it is the task of anarchists in the archipelago known as the Philippines to forward a truly emancipatory vision of abolition.
Graphic teaching protest tactics for the Philippines, influenced by protest tactics in Hong Kong.
Asia Art Tours: For the Philippines, does the cult around figures like Marcos or Duterte, mirror or resemble the fascism/white supremacy of a figure like Donald Trump? What does the Far-Right look like in the context of the Philippines?
Malaginoo: There is a real similarity between the tactics and demagoguery of Trump and of Duterte, especially with regard to just how much they rely on social media engagement to mobilize their supporters to harassing opposition members and figures.
Strictly speaking, Duterte is not a fascist in the strictest sense of the word, i.e. nationalism towards the total renewal of society. He is however, a populist that will use repression in all its different forms to prop up political and corporate interests to perpetuate the order of things in the archipelago.
The difference with Duterte is the impunity he and his administration have operated in the past five years, hidden behind populist messaging and propaganda, similar to the Far Right in other countries. It is neoliberalism in wolf’s clothing.
Magsalin: Fascism does exist in this country and Duterte and his brand of populism does enable them. However we have to acknowledge that support for Duterte was pluralistic. Yes there was far-right support for Duterte in his campaign for president, but there was also support from Moro (Muslim indigenous people) and Lumad (non-Muslim indigenous people from Mindanao) support because Duterte ran on a campaign of peace-building. Duterte’s program for peacebuilding even won the support of Nat-Dem Makabayan Bloc who, despite already pledging support to Grace Poe, campaigned for Duterte anyway. Duterte even swayed Joma Sison, the foremost theoretician of National Democracy and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). Yet all his promises to indigenous peoples and Nat-Dems alike were all broken and in time it became clear that all his promises were mere opportunist slogans to win votes. (To this day, Nat-Dems both communist and Makabayan refuse to account for their opportunism in support for Duterte, but that is a topic for another time.) Opportunist progressive support for Duterte has mostly faded though some “Tankie DDS” holdouts do still exist. DDS, by the way, means Duterte Diehard Supporters, itself a reference to Davao Death Squad and many of the still-existing DDS are indeed conservative or far right.
So how does fascism manifest itself in the Philippines? The groups I do consider unambigously fascist are right-wing militias like the old Ilaga, Tad-tad, and Alsa Masa. There has yet to be a comprehensive study of these militias using a framework that sees these groups as specifically fascist, but I can make a few observations. Groups like the Ilaga during the Marcos dictatorship were composed from settlers to agricultural colonies in Mindanao whose interior is the equivalent of a colonial frontier in the Philippines. They were Christian-supremacist and aggressively anti-communist. Later groups like the Alsa Masa during the Cory Aquino administration were not specifically Christian-supremacist but retained anti-communism as a guiding ideology. Whether under Marcos or Aquino, these groups were used by the state to terrorize criminalized communities whether they were Moro in Marcos’ case or sympathethic to communism in Aquino’s case. Such militias still exist today, some part of the CAFGU, the state’s official paramilitary program, others as the private armies of local warlords or capitalists, and others as independent anti-Moro or anti-communist militias. How these fascist groups relate to Duterte has yet to be investigated. Perhaps they were uncomfortable bedfellows with their hated rivals the Nat-Dems or perhaps they only supported Duterte after Duterte broke with National Democracy. These deserve further investigation.
Graphic discussing the need to resist state attempts to install police at universities in the Phillipines.
Asia Art Tours: Regarding the current police violence in the Philippines or fascist supporters of past or present Filipinx politicians, what has anti-police and/or anti-fascist resistance consisted of? What can global movements or ‘leftists’ learn from this resistance against the police in the Philippines?
Ponkan: The National Democratic Movement remains the largest, but only by decades of co-optation and monopolization (see my answer in q1). There are legitimate feelings against police, and there are people actually organizing against the State fucking us over. One Big Strike, a student movement calling for the end of the semester because of the inanity that online classes is being forced into the youth in the middle of a pandemic.
Guess what the National Democrats did: the absolute contrary. “Advance safe return to classes!” is their new slogan. Because something something “Oust Duterte” or some dumb shit. (It could be any other president, really.) One Big Strike doesn’t have as much traction as it did since it started. I’m still severely livid about how much the Establishment Left has tried to undercut everyone.
So to paraphrase my answer: no. Nothing. Zero. Not until the establishment left dissolves itself.
Magsalin: There is not yet a coherent movement against policing and incarceration in the Philippines. Though I think this is an arena that anarchists can excel as abolitionists.
As to opposition to fascist militias, the New Peoples Army (NPA: the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines) certainly see themselves as the anti-pasistang (anti-fascist) heroes of the people. They do indeed fight against anti-communist militias, but they also were staunch supporters and apologists for Duterte in his presidential campaign and early presidency. The NPA has also proved that they reproduce the logic of policing like in their own anti-drug war when they were wooing Duterte. Even if the NPA does fight literal fascists I do not think we can rely on them. Their program of National Democracy has time and time again sided with sections of the so-called National Bourgeoisie. Now they are trying to ally with Leni Robledo, the sidelined Vice President of the Philippines and yet another liberal whose wealth only grew during the pandemic. If there’s anything global radical movements can learn from this comedy of errors is that opportunism does not work. Working with populists and liberals will not give us liberation.
A woman at a memorial for Winston Ragos, a civilian who was killed by police in the Philippines. Violent responses from law enforcement has been sanctioned and encouraged under President Rodrigo Duterte.
All photos used are by Bandilang Itim, please contact them if you wish to use, remix or redistribute.