For the past 5 years, Filipinos have been living at gunpoint; one wrong move and you’ll never see the light of day. The government instigating a culture of terror throughout the country is proof that they aim to crush the nation until its last blood drops.
In a nutshell, the key characteristics of the state are deceptive and repressive. They acquire billions of pesos from the nation’s funds to provide ammunition for their war against insurgency. This includes mass spreading of disinformation and other strategies which feed their black propaganda tactics.
Every year, the blow felt by the people increases due to the implementation of inhumane policies such as the infamous War on Drugs, Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, and Executive Order 70 which made way for the creation of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), to name a few.
Tarnishing the nationalist reputation of human rights organizations and fully depleting them are the primary goals of said state-induced war. This led to innumerable human rights violations which range from continuous threat and harassment to extrajudicial deaths. Since the government started playing Russian Roulette on its constituents, people were kept on their toes and subconsciously wait for the next victim to be announced on the news. Normalizing state violence was proven over time to be an effective numbing tool in propagating their self-serving interests.
Being a human rights defender is like waking up with a gun scope aimed at your head and walking with a prison ball and chain tied on your feet on a daily basis. One’s safety can never be too safe but they keep doing what they do anyway even if it meant they had to stand on bloody glass shards. Their commitment in serving the people, which is armed by their unwavering principles, are perpetually tested and proven for decades.
Some noteworthy defenders of the masses are Manila 5. They consist of five community leaders who all come from various sectors within the City of Manila—namely Ram Carlo Bautista, Reina Mae Nasino, Alma Moran, Cora Agovida, and Michael Tan Bartolome—who unselfishly sacrificed their freedom for the advancement of people’s rights.
Ram Carlo Bautista is the campaign director of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) Manila. Reina Mae Nasino is a member of the Manila Urban Poor Network and KADAMAY Manila. Alma Moran is an organizer of unions in Manila and a staff of Manila Workers Unity. Michael Tan Bartolome is the education officer of KADAMAY Manila. Cora Agovida is the Chairperson of the Gabriela Manila. They are activist leaders who tirelessly fight for the people’s Right to Housing, Wage, Employment, and Education. They left their comfortable lives to dedicate their whole time and strength in defending the oppressed masses.
On October 31, 2019, the house where couple Cora Agovida and Michael Tan Bartolome were staying in Paco, Manila was raided. They used an anomalous search warrant issued by Executive Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert of the Quezon City Trial Court, and planted a gun and grenade which served as their basis in arresting them in front of their two young children.
Five days later, the BAYAN Manila office in Tondo, Manila where Bautista, Nasino, and Moran were staying was also raided on November 5, 2019. Police used similar tactics as the first raid and also planted guns and grenades in the office.
Together with the people, they have successfully raised their opposition to anti-people policies and bogus development projects. This angered the state, to which their response was to fabricate information on the leader activists in Manila to silence them and spread fear to the masses.
Political prisoners have no other strength than the people they have helped who are now mainly fighting for their release. Therefore, those whom Bautista, Nasino, Moran, Bartolome, and Agovida organized did not stop calling for justice because the state’s accusations against them were untrue and fabricated.
The state humorously believed that if the leader activists were arrested, the people’s resistance would stop but their thoughts were proven wrong when the masses’ drive only intensified and continued because they had learned from activists that only by acting together would they succeed in achieving their calls. This was further reaffirmed when their consistent efforts resulted to the release of Michael Bartolome and Cora Agovida on November 24, 2021, two years after their arrest.
Bautista, Nasino, and Moran remain incarcerated but this will not erase their fighting spirit and faith in the people. All the impending inhumane actions of the government are bravely fought by the mass movement along with the efforts of leader organizers like Manila 5. They are activists who never hesitated to lead the people’s struggle and unite them so that their common voices can be used as a weapon against violence, suffering, and injustice.
They know for a fact that darkness will not reign, and that their burning love for the country will serve as the light of their hope. The state might have our human rights in chokehold by iron fists, but our trust and confidence in the people’s movement will free us from the tight grasp of tyranny.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article is that of the author only and do not necessarily represent the views of their organization nor of the CPDG.