COVID-19 Op-ed

Defending Human Rights in the Time of Covid-19: Collective Action Against State Repression in the Philippines

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Sensei M. AdoradorProfessor,
College of Education,
Carlos Hilado Memorial State
College- Talisay, Negros Occidental, Philippines and Member, Congress of Teachers
and Educators for Nationalism and Democracy

Origins of
Activism in the Philippines
Activism has been a
product of political unrest, inequality, and social turbulence that happens
in society. The history of activism in the Philippines emerged during the
reign of Spanish colonizers as a response to blatant disparities throughout
the country (Almendral 1988). However, it blossomed during the American
occupation in the 1920s and the 1930s. Protests were a manifestation of
racial tension between Filipinos and Americans. Street protests began to gain
popularity as a method of expressing public discontent due to increasing
levels of urban and rural poverty under American rule. After World War II,
political protests became the main backdrop of the social movements–mostly
peasant and workers’ unions re-emerged (Hedman 2000).In the late 1960s,
students began to participate in mass movements and became a cornerstone of
Philippine political protest. (Lacaba 1982) Inspired by the westward movement
and resurgence of nationalism, college students demonstrated against a
spectrum of issues concerning fundamental rights and freedoms of the typical
Filipino (Samonte 1970). The change in political current, the inefficiency of
the government to address the socio-economic condition of the people, and
rampant abuses of power led to this culture of progressive activism. There is
a thesis of power in the demonstration of making one’s voice heard in a
disruptive mass, which governments should not ignore.Struggling against Repressive
State Apparatus
Louis Althusser (1970), in his
book “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses,” stated that the
repressive state apparatus consists of the army, the police, the judiciary,
and the prison system. It operates primarily by employing mental and physical
coercion and violence (latent and actual).Activists have had a difficult time
engaging with government, since the time of Dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Fast
forward to the current administration, which has the strongest semblance to
the Marcosian brand of governance, Duterte, who initially affiliated himself
as an ally of the left, ended up rallying against activists and human rights
defenders until today. Duterte’s use of emergency powers and gaslighting to
control the public under this health crisis is a manifestation of a corrupted
state rule by authoritarianism. Even United Nations (UN) Secretary-General
Antonio Gutierrez warned against rising ethnonationalism, populism, and
authoritarianism and a push back against human rights in some countries. He
added that the crisis could provide a pretext to adopt repressive measures
for purposes unrelated to the pandemic.Defending Human Rights and Freedoms during
Activism has played a pivotal role as it
serves as the citizens’ voice in calling for reforms in the government. Mass
movements have shaped how the government has been handling this crisis.
During this period of restricted movement, lockdown, and crackdowns, activism
did not wither, as it shifted to cyberspaces as a means for collective
struggle. Before the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), progressive groups
aired their urgent demands in the time of lockdown on social media.Among them
were the following medical steps: 

  1. Allocating
    sufficient funds for free testing, treatment, and eradication of COVID 19 and
    improvement of health services,
  2. Administering mass
    testing that is free, widespread, and systematic, and
  3. Increasing the equipment, supply, and personnel of hospitals,
    among other recommendations.

As for the social-economic

  1. Forbidding layoffs and giving support to affected
    workers and semi-workers,
  2. Providing emergency relief
    packs and other support for the poor, and
  3. Controlling
    the prices and ensuring the supply of essential goods and

The government gave in to most of the demands
due to public pressure and others through the patchwork of different NGOs and
organizations. Netizens continued to clamor against injustices during the
ECQ. DOH apologized for the Php 500 per day allowance (Yumol 2020), and
far-flung areas like Sitio San Roque in Quezon City has received some relief
goods (GMA News 2020). Police released arrested residents who staged a
protest over the government’s failure to provide the promised aid, and mass
testing is finally underway. Despite the mobility handicap due to the
COVID-19 pandemic, still, engagement with the masses continues. Many young
people who are active on social media participate in political discourse,
such as criticizing the government’s strategy for distributing goods like
Mayor Joy Belmonte (ABS-CBN 2020). They stood against the national government
maligning the activities of Mayor Vico Sotto, and slammed the unjust action
of the police when they killed former soldier Winston Ragos. They also
criticized the deal of government to pay P35 million to Dennis Uy and panned
the VIP testing of politicians. (Rivas 2020)Regardless of the danger, human
rights defenders continue their efforts to alleviate the suffering of the
poor, marginalized, and neglected by society. They believe that through mass
mobilization and the constant call for reforms will bring about liberation,
transformation, and empowerment. The shift from practical activism to social
activism flourishes because of the lockdown; people tend to engage in social
media to reach a wider audience.Its political formula makes the society and
government more aware and concerned with their action of addressing the
people, despite people’s impression that an activist is a tireless complainer
and nuisance. Activism is more than noise and criticisms; it is inciting
meaningful change in the name of human rights and freedoms. In the same
manner, an activist is both a catalyst and an agent of liberation, transformation,
and empowerment for social change. Their protection must be guaranteed while
we try to develop a vaccine to eliminate Covid-19.References:Abs Cbn,
News. 2020. Abs Cbn News. March 20. Accessed April 24,
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Implications to Present Philippine Society.” Philippine
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151-162.Almendral, Gemma Nemenzo.
1988. The Fall of the Regime.” In Dictatorship and Revolution:
Roots of People’s Power,.
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