When parents become tools of state repression
Trigger warning: this article includes disturbing elements, including domestic abuse and state harassment.
Written by: Peping Bagatsing
“Kinakasangkapan ng AFP ang aking pamilya para sa black propaganda para supilin ang boses ng mga kabataang aktibista na lumalaban sa gobyerno.”
On October 29, Irix Romero, a full-time activist and member of the Student Christian Movement of the Philippines and Anakbayan Bulacan, was arrested without warrant and forcibly brought to Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City, then to a military base in Capas, Tarlac to be interrogated by state forces. Romero was reportedly home the day after the incident, but definitely not safe. No further updates followed after. What happened that day was a clear act of harassment by the state. The very disturbing fact, however, is that it was her own parents, along with relatives who have links with the military, who turned Romero over to the troops against her will. To say this incident was a family matter is definitely an understatement; it is politically motivated, and indeed traumatic for anyone to experience. Many youth activists today, though not to the same extent of what happened to Irix, share similar experiences.
Reared to preserve the status quo
Not everyone is born to a family supportive of their child’s decisions, nor to a family with progressive ideals.
In this current capitalist world where the lower and middle classes are left without any other option but to stay hell-bent on minding their own business and trying to last a life-taxing twelve hours or more of work everyday just to have something to eat, and achieving your dreams is synonymous to getting employed, advocating societal change seems a waste of time to many, and there is no monetary gain in doing so.
Most parents of today’s Filipino youth spent their formative years during the height of an anti-communist hysteria under the late President Ferdinand Marcos, using Red Scare tactics to establish his fascist ploy and ensure his plunder under the guise of Martial Law. Even after Marcos was ousted from power in 1986, the government’s Red Scare tactics continued. A wolf in sheep’s clothing, President Corazon Aquino, like her predecessor, painted communism as the bogeyman, whilst giving the real conditions of the country a brush off her shoulder. It was during these times when the widespread of anti-communist propaganda and state-sponsored paramilitary forces was at its peak in the Philippines.
The education system is another culprit. The entire 1980’s were the Ronald Reagan years, and in his entire term as US President, neoliberal ideas spread as a pervasive fungus all over the world, making its way to the Philippine education curriculum in the 1990’s and plaguing our culture with individualism and profit-driven life motives.
Nowadays, the youth are reaping the fruits of what the previous generation grew up with in the past.
Our parents’ reactionary behavior towards a mass-oriented ideology only proves that the state was a success in pushing its anti-people agenda into their thinking processes. The compulsory nature of the reigning state ideology had planted into the minds of the previous generation that questioning authority is wrong, activism is evil, and that communism equates to terrorism.
Louis Althusser describes the family as an ideological state apparatus (ISA) which functions to maintain an ideology subservient to the ruling class within its members. Such terminology, however, does not suffice to tell the whole traumatic narrative of how the youth who seek to overthrow the reigning anti-people ideology of the status quo are being silenced in their own homes through repressive means. When asked about their personal accounts, experiences include having been red-tagged, held at gunpoint, disowned by their own family members, verbally abused, and ridiculed. But could parents really go too far by calling the aid of the state against their own children?
Can parents really go too far?
What happened to Irix Romero was not the first time it happened. In 2019, a year before the implementation of the Anti-Terrorism Law, Alicia “AJ” Lucena, a full-time activist, ran away from home after a series of abuse and harassment from her own parents for joining Anakbayan, and was once mistakenly reported ‘missing’. Alicia was already aware of the country’s existent problems during her younger years. In joining Anakbayan, she was only finding a way to further study the society and its current conditions.
Lucena testified that she experienced being locked down in their house twice and had her gadgets confiscated. Like Irix, AJ was brought by her parents to Camp Aguinaldo and Camp Bagong Diwa to undergo counseling with fake “NPA rebel returnees”. Desperate to get her daughter back, Relissa Lucena, AJ’s mother, publicized the issue in a hearing by the Senate Committee on Public Order And Dangerous Drugs chaired by Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa last August 2019, accusing Anakbayan officers of kidnapping her daughter. Relissa was accompanied by other parents of full-time activists who attended the hearing in solidarity with the complaint.
State-sponsored “family matter”
The hearing prompted Dela Rosa to call for intensified police presence in campuses, and for the Philippine National Police — Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG) to file kidnapping and war crime charges against Kabataan Rep. Sarah Elago, former Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, and 9 leaders and members of Anakbayan, all of which were recently dismissed last October for baseless claims. Indeed, this is a clear case of political harassment targeted specifically towards progressive leaders. Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate had criticised the state for exploiting a “family matter” between AJ Lucena and her mother, Relissa, to push their red-tagging agenda. As he stated, “instead of bringing back together the daughter and the mother, [the police and the military] have laid the issues out in public and let the whole world feast on [them].”
Referring to the threats to her life she received after the issue gained traction, AJ described her mother as “unaware of the consequences of her seeking help from the police and the military.” The same, however, can be said on how Relissa later sparked a state-sponsored movement with fake supporters who now endanger the lives of youth activists. Not long after the Senate hearings on the issue, fake groups like Hands Off Our Children (HOOC), League of Parents of the Philippines (LPP), and Liga Independencia Pilipinas (LIPI), suspiciously emerged.
Along with the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), these groups have been causing havoc ever since, rabidly red-tagging National Democratic Mass Organizations (NDMOs) like Anakbayan mostly on social media, dangerously blurring the line between the legal and the underground movement by accusing NDMOs of being front organizations of the New People’s Army (NPA). HOOC had featured in government network talk shows and have accused NDMOs for “brainwashing” their children and relate it to speculative claims regarding changes to their children’s behavior. These groups have been actively participating alongside the military in its vile red-tagging campaigns in the academe, targeting mostly state universities. The groups recently staged indignation rallies in two consecutive days last November 19 at the University of the Philippines — Diliman and November 20 in front of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines.
These groups, along with the NTF-ELCAC, are the state’s new tools for a new wave of scaremongering under President Rodrigo Duterte’s “whole-of-nation” approach.
They exploit the fears and worries of parents for their children in order to deliberately divide the masses apart and distract the people away from the biggest issue that needs to be addressed — the plight of the ailing masses.
This is the exact same reason why activism exists in the first place and this dirty and divisive tactic of the state only aims to silence the youth. Kabataan Rep. Elago being a primary addressee of indignation rallies by these groups only proves this to be true.
The state’s malevolence is the real enemy
As much as the previous generations have been dismissive of the critical thinking capacity of the youth today and no matter how oppressive they are, we have to keep in mind that it would be entirely wrong to put the blame on them. They are never the enemy, for they, too, are victims of the state which does nothing but protect the interests of the oppressive ruling class; they are also part of the people we fight for in our struggle for our democratic rights.
This is a call to stay vigilant, and to be tireless in our manners of persuasion and exposing the truth for the sake of the masses.
All in all, the real systemic problem that the people face is the inability of the state to accept criticism and its commitment to silence dissent which has been the case ever since. The malignant and divisive nature of state propaganda successfully demonized activism, straying the people further and further from the fact that dissent is a legitimate exercise of our democratic rights. It had also been successful in appealing to parents’ emotions in order to prevent the youth from criticizing the state and answering the call to respond to the times, to arouse the consciences of their fellow youth and of the masses, to organize, and to mobilize.
This has never been more evident during Duterte’s term as president, he who has now turned the state into a more violent, paranoid, and repressive spirit. The fight to victory for national democracy is still a long way to go, but the best thing to do for now is to unite against Duterte’s fascist regime and hold him accountable for all his crimes against the Filipino people.
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