Protests in the passive mode
There was something funny about the protests led by the national democrats against the state’s surreptitious burial of the dictator’s remains last Friday.
My friend Bomen Guillermo had invited me to join the protest march from the University of the Philippines to Katipunan Avenue. I told him I would probably go, to express my disgust at the machinations of the Marcoses and Rodrigo Duterte. Thus, I went to UP Palma Hall at around 5 p.m. and listened to the loud speeches.
As a literary critic and lawyer, I am trained to interpret not only the words of the texts but also their silences. Indeed, one of the hermeneutical principles I learned from literary Marxism states that “what is important in a work is what it does not say.”
Listening to the denunciations and the chanting on that Friday afternoon, I noticed something missing. There were gaps and silences in the passionate discourses. Certainly, the dictator and his unapologetic family were denounced. The plunder, the torture, the murders, the arrogance—all of these were mentioned. But to my surprise, nobody denounced the author of state honors for the dictator. No one criticized the creative mind that had planned and authorized the performance of the farce at the expense of the Filipino people.
The protest leaders spoke and chanted as if the Marcoses had acted by their lonesome. It was as if the police and the military were headless. It was as if state forces had mobilized like an orchestra that played a symphony without a conductor. It was a protest in a passive mode.
Like a passive sentence, this new mode of protest only showcases the object (i.e., the conferment of state honors on the dictator). But as every grammar teacher knows, the passive sentence gives one the option to delete the agent phrase which states the person doing the action. Hence, protest in a passive mode fails to identify the subject who conferred the state honors, planned the farce, and authorized the whole performance. It is a dishonest way of protesting, full of evasions. Protest in a passive mode is bureaucratized dissent.
In the past, leftist rallies always condemned the actions of every Philippine head of state, naming each “diktador” and “pasista.” This no longer holds true. Perhaps, change has truly come.
While Leninist pragmatism dictates alliances, the Left should see through the dangers of political fetishism where one sees only the inverted image of the administration or the state. This inverted image may blind one to the essentially reactionary nature of a murderous regime that has emboldened its security apparatus to make planted evidence, perjured statements, and extrajudicial killings part of its standard operating procedure. Dialectics teaches that what appears “socialist” may in fact carry the most reactionary seeds of a fascist dictatorship. Indeed, in our excitement to embrace a Fidel Castro, we might all end up in the prison house of a Benito Mussolini.
Marxist theorists have described the state as a “repressive machine” or “apparatus” that enables the ruling classes to ensure their domination over the working classes. This state apparatus, as Louis Althusser pointed out, covers “not only the specialized apparatus whose existence and necessity follow from the requirements from legal practice—that is, the police, courts, and prison—but also the army, which, intervenes directly as the auxiliary repressive force of last resort.” It goes without saying that he who presides “over this ensemble” is the head of state.
Thus, one cannot omit the machine’s presiding officer who had authored the farce performed last week. The protests must speak of the author and hold him accountable for symbolically sputtering expletives at those who had fought against the dictatorship, whether they had been disappeared or have survived to enjoy a salary grade 30.
Jose Duke S. Bagulaya is a lawyer and member of the All UP Academic Union. He teaches literature at UP Diliman.
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