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What It’s Actually Like To Be An Activist In The Philippines

For Anakbayan’s Einstein Recedes, activism is a way of life, not a part-time gig
by Khatrina Bonagua | Jun 19, 2018
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Istorbo sa daan. Bayaran. These are just some of the demeaning phrases used to describe activists, people who are out on the streets fighting for a cause.

Clenching their fists and raising their placards, they don't give in to invalid, hurtful opinions. This is because they know that what they are doing is for the greater good. And a few comments from haters—especially from active keyboard warriors—are irrelevant.

And even if these judgements are wilder and more rapid because of social media, it doesn't hold them back. They spend their time learning about the issues, actually acting rather than just sitting back, relaxing, and using their smartphones as shields. 

“Activism is a way of life, not a part-time gig. But it is more than taking to the streets, yelling chants, and carrying banners and placards,” Einstein Recedes, current secretary-general and full-time activist of Anakbayan, explains. “An activist’s time is devoted to going to schools and communities to explain how Philippine social realities, as reflected by burning issues of the day, are intertwined with our daily struggles and thus, the need to get involved.”

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Recedes has been an activist for 12 years and counting. After being a normal college student (he studied BS Biochemistry and BS Accountancy in UP Manila and the University of the East, respectively), Recedes realized that there was more to life than what went on inside the safety of a classroom.

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His first encounter with activism was when he became a student council president at the University of the East. His two-year stint served as an eye-opener—he realized that there were important issues inside the campus that needed to be addressed, such as the annual tuition fee increase and student's democratic rights. But despite being a voice for campus woes, outside in the real world, there were more pressing matters taking shape.

“As part of the student council," he shares. "I was invited by the National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP) in their activities, and in that process, I was able to join basic integrations with farmers and workers and realized that societal problems have a far wider scope. Nagsimula akong magtanong sa sarili, ‘Bakit ang mga magsasakang lumilikha ng pagkain ay walang makain? Bakit yung mga manggagawa na sa walong oras o lagpas kada-araw na nagpapagal ay nagugutom at naghihirap?’  You start to realize there is something wrong with the system.”

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In 2009, he got elected as national president of NUSP. In NUSP, Recedes went around schools and universities to spread awareness about our country's issues, as well as to forge unities among student councils to take a stand on various matters. After his term, he aimed to commit full-time in organizing work, and decided to work more actively with Anakbayan.

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“The times shape us all,” Recedes shares. “I was studying college at a time of great politico-socioeconomic upheaval. Prices were surging, corruption scandals involving former President Gloria Arroyo were surfacing, explosive issues were everyday news, which all compelled me to seek a way to actively engage in airing public grievance. It was not hard to reach out to activist groups, including Anakbayan. I signed up, and the rest, as they say, is history.”

Why do you do this kind of work?

I will answer your question with another question—why not? Why not get involved in voicing out dissent, at a time when a creeping dictatorship’s apparent goal is to silence its critics? Why not reach out to the masses and explain how we can all game the system by joining hands collectively? Why not write history and not just be relegated to the dustbin of time? Why not choose to take part in effecting the change we seek if the only other option is to remain in the drudgery of our times?

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So far, what’s been your highest point as a youth leader? 

As a youth leader, I can say that youth groups light up every time students and other youth organizations pour out of the streets and march hand in hand with the masses to fight abomination. It is awe-inspiring to see thousands of people from different schools, universities, and communities decry in unison society’s evils. Great examples include the Million People March against the pork barrel system, and more recently, the various marches against the recent spate of killings and violence. Leading a youth organization is no easy task, but we always remind ourselves that, again, this is not just about me. When we encounter difficulties, which range from logistics to even the provision of basic necessities, we always ask ourselves again: Para kanino?

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Have you ever been arrested? 

Hindi pa naman ako naaresto o nakulong. Muntik-muntikanan lang. Ha ha! Sa isang demonstrasyon sa kongreso (I think it was against pork barrel and DAP), after ng protesta pasakay na ko sa jeep ng dambahin ako ng walong maton (na nagpakilalang mga pulis) at pilit hinahaltak papuntang presinto. Mabilis naman na sumaklolo ang mga kasama at pinalibutan ako hanggang sa makalayo kami sa area.

What's the most memorable experience you've had as an activist?

Yung isang di ko pa makakalimutan ay nang magpunta kami sa Abra para sa fact-finding mission. Sa provincial hospital dinalaw namin ang dalawang sugatan na kabataang naka-detain at heavily guarded ng mga sundalo’t pulis. Palabas ako ng ospital para bumili ng maiinom ng makasalubong ko ang mga mukhang goons (yung itsurang kontrabida na binubugbog ni FPJ sa mga pelikula nito) na may dalang bouquet ng bulaklak pero alam mong may kargada at may masamang balak. Tumakbo agad ako pabalik ng room at binantayan yung pasyente, parang eksena sa The Godfather nung binantayan ni Al Pacino si Marlon Brando sa ospital. After an hour lumabas ako ng ospital, nakaabang pala sa labas yung mga maton at sinundan ako ng masamang tingin. Sumakay na sila ng kotse at unti-unting papunta sa akin. Inisip ko na kung anong escape plan ko kung sakaling dukutin ako o paulanan ako ng bala. Lumipat ako sa kulumpunan ng maraming tao at tumigil sila sa harap ko at tumingin ng masama (waring nananantya), awa ng Diyos ay umalis din. Akala ko katapusan ko na. 

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Yung isa pang di ko makakalimutan ay yung pananagasa ng mga pulis sa rally ng pambansang minorya sa US embassy. Muntik na ko masagasaan, buti at mabilis na nakaiwas pero marami sa aming mga kasamahan doon ay nasaktan. May ongoing kaso pala ako at iba pang lider ng mga progresibong organisasyon dahil sa protestang inilunsad natin noong ASEAN.

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What are the biggest misconceptions people have about activism?

Fake news yung sinasabing rally lang ang alam ng mga aktibista. Ang mahirap sa trabaho ay paano mo imumulat, oorganisahin, at pakikilusin ang masa para ipaglaban ang kanilang karapatan. Fake news din na kesyo bayaran daw ang mga aktibista. Wala kaming natatanggap na nisingkong duling sa aming gingagawa at walang katumbas na salapi ang pagmamahal sa bayan at sa taumbayan. Sa madalas nga problema naming ang pamasahe at kahit ang pagkain sa araw-araw pero nandyan naman ang masa para maitawid ang pangaraw-araw. Isa sa mga dictum naming: “simpleng pamumuhay at puspusang pakikibaka. Serve the people!” It is painstaking, to say the least, but activists choose to take the rough path rather than the high road not because we are nihilists, but because we seek to build a better future—not just for ourselves—but for everyone.

How has activism changed you?

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Activism, for me, gives a sense of hope in a world that didn’t. Activism transitioned me, transformed me even, to take part in something bigger than ourselves. It made me choose “we” over “me,” “ours” over “mine,” and it made me realize that when you get awakened by the jolt of our tumultuous times, when you begin to open your eyes to the grim realities our people face every day, it will be evil—criminal even—to opt to close your eyes again and go on, pretending you didn’t see anything.

What do you hope to achieve with your work?

To achieve a better—then best —version of our world. To break the chains of our dominant system that has enslaved farmers to lands that they don’t own, to free workers from the machines and machinations that trap them in a world of toil, to achieve a more just and humane society where justice is not a mere catchphrase. These are great dreams, and to achieve them, we need to overcome a great number of ordeals.

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"We are challenged to take on the historical role of the youth as a catalyst for social change because after all, we are still confronted with the same system fought by Rizal, Bonifacio, and other young heroes"

What advice would you give to young people considering joining organization such as Anakbayan?

First, consider that with the times getting grimmer by the day, our people expect—demand, even—a little more persistence from the youth. We are challenged to take on the historical role of the youth as a catalyst for social change because after all, we are still confronted with the same system fought by Rizal, Bonifacio, and other young heroes. Join Anakbayan not just to persist, but to fight the bigger fight, for the people.

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Why is this cause so important to you?

It is important because we are talking about building a better society, a better future, not just for our generation, but for generations to come. It is important because we cannot simply sit idly as the current system festers. As we continue seeking national independence and genuine democracy free from the ministrations of foreign powers, we must not give up the fight but instead, fortify our ranks and spread the good news of the struggle faster and wider.


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