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STREETWISE by Carol P Araullo: Pavlovian Reflex

It was shockingly painful to watch the video footage of a police van mowing down protesting indigenous and Moro people in front of the US embassy last Wednesday.  The rabid zeal and brutally with which the police used their might to inflict injury on anyone they could lay their hands on and arrest as many as they could (including those already hurt and the First Aid team of doctors and nurses attempting to attend to the wounded) was all too familiar yet still disturbing if not revolting.

Another case of police over zealousness in protecting the US embassy? The usual small, unruly crowd of youth activists getting out of hand and requiring more stringent and forceful police crowd management? In fact, no.

The demonstrators easily numbered more than a thousand composed of the different tribes of Lumad and Moros from Mindanao, Igorots from the Cordillera, Dumagats from Southern Tagalog, Aetas from Central Luzon and even Tumandok from Panay.  They were joined by a smaller number of supporters from Metro Manila coming from different sectors including students, workers and urban poor.

They caught the police contingent providing perimeter security for the embassy by surprise and were able to maneuver to get as close to the embassy walls as possible, of course with a lot of shoving and shouting.  They painted the pristine walls red with slogans such as “Go Duterte! Junk EDCA!” and “Yankee go home!”

When the dust had settled, the police, some of them splattered with red paint, resigned themselves to the situation and allowed the demonstrators to hold their almost 2-hour long program in peace.

As the protesters wound up their program of speeches and cultural numbers, a certain Col. Pedroza arrived.  He berated his men for allowing the demonstrators to get the better of them without putting up a fight and allowing him to lose face with US embassy officials.  He then ordered a completely unwarranted violent dispersal of the protest action that was already about to end without further incident.

Several questions have come to fore as culled from social media.  The standard one, “Weren’t the demonstrators asking for it?  Didn’t they ‘provoke’ the police?”  From many witnesses and raw video footages, it is clear that the initial confrontation occurred when the demonstrators asserted their right to bring their message to the very threshold of the embassy.  They succeeded to do so by overpowering the police phalanx with their sheer size and militance.

Immediately they were able to splash red paint on the US embassy seal and paint their slogans on the embassy walls as an expression of rage and protest at the Almighty US of A — self-appointed global policeman and number one instigator of wars of aggression and intervention worldwide — again despite the efforts of the police to prevent them.

Having done so and entrenching their ranks in front of the embassy, the demonstrators quieted down and held their protest program. The police too settled down, held their peace and watched the demonstrators from where they had ensconced.

So what had “provoked” the police was the order of their commander to unleash their maximum intolerance for citizens exercising their right to air their grievances so that US embassy officials could be reassured the police were doing their job.  The Pavlovian reflex took over the police forces, having been oriented, trained, equipped and constantly sicced on protesting citizens to protect the status quo, the oligarchy and their foreign overlords.  The real nature of the PNP as protector of the neocolonial state, especially its power centers like Malacañang and the US embassy, was on full display.

But aren’t the police under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte even faintly aware that their Commander-in-Chief is no longer the unmitigated “Amboy” (American Boy) that all previous presidents since so-called independence have been? At the rate Duterte has been raining expletives on the mighty USA, including its President and the US State Department, while elucidating his concept of an independent foreign policy, more mass protests at the embassy should and could have been anticipated and police response adjusted accordingly.

Unfortunately, the puppet and fascist character of the PNP is so ingrained, it will take a major and determined overhaul to change it.  (It doesn’t help that the PNP is getting carte blanche in the Duterte administration’s war on drugs where abuse of power, extrajudicial short cuts, corruption and impunity are still very much in evidence.)

But there are netizens who are alternately perplexed and aghast why there were indigenous people and Moros demonstrating against US imperialism at the embassy.  Was that their issue? Weren’t their legitimate issues about defending their ancestral lands from interlopers or even the killings traced to paramilitary units and even military forces themselves.  Shouldn’t they be at the DENR protesting corporate mining or at the AFP camps calling for en end to militarization.  Why the US embassy? (They, in fact, had already been to the DENR and Camp Aguinaldo military camp.)

There were even some who imputed that the Left, perennial protestors at the US embassy, had hoodwinked and somehow manipulated the contingents of national minorities to do their bidding and “riot” at the US embassy.

They who had trekked thousands of miles from north to south of the archipelago in what they had dubbed “Lakbayan ng Pambansang Minorya para sa Sariling Pagpapasya at Makatarungang Kapayapaan” (Journey of National Minorities for Self-determination and a Just Peace) were presumed too politically naive and shallow to grasp how US imperialism affects them and so they had to be “tricked” to protest at the US embassy.

Wrong.  Contrary to the common city goers’ misconception, the lumad for one have educated themselves, primarily by their own efforts, setting up at least 146 schools in various communities all over Mindanao.  These schools have been targets of brutal attacks by the military mainly because they have effectively equipped the lumad with the tools to study and understand their situation and to fight for their rights.

Speaker after speaker from among their ranks have clearly articulated the relationship between the encroachments on their lands by multinational mining companies and agribusinesses, the plunder of natural resources and wanton destruction of the environment, and the grievous violations of their rights to US imperialism and its strongest tentacles among the AFP and PNP.

They spoke of the US-patterned, instigated, funded and directed counter-insurgency programs, including the latest Oplan Bayanihan, as behind the militarization of their communities, the divide-and-rule tactic of arming paramilitaries recruited from among them to do the dirty work of terrorizing their communities in order to drive them away from their communal lands so that the foreign corporate interests and their domestic partners could take over.

The indigenous peoples and Moros have the historical and practical experience of struggling against colonial subjugation and neocolonial oppression and exploitation.  Thus they have sharpened their understanding of the root causes of their abject condition and what they must do to regain their dignity as a people, to exercise their right to self-determination and to live their lives under the ascendance of a just peace. #

(Featured image by Amel Sabangan/Kodao Productions)