The ‘Occupy’ movement in the Philippines

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The global ‘Occupy’ movement emerged in the aftermath of the financial and housing crisis that destroyed jobs and displaced millions. It denounced the inequities of the present, the irrational decision to boost neoliberal policies, and the callous attitude towards the rising but preventable poverty in the world.

In support of this trend, several ‘Occupy’ and camp-out actions were organized near Malacanang presidential palace in Manila, the capital of the Philippines. Various sectors echoed the ‘Occupy’ slogans to highlight the specific demands of the Philippines’ 99 percent. This was in the early years of the previous government of Noynoy Aquino, a corrupt bureaucrat and unrepentant despotic landlord.

‘Occupy’ (aside from the Arab Spring) instantly became the buzzword of activists, but most especially among the organized grassroots challenging the oppressive hegemony of the one percent. Over the years, it retained its power to terrorize the ruling classes which explains why it’s the preferred name for the aggressive, persuasive, and collective actions of the poor.

In 2016 and 2017, Occupy-type actions across the Philippines made headlines again, disrupting mainstream politics, and exposing the supposedly inclusive growth of the local economy as a blatant elitist propaganda.

Some of the prominent ‘Occupy’ protests included the following:

In Bulacan, urban poor group Kadamay led 6,000 homeless families in occupying vacant housing units built by the government but have been idle for five years.

In Tarlac and Negros, tenant farmers occupied haciendas (land estates) and conducted a series of bungkalan (land cultivation) to make productive use of farm lands owned by landlord families which refuse to recognize the right of land reform beneficiaries.

FILEPHOTO. On March 8, urban poor groups mostly led by Kadamay occupied a total of 5,208 idle housing units in five relocation sites in Pandi, Bulacan. (Photo grabbed from Kadamay's Facebook page)
FILEPHOTO. On March 8, urban poor groups mostly led by Kadamay occupied a total of 5,208 idle housing units in five relocation sites in Pandi, Bulacan. (Photo grabbed from Kadamay’s Facebook page)

In Yolanda-hit (Haiyan) rural towns of Samar and Leyte, farmers organized tiklos (collective farming) in public lands to survive hunger, poverty, and government neglect.

In the towns ravaged by typhoon Pablo in southern Mindanao, residents occupied houses constructed by the government after these have been unutilized for several years.

Similar ‘Occupy’ actions were also done by farmers in Davao del Norte, El Niño victims in Kidapawan, and Lumad communities resisting the entry of destructive large-scale mining.

It is convenient to categorize these actions as a legacy of the ‘Occupy’ movement that started near Wall Street in New York. At the very least, these reflect the enduring appeal of the ‘Occupy’ movement. But what these actions truly embody is the people’s resistance in the Philippines.

The ‘Occupy’ movement didn’t fade away in the Philippines because it was sustained and continually revived by a vibrant mass movement. The current political relevance of ‘Occupy’ was made possible by the people’s persistent struggle for their national democratic aspirations. Sans the fancy slogans and hip branding, ‘Occupy’ in the Philippines is ultimately linked to the realization of the people’s basic political demands such as the fight for genuine land reform, protection of the grassroots against development aggression, and defense of the country’s patrimony and sovereignty.

Indeed, the protests mentioned imperialism and neoliberalism but what also mobilized the masses were related to their urgent needs such as shelter, food, and livelihood. The ‘Occupy’ is the poor’s DIY emancipation tool.

The protests were both spontaneous and organized. The presence of the militant organized core drew the attention and subsequent participation of the spontaneous crowd.

For those who joined the protests, it was easy for them to understand how their poverty is linked to the appalling corruption in the bureaucracy, unrestrained landgrabbing in the countryside, land ownership by the few, foreign plunder of the country’s resources, and profit-hoarding of big business.

Hence, the anti-elite character of the ‘Occupy’. What could be more subversive in the eyes of the elite than to see the dispossessed and the organized poor occupying a public space and declaring it as people’s property?

As for the fascist elements of the state, they probably viewed the ‘Occupy’ movement as a political nuisance that has to be suppressed. They refused to recognize how ordinary citizens felt empowered by participating in collective actions; preferring instead to simply dismiss the ‘Occupy’ as an unruly mob phenomenon.

It is noteworthy to mention that the ‘Occupy’ protests took place in the peripheries, in contested spaces, in public lands appropriated by private capital.

If ‘Occupy’ appears to be a rural movement, it is because it mirrors the particular character of the people’s protracted resistance in the Philippines. It is in the interstice of the rural and urban where the influence of the oppressors is weaker; and more fundamentally, it is there where the masses are building strength to overthrow the system.

That is why the ‘Occupy’ protests in the Philippines are more than just ephemeral political events. They serve as a learning hub for activists who want to deepen their knowledge of the grassroots while advancing the struggle for national democracy. They link the specific sectoral demands of the poor to the long-term agenda of establishing a just and democratic society. They are also an effective organizing strategy to broaden the political machinery of the mass movement.

Real existing ‘Occupy’ is a showcase of Philippine-style activism, an indubitable proof of the fighting spirit of the poor, a ‘specter’ that haunts the exploiters and their apologists, a genuine politics-in-the-making by grassroots and for the grassroots, and a glimpse of the coming revolution from the countryside to the cities. (http://bulatlat.com)

Mong Palatino is a Filipino activist and former legislator. Email: mongpalatino@gmail.com

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