The “heckling” incident that happened at US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s “Conversations in Manila” stirred a lot of discussions especially since it involved the editor-in-chief of the Philippine Collegian. I will not talk about the “ethics” of such a protest action. I leave that to the journalists to debate.
I would like to discuss however this protest form called “heckling”. The term of course carries a bit of a derogatory meaning since it assumes that the only intention of the “heckler” is to disrupt a speech. I do believe Marjohara Tucay’s intent was not simply to disrupt Clinton’s speech or disrespect the forum organizers (though that may have certainly been the effect). The protester had a message he wanted to convey and the occasion proved to be the best time to air it. And the message was a valid one. It was about US and Philippine relations, the Mutual Defense Treaty and the Visiting Forces Agreement.
When I was a freshman in UP, and a new member of LFS, I was able to observe and join this type of protest action many times. The first time I saw it was when then National Security Adviser Jose Almonte spoke at the UP Faculty Center about the National ID System. We unfurled banners and denounced the draconian measures being proposed by Ramos at the time. We even had a mock ID with Almonte’s face with a Hitler-mustache.
There would be several more incidents. One time an LFS member confronted Sen. Edgardo Angara who spoke before a huge rally against the 50% tuition increase in 1992. Angara said he was listening to the voice of the UP community. The LFS activist stood up and took the microphone and said that it was during Angara’s time that the tuition rates started rising. (Of course it is debatable if such an action was correct from a ‘united front’ point of view, but that’s how it happened.)
Years later, it would happen again, this time in the halls of Congress. Several activists had gathered inside the session hall. We had wanted to air our demands for greater subsidy for education, so we stood up in the gallery and shouted “Education budget dagdagan!” and we were quickly dragged out of the venue. I remember having my shirt ripped and seeing some of my colleagues’ hair being pulled by the security personnel.
Our violent “dispersal” and the problem of low education budget made the news. An inquiry was sought by the House. I forget which committee it was but we were all asked to appear before the hearing which sought to probe the manhandling we experienced at the hands of the House Security .
The congressman presiding the hearing berated me and asked if that was how things were done in UP. He asked if that was how we acted inside the classroom, if it was normal for us to shout at and disrespect our teachers and so on.
That congressman would later on become a senator and then president of the Philippines.
That was my first encounter with Benigno Aquino III.
So much for probing the violence done to students protesters. All that seemed secondary to “good manners and right conduct” while inside the august chamber.
Still, that wouldn’t be the last time something like that happened. During a hearing on the budget for tertiary education at the Lower House, we again unfurled banners and shouted slogans. We again were dragged from the room and thrown out of the building. I remember seeing some colleagues dragged across the floor and the metal detector at the South Wing falling over.
There would be other notable instances of “heckling” such as the one done by a Cavite State University student council chair Maria Theresa Pangilinan who led students in unfurling a banner against Gloria Macapagal Arroyo during their commencement exercises. There was RC Constantino who attended a press conference by proponents of Arroyo’s charter change and who stood up and criticized former House Speaker Jose de Venecia while the presscon was ongoing. The incident here was when a columnist of the Inquirer stood up and threw water on RC. Then there were the UP students who threw eggs at Gen. Hermogenes Esperon during his visit to UP.
Recently, there was Ces Santos, the student council chair of UP Manila who “heckled” Aquino during his 100 days “Ulat sa Bayan”. Santos condemned the budget cuts in education.
So the practice is not really new. It is a valid form of protest especially since the voices of the marginalized and oppressed are often not given space in mainstream media. Protesters tend to do everything to get their message across especially on most urgent issues or during occasions when issues that need to be discussed are being downplayed by our institutions including the media.
It’s not simply “kulang sa pansin” because that’s just trying to seek attention for no reason at all.
Everyday the ruling system bombards us with lies and half-truths through various apparatus, including the media. It is therefore understandable for protesters to up the ante so to speak.
“May tamang lugar naman para sa protesta. Kailangan bang bastusin yung bisita?”
Ah, but for the protester, that IS the right time and place. That is the perfect opportunity for the message to be aired and heard. That is the perfect time to confront the powers that be.
Call it asymmetrical warfare. The ruling elite have their corporate media and the entire ideological state apparatus while the dissenter only has his voice and a sheet of paper and a few seconds of precious time before being clobbered.
I don’t expect some of my friends to agree with these views, and I respect their opinions. I’m sure many of them mean well, while others are just not used to these types of confrontations.
What I don’t respect however is how the powers that be lecture us on good manners and right conduct when their entire class existence is based on violence and oppression against the majority. When they inflict indignity and humiliation against the poor on a daily basis. When their vast landholdings are just plain obscene. And when they bomb sovereign nations back to the Stone Age without the slightest hint of remorse.
Para sa akin, yun ang bastos.