How Filipino Artists are Responding to President Duterte and the ‘War on Drugs’

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In This Here. Land, a performance by Filipino and Australian artists in Sydney, the audience is asked to participate in a recreation of one of the Philippines’s drug killings. Jade Cadeliña

Anna Cristina Pertierra,
Western Sydney University

November 27, 2017

Along one long wall on the side of Manila’s Baclaran church, visual artist Emil Yap has been working for two years on a mural that depicts the cosmology and history of the Philippines.

Yap collaborates with others on the mural, which uses different sculpture and mosaic techniques. Recently, he trained volunteers who were victims of President Rodrigo Duterte’s declared “War on Drugs” – which is estimated to have led to more than 13,000 killings – to work on the mosaics for several months while seeking refuge in the church.

Yap is among a small but growing number of cultural producers whose work addresses the effects of Duterte’s presidency. Several of these artists seek to involve members of communities most affected by the upsurge in killings – which are mostly in low-income urban neighbourhoods.

Alwin Reamillo places images of President Duterte on everyday objects. Photo: Alwin Reamillo

Not far from Baclaran Church, at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, performance-maker JK Anicoche collaborated with young widows of the drug war to perform Zumba as part of a performance entitled 15 Minutes of Your Time. A response to self-declared drug addicts across Manila being made to participate in mass Zumba sessions as part of their rehabilitation process, the dance-based exercise form now has a somewhat macabre presence in contemporary Philippine life.

Anicoche and Yap are part of an loose extended network of artists who have been working under the banner of the RESBAK collective (Respond and Break the Silence Against the Killings). RESBAK members make zines, hold film screenings, and produce videos for circulation on social media as part of their diverse efforts to protest.

Their launch video in December 2016 played a famous Filipino Christmas song as a backdrop to protesters silently holding cardboard placards that call to mind the homemade signs often left beside slain bodies.

Cultural projects such as these can offer tools for violence-affected communities to work through their trauma. Among the victims most deeply impacted are children. The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism has published a children’s book, Si Kian, narrating the story of teenager Kian de los Santos, whose fatal shooting by police in August 2017 led to protests.

Journalist Kimberley de la Cruz, who had been covering the nightly killings for some months before meeting Kian’s family at his wake, collaborated with author Weng Cahiles and illustrator Aldy Aguirre to produce Si Kian within a matter of weeks. The illustrated book aims to provide a resource to teachers seeking resources for young students experiencing deaths like that of Kian’s within their neighbourhoods.

Shifting alliances

Like other Filipinos, artists are coming to terms with the tensions emerging between Duterte’s supporters and detractors. Some artists had been among those optimistic for change when President Duterte formed alliances with some leftist groups and promised to shake up elitist politics.

But as curator and academic Lisa Ito-Tapang has noted, over the past year Duterte’s alliances have steadily shifted, including a more prominent alliance with the family of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos, and “a lot of the positionings of artists also reflected those kinds of shifts”.

For example, a 2016 recent exhibition at the University of the Philippines, Dissident Vicinities, featured works by the militant leftist group BAYAN among other activists and artists. The group is known for making effigies of politicians to be burned at rallies.

However, during Duterte’s first State of the Nation address in 2016, BAYAN instead produced six “Portraits of Peace” murals, inviting Duterte to address pressing challenges across the Philippines. But a year later, BAYAN returned to making effigies in protest at the political repression.

The view from the diaspora

Beyond the Philippines, political tensions are also reflected in the work of artists in the diaspora. At Western Sydney’s Blacktown Arts Centre – Filipinos are the largest migrant community in Blacktown – glimpses of Duterte could be seen across many works in Balik Bayan, a recent exhibition of Filipino-Australian artists.

Underneath a house built by artist Alwin Reamillo, a toy Japanese cat waved welcome. With Duterte’s face plastered over the cat’s head, the wave looks increasingly like the president’s signature fist-pump. Alwin has been adding Duterte’s head to different items (matchboxes and wooden pieces) for several months, and plans to keep reworking Duterte’s image in upcoming exhibitions. Alwin is openly critical of the consequences of Duterte’s Presidency upon Philippine society.

Marikit Santiago’s images present Duterte in ways both religious and profane. Photo by Jade Cadeliña

In the same exhibition, Marikit Santiago presents an image of Duterte at once religious and profane. Although Santiago says she does “not have a strong political voice”, her work was prompted by conflicting opinions on Duterte within her own extended family, where political discussions had not previously been common.

In Sydney this October, the LabAnino collective of Filipino and Australian artists performed a new work, This Here. Land. It reflected political differences held within the collective, where members were variously supportive and critical of Duterte.

In the piece’s culmination, outgoing audience members participated in a recreation of the most famous photographic image to emerge from coverage of Manila’s late-night killings. Incoming audience members, meanwhile, used their phones to illuminate and document the recreation of the image. All are complicit in the witnessing, debating and disputing of new political realities.

Across the political and geographic differences that mark Filipino communities at home and abroad, artistic initiatives may be creating small spaces in which people can attempt to bridge increasingly tense divides.

The ConversationThese may offer hope not only to those caught up in its violence, but also to other Filipinos seeking ways beyond the political realm to make sense of their circumstances.

Anna Cristina Pertierra
Senior Lecturer
Cultural and Social Analysis
Western Sydney University

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Custer Area Citizens Protest Trump Mandated Congressional Dismantling of Affordable Care Act

January 15, 2017
By Herb Ryan

America – the country where everyone has the opportunity to lawfully assemble in public and voice their opinion on any subject. At 1:00 pm Sunday afternoon, January 15, 2017, thirty-four  protesters  assembled  in Way Park carrying signs asking for protection on Medicare the Affordable Care Act and Social Security .

The Senate voted 51 to 48 early Thursday, January 12, 2017 to approve a budget resolution instructing House and Senate committees to begin work on legislation to repeal major portions of the Affordable Care Act.

In a press release dated Thursday, January 12, 2017 South Dakota Senator John Thune said “Passing the Obamacare repeal resolution means the Republican-led Senate has begun delivering on the promises we made to the American people,” said Thune. “The current Obamacare situation is unsustainable. Premiums are soaring, insurance markets are collapsing, and patients’ choices are dwindling. With this resolution, we have put the necessary tools in place to repeal Obamacare and replace it with personalized, patient-centered health care that is affordable for every American.

Mary Boots, Custer County Democratic Chairman  said she was at the rally because “there are a group of citizens in the Custer area who are concerned about the future of the Affordable Care Act, the future Medicare and Social Security. We want to make sure The citizens of this country have good affordable healthcare”. Mary continued – We like the Affordable Care Act, but realize some changes need to be made and hope the it is not thrown on the scrap heap leaving some 20 million Americans without healthcare. Sue Martin who has worked in health care said ” I’m going to be needing health care and believe the government has no right to repeal healthcare. If they can improve Obamacare, I would be ok with that” Dennis Knuckles said, ” What we need is affordable health care, not a bunch of platitudes from politicians. Whether it’s a republican or democratic driven healthcare bill, it has to be affordable for everyone, if that’s possible, then I’m for it”.

Most people agreed that the Affordable Care Act has serious flaws that need to be corrected, keeping that thought in mind, affordable health care in this country has always been a challenge and will continue unless radicalized senators in congress can see beyond their personal grudges and party affiliation and do the work of the people. That is why they were elected, they work for us. Apparently, the work most of them do is to appease vested interest and work on getting re-elected. Stop being the silent majority.

Senators of the 115th Congress
The 115th United States House Of Representatives
South Dakota Legislature

Meg Schwartz far right holds a message to members of the House and Congress at the Save Healthcare Rally at Way Park in Custer, SD Sunday, January 15, 2017. Photo: Herb Ryan/Custer Free Press


Custer resident Dennis Knuckles and San Diego resident Susan Fadness demonstrate at the Save Healthcare Rally at Way Park in Custer, SD Sunday, January 15, 2017. Photo: Herb Ryan/Custer Free Press


Custer Rally to Protest GOP-Led Congressional Actions on Affordable Care Act – Social Security – Medicare

January 10, 2016
By Meg Schwartz

CUSTER, SD – There is a call to action from the Democratic Party for local groups to rally on January 15th in support of programs and policies that are important to all Americans.  These include the continuation and strengthening of Social Security, Medicare, affordable health care, equal rights, and much more.  For example, the GOP-led Congress is already working toward dumping the Affordable Care Act without providing a replacement plan, and that would be disastrous for millions of people.

The purpose of the gathering in Way Park on Sunday is to show our legislators – both local and national – that people support  these valuable programs, and that they shouldn’t be gutted for the sake of gaining a few dollars today.  The participants will be representing the issues that are important to them, and all are welcome.  This will be a positive rally, not a protest. We want to be constructive in our message to the people who represent us.

Social Security should not be privatized, and that the taxable income level should be increased.  Funds should also be placed back in the “lockbox” so that Congress cannot use them as a slush fund.  Medicare should be kept, with greater scrutiny of the many instances of fraud and abuse in order to make the program more financially stable.  The Affordable Care Act should be tweaked to place less of a burden on the providers, and should certainly not leave the millions of people who rely on it without coverage.

The Custer Rally will be held at:
Way Park
Corner of Mt. Rushmore Rd, and 4th Street
Custer, SD
Sunday, January 15th at 1:00 pm
Other National Rallies