Philippines: Creative Protests During Campus Strikes

Last week's nationwide campus strikes against education budget cuts saw the lively and creative integration of online tools to mobilize thousands to fight for the right to education. From September 19-23, 2011, thousands of youths joined massive street protests supported by their teachers and public school administrators.

Protest, Philippines. Photo: Victor Villanueva

Protest, Philippines. Photo: Victor Villanueva

Creative means of protests were also explored by students to express their opposition to President Noynoy Aquino's reduction of state subsidy for education and social services; what could possibly be the world's largest planking protest – was held in the historic Mendiola bridge leading to the Presidential Palace:

Planking protest, Philippines.

Planking protest, Philippines.

There's also the “freeze mob,” wherein activists suddenly froze in the middle of a busy school lobby or corridor, arousing the curiosity of passersby, before inviting other students to walkout of their classes to join bigger protests:

A “Budget CUTtoure” fashion show was one of the activities held during the campus strike in the University of the Philippines Diliman. Denise Chan of the blog Dreamer's Disease describes this buildup activity for the march-rally:

Budget CUTtoure was all about the deconstruction of clothes; we had plain shirts printed with the anti-budget cut logo, and we cut-up the shirts.

Denise, a clothing technology major at the said university, posts photos of herself posing with the stylish slogan shirts in her blog:

The student council of the UP Visayas College of Management meanwhile spearheaded what they call “the blackboard campaign.” Student council officers walk around their campus encouraging fellow students, teachers, and school employees to write messages against the cuts in small pieces of blackboard with chalk and take their pictures posing with their messages. There are now over a hundred poses posted online:

They also initiated a “Black FB Pic Campaign” where students and other Facebook users were encouraged to change their profile pics to black for the duration of the weeklong campus strike:

The Black FB PIC campaign is one of our ways to express to our administrators and financial planners that we, students of the College of Management are not satisfied with their investments in education. This is also our way of expressing that we as Iskolars ng Bayan feel belittled with the below par appropriations that they grant social services.

Another online Facebook campaign encourages supporters to change their names to “[Name] Opposes Budget Cuts.”

Far from containing youthful unrest and idealism in the virtual world, these online actions had the particular aim of encouraging participation in the street protests in the real world. Particoloured, for instance, blogs about his rally experience and shows how Facebook literally had a role in compelling him to join the protests:

Gabi na noon. Ika-22 ng Setyembre, isang Miyerkules. Nag-post ng status ang isa kong bagong kaibigan sa Facebook tungkol sa pinakabagong budget cut ng administrasyong Aquino. Sang-ayon naman ako sa pinost niya, kaya ni-like ko. Mamaya-maya, nag-comment siya na “Lahat ng nag-like nito, dapat samahan ako mag-strike bukas! LOL.”

It was already evening. On the 22nd of September, a Wednesday. One of my new friends in Facebook posted a status about the latest budget cut of the Aquino administration. I agreed with his post, so I liked it. Some time later, he commented “Everyone who liked this should join me in tomorrow's strike! LOL.”

A month before the campus strike week from September 19 to 23, students created the Facebook group “Kilos Na Laban Sa Budget Cuts” (Act Against Budget Cuts) which was joined by at least 3,000 Facebook users in its first 12 hours. The group now has over 9,000 members and serves as the online campaign center providing the latest information and updates regarding the campaign.

Experiencing chronic unemployment, low wages, expensive tuition, and successive cuts on education, the Filipino youth has a long and colorful history of activism.

They led the resurgence of the nationalist mass movement in the 60s and early 70s, which culminated in the fiery protests of tens of thousands during the First Quarter Storm of 1970. The youth were at the forefront in the protest movement that toppled the Marcos dictatorship in 1986 and the Estrada regime in 2001.

They continue to take an active role in national politics and have intervened decisively with regards various social issues, especially with the worsening crisis now afflicting the global economy. The internet medium gives this militant tradition a twist as online tools are used by youth activists to encourage participation in offline protest actions.

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