From November 14 to18, people from all over Northern Luzon and the Cordilleras would be marching to Manila for Martsa Amianan. Marta Amianan is the peoples’ response to the coming APEC meeting in Manila. United under the People’s Campaign Against Imperialism and Globalization (PCAIG), Martsa Amianan would be part of a national mobilization to voice out the peoples’ indignation of the country’s subservience to US imperialist intervention. Martsa Amianan would be a massive march in the form of the ‘lakbay ng bayan’ or lakbayan. Why this form of protest? What is the relevance of this form of protest to APEC? A few points demand a closer look.
Lakbay ng bayan and colonial history
Historians have always pointed out how tools of colonial oppression have been appropriated by the colonized to fight back. Specifically, the lakbay ng bayan/lakbayan hails way back to the Spanish colonial era. Framed as a re-staging of the ‘exodus’ of the Israelites from the rule of the Egyptians as told in the Old Testament, lakbayans have strong religious and political roots (Constantino, 1975). The lakbayan is different from the street protest, not in only terms of the number of participants and the duration of the activity. The lakbayan is a caravan of the people, wandering towards the ‘promised land.’
This religious imagery was eventually transfigured as an expression of indignation towards the ruling system. On March 24, 1984, various organizations launched the Lakbay ng Sambayanan (LAKBAYAN) against the US-Marcos dictatorship. The LAKBAYAN was a 7 day walk from San Pablo City to Manila–about 87 kilometers. It culminated at Rizal Park and ended with about 70,000 anti-Marcos activists. The LAKBAYAN showed the unity of the aggrieved people against the oppressive system and served as a prelude to the more massive protests with culminated in the People Power of 1986. Since then, numerous lakbayans have been held, such as the “Lakbayan ng Mamamayan Laban sa Teroristang Tambalan ng Imperyalistang U.S. at Kurakot, Pahirap na Rehimeng Macapagal-Arroyo” on 2003, Lakbayang Mag-uuma sa Yuta, Katungod ug Katilingbanong Hustisya on 2011, and others (Arcilla, 2010). This appropriation and radicalization of this form of collective action showed the intimate relationship between the act of collective caravan and the people’s desire to ‘walk’ towards true freedom which has long been elusive and withheld by imperialism, the bureaucrat capitalists and the landlords .
Lakbayan as the reclaiming of the body
In the age of social media protest actions, ‘clicktivism,’ and the growing digitization of the social, calls to re-assert the ‘corporeal’ body experience are increasing in intensity. Appeals to ‘log out’, reconnect with one’s roots (balik-ili) and other similar calls are resisting the increasing alienation of the body to the social aspect of the human experience. At the last instance, what binds the individual to others is History and its essential collective characteristic.
This is why the use/re-use of historical forms of protest is only becoming more and more relevant as the crisis of the Philippine society intensifies. Absentee landlordism has remained and continued to rob the peasants of the produces of their own bodies. In the cities, workers are being subjected to contractualization which uses their bodies in a limited number of time to deprive them of regularization and benefits. The body is spit out once spoiled, before they gain the time to organize themselves and resist. Numerous bodies have become imprisoned in the deadening and panic-induced calm of unemployment, with tambays being churned out from one job to the next. The oppressive system is so total that people are driven to prostitution, selling their body parts, crime, unpaid mental labor and other activities which only prove how even the body is only a commodity.
The lakbayan shows that “the body is no longer an object of social control and discipline; it is capable of agency and resistance despite the imposition of governmentality (Arcilla, 2010).” The corporeality and physicality of street protests shows the body’s ability to confront the absentee power of the State who wield authority from their offices (Sasson-Levy and Rapoport, 2003). According to Arcilla:
The organization and formation of street protests reflect a struggle towards the attainment of political objectives and the physical preservation of the collective bodies. One cannot be achieved without the other. Only by acting as one in the occupation of the street are protesters able to interfere with the street’s capitalist transport function. Only then can the protests achieve the political power to question state representation and legitimacy and offer alternative information. Only by physically conquering the street can protesters compel the state to listen and recognize their politics.
Therefore, the long march is a form of radical biopolitics, the organized rising of the people to challenge the State and provoking it to show its violence against its own people.
Mobilizing the peasantry
But the long march is more than an accumulation of bodies wishing to free themselves from enslavement. More than an avenue for the release of instincts and pleas, it is first and foremost a political movement, an organic and developing space where a new consciousness is incubated and whose form was shaped by the particular objective conditions of Philippine society.
In the West at the height of the 2008 Financial Crisis, the Occupy movement took center stage as a form of political resistance. The Occupation of Zucoti Park in Wall Street aimed to subject the financial economy into a statis (Dean, 2012). This form of protest was a response to the massive lay-offs of workers around the world and the realization that capitalism does not work. With the economy concentrated in urban centers, occupation of public areas and a general strike would be two of the most effective forms of political action.
However, the Philippines has remained to be a backward society based on semi-feudal relations in the countryside geared to serve US interests for raw goods and as repository for surplus products (Guerrero, 1970, Riedinger, 1995). Without the industry to sustain steady economic growth, the country’s economy is dependent on its very enslavement.
This is precisely the reason why Lakbayan has remained to be a protest action mainly composed of peasants. With the concentration of population still in the undeveloped/underdeveloped countryside, the long march form is also an attempt to unite the people in the countryside in a single, unified action. This form unifies, consolidates, and strengthens the disenfranchised, encircling the center from the pits of the archaepelago.
Martsa Amianan: the north unified against globalization
Globalization and the APEC’s claims for ‘regional cooperation’ rest under the doctrine of economic neoliberalization. What globalization meant to the country is the privatization of public services, the opening up of the country for easier exploitation of natural resources by foreign companies, the continuation of the labor export policy which pushes Filipinos out of their own country, the strengthening of the country’s chain to imperialist powers (Lindio-McGovern, 2013).
Martsa Amianan is an attempt to unify the country against the government’s blatant abandonment of its own people to the rabid forces of the ‘global community.’ Through attempting to show unity in numbers, Martsa Amianan attempts to reach out its fist to the pits of Manila where modern day Buencaminos and Paternos are discussing how to continue and intensify the decades-long dependence of the people to the modern-day colonizers. Martsa Amianan is a testament that divide-and-conquer does not work when the struggle against inequities transcends any veil of difference.
Martsa Amianan is both a callback to the north’s long history of resistance– from the revolt of the Silangs, the centuries of Igorot resistance against colonization and development aggression, and others – and a historical attempt to unite against the plunder of globalization. With hundreds of raging bodies marching towards Manila to voice out their demands, Martsa Amianan is an opportunity to demonstrate the people’s capability to assert their rights and their power to determine their own future.
Arcilla, C. (2010). “Interfering Bodies: political protesters in Philippines streets.” Philipppine Social Sciences Review Vol. 62 No.1
Constantino, R. (1975). The Philippines: A past revisited. Quezon City: Tala Publishing Services.
Dean, Jodi. 2012. “Occupy Wall Street: after the Anarchist moment.” Socialist Register Vol 49.
Guerrero, Amado. (1970). Philippine Society and Revolution. PDF.
Ligaya Lindio-McGovern. (2013). Globalization, Labor Export and Resistance: A Study of Filipino Migrant Domestic Workers in Global Cities. London: Routledge.
Riedinger, Jeffrey. (1995). Agrarian Reform in the Philippines: Democratic Transitions and Redistributive Reform. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Sasson-Levy, O and Rapoport, T. (2003). “Body, gender, and knowledge: The Israeli Case.” Gender and Society 17, p. 379-403.
 It is then no wonder that attempts to hold Occupy actions in Manila did not dent a mark on the Philippine ruling clique. With Makati’s ‘central business district’ riddled by business processing centers and only a small number of stock market speculation hubs (which are, predictably, still connected to US or any other imperialist economy), the vision of dissent of such actions are displaced at the very beginning. Any attempt to stage a resistance against the ruling system must include the large number of peasants in the countryside.