Brother, did you forget your name
Did you lose it on the war, playing tic-tac-toe?
Yo, check the diagonal, three million gone, come on
‘Coz you know they counted backwards to zero.
- Rage Against the Machine, “Freedom”
Rage Against the Machine, Epic (1992)
We all know how it worked back then: our once-free people had some slavery going on in the village. You had maharlika, then there are the “middle-class” timmawa, and then there were the alipin. Two weeks and 488 years ago, a guy named Magellan took it upon himself to land his ships on these islands and claim it in the name of the Crown of Spain. Your ancestors, including mine, ceased to be free. We weren’t set free by the Americans, even; for the price of 20 million dollars, we were sold down the river by our masters. The rest, as they say, is history.
For the next 300 years, we started to live the lives of slaves – alipin - in our own country, without regard for maharlika or timmawa, caring less for the alipin who happened to come with the “packaged deal” that was this country. We were just servants of a bunch of people who happened to land their ships on some rock or beach somewhere on our shores, and claimed 7,107 islands found this side of the Pacific – and the people found in it – as theirs. We started making ships, mining gold, planting tobacco, picking cotton. We didn’t get to ride those ships, we didn’t get to use that gold, none of us smoked that tobacco and wore the clothes picked out of the cotton we picked. For the next half-millennium of our existence, we were relegated to slavery.
When that wasn’t enough, we became slaves in other countries as well. The slavery of poverty and debt was enough to make many of us contemplate – and even succumb to – the modern-day democratic capitalist free-market equivalents of colonial slavery: overseas slavery, wage slavery, white slavery, corporate slavery. So yeah, our history is defined a tad too much by us being servants and slaves.
Isn’t the obvious just wonderful… if not for the obvious being something we choose to set aside. No, we prefer to listen to feel-good stories about singers and boxers and champions, and set aside this whole “servant/slave” bollocks for those who thrive on negative energy. Hmmm…
OK, lemme just puke again into my online paper cup and fume away.
After over half a century of freedom – or at least what passes for it – many of us are pretty much in the same helpless situation as any other slave back in the day. Domestic helpers still get beat up, construction workers still get underpaid, and our brave seafarers still get abducted by pirates. It’s no different from what it (probably) was centuries ago, when any one of our ancestors were beaten up by batons just because they forgot to bow to the Guardia Civil. It’s no different from having our forebears getting evicted from their homes just so that they can tar up the galleons or pick cotton. No different from women being prostituted at Angeles. No different from eighteen-hour workdays, from union-busting, from sweatshops of every sort.
Four hundred and eighty-eight years of colonization, subjugation, and domination has made us no different from our forebears who were beaten up, underpaid, and forced into labor at the shipyards and orchards doing polo: not for our own direct benefit, but for the direct benefit of those who stop short of saying – or cross the line by saying – they own us.
After over half a century of freedom – or at least what passes for it – we’re still slaves. Our heroine remains to be Nora Aunor in katulong roles. We empathize with the atsay of Nora Aunor because… well, let’s face it, that has been the identity burned into almost every lobe of our collective brain. We wait for the Tirso Cruz III to come to the rescue and, until then, we stand down the abuses and the discriminatory remarks made by messengers. Chip has become The Enemy, The Symbol of Oppression, the person that we are obligated to hate. We unload our best punches towards a guy named Chip Tsao, and forget that very few of us a single punch right in the balls of the System. Maybe it’s because it’s easier to shoot the messenger. Maybe it’s because the messenger has a face, while the System controls us all. That we owe the System, that we owe the slave-driver.
At the end of the day, someone out there on other shores will still have the wrong state of mind to rape a Filipina, to murder a Filipino, to underpay or illegally recruit or overtax our “bagong bayani,” whether they’re overseas contract workers or outsourced call center agents. Heck, after I finish this blog entry I’ll still be a slave tomorrow. So will millions of OFWs, office workers, factory workers, street workers, commercial sex workers, and just about every other person out there who pays their taxes. Just about every other modern-day slave. And that’s where it hurts: exceptions. The kind of exceptions that make up the rule of many OFWs coming here without money, without jobs, or shipped in coffins. That someone has to point out the obvious.
Not that we shouldn’t be angry at Chip – if there’s a reason to be angry, we should – but we should realize that all this comes from a way bigger context. That all of our anger comes from the fact that we’ve been enslaved against our will; by poverty, by the lack of jobs, by underemployment, by that colonialist thinking and brainwashing that you won’t make it here because to the racists and bigots of this planet, you’re just a slave. That on one extreme, at least, you’re ready to be owned, packed in an airplane, underpaid, starved, locked up in a room when your amo leaves, raped, murdered, or forced to commit suicide because death seems to be the only way out.
No different from the slaves of history books.
Karl Marx once wrote, “Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains.” In the same way that we have united in our distaste for the satires of Chip Tsao, we should also be united in freeing – emancipating - ourselves from the chains that bind us into slavery, that somewhat become befitting of monikers that make us nothing more than servants and maids in the eyes of our so-called masters.
See guys, slaves were able to free themselves not by mocking their slave-drivers, but by breaking their chains. They hammered through the chains, they bit through the chains, struggled with the cuffs and leg-irons until they bled. It will take a while, before we do that. It will take a while – a very long while – before the opportunities present themselves for us to be freed by the chains that enslave us. I don’t know when that will happen, and I don’t know how. It may start with outrage against Chip Tsao, but it doesn’t – and shouldn’t – end there. That while it’s OK to be angry and seething with Tsao, that anger should begin the struggle of breaking the chains: the figurative ones, the literal ones. To rattle those chains demanding genuine employment, job security, fair wages, building a national industry, equitable healthcare and social services. The just and fair distribution of wealth and resources. The right to freedom on your own free land, free from servitude. Food. Shelter. Education. Safety. Security.
Those are the building blocks needed to keep our people from forcing themselves – or volunteering – to become slaves, and give up something as valuable as freedom for dollars. Those are the things we don’t have right now. The lack and absence of those things are the reason why we’re slaves today. Those are things that we should be fume about, that we should resist against, that we should demand. Things like rights, things like freedom.
While it’s OK to be mad at the ramblings of a guy named Chip, it’s more OK to use that anger as a springboard to something bigger than one man’s insult to the dignity of a nation and a people who, I’m sure, have had it up to here with being servants. That “something bigger” is a System of slavery that we have identified with for 488 years and two weeks, to this very date.
It’s not merely about changing yourself for the better, but to realize that when you change the world in your own small way, you change yourself in the process.
* – From Metallica, “Hero of the Day”