Alchie, and a shame of national proportions

How many workers are there, who have barely scraped by to finish elementary or high school, and are flung into labour-only contracting and other fishy arrangements between agencies and moneyed businesses for the sake of profit?

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The morning of March 2, 2020, no doubt, will forever trigger memories of uncertainty and fear in people. It was on the morning of March 2 that Alchie Paray decided to hold hostages at V-Mall in San Juan. The standoff with the police lasted nine hours. He was offered a million pesos. He refused the money, and instead asked for a ‘press conference’ with the media who were already there, for obvious reasons.

Alchie, according to reports, exhibited awareness of police procedures during hostage taking incidents. He used his Facebook account to communicate with the mayor of San Juan, and the PNP. He readily showed that he had explosives with him. He was in control, no doubt. Those who were forcibly held inside were of course afraid of the man. Anyone would feel fear in the presence of someone seemingly out of control, with explosives and firearms, to boot. Alchie demanded food and water for his hostages, a foretelling perhaps, that he wanted to keep them alive. He was aware that gunners surrounded him, and it would only take one bullet from a sniper to end his life.

At the end of the standoff, words of hatred and abandonment poured from Alchie. That he was forcibly ‘reassigned.’ That he had been the victim of corruption and bullying within the very premises of the mall that he served. That a tenant in the mall threatened to have him removed, and according to him, that was easily accomplished for the meager bribe of five thousand pesos. He wanted fellow security guards to hear his message. He delivered a message to businesses everywhere: that management should treat their employees better, and that they should be treated humanely. Alchie was not pleading or begging. He was demanding that this be done. After about 20 minutes, Alchie was tackled by police and was arrested for a string of crimes, from illegal possession of explosives to grave threat. He is now in the custody of the San Juan City police, awaiting this ‘fate,’ whatever that might be at this moment.

Surely, he is a hostage taker. He shouldn’t have had access to firearms and explosives. Had negotiations moved a few degrees south, we don’t know what he could have done. Human life shifts from currency to liability at a moment’s notice when a hostage taker no longer believes that things are swinging in his favor. The phenomenon of “suicide by cops” is a common occurrence, having been documented in many countries. Alchie also made it clear that he was ready to die by the hands of the police. Perhaps he wanted to go out the grandest way possible — with the entire country watching him, and with the Philippine National Police turning him to ground meat. But a bloodless standoff, he preferred, in the final analysis. Perhaps at the back of his mind, a small ember of hope ignited as he addressed the media directly. It was his life, profession, and dignity as a human being that was at stake. It wasn’t about the money as he had quit work months before. It was the raw injustice of it all that made him turn to crime, having lost his bearings and having been pushed far beyond his limit.

His mental and emotional limits are not of our personal concern, but his intention is, and the fragments of his decisions as the power of the state itself bore down on a single, armed man.

(Attempting) to define terrorism

The United Nations General Assembly 49/60 sought to criminalize armed activities that were deemed to be ‘terroristic’ in nature: “[A]cts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any circumstance unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them. (Para. 3).”[1]

Resolution 1566 (2004), widened the definition a bit more, which allowed states to take “domestic legislative action:” … criminal acts, including against civilians, committed with intent to cause death or serious bodily injury, or taking of hostages, with the purpose to provoke a state of terror in the general public or in a group of persons or particular persons, intimidate a population or compel a government or an international organization to do or to abstain from doing any act, which constitute offences within the scope of and as defined in the international conventions and protocols relating to terrorism, are under no circumstances justifiable by considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or other similar nature, and calls upon all States to prevent such acts and, if not prevented, to ensure that such acts are punished by penalties consistent with their grave nature. (Para. 3).[2]

There are numerous other resolutions from conventions and local legislations that create exceptions, for instance, the Arab Convention for the Suppression of Terrorism (1998/1999) states that: “All cases of struggle by whatever means, including armed struggle, against foreign occupation and aggression for liberation and self-determination, in accordance with the principles of international law, shall not be regarded as an offence. This provision shall not apply to any act prejudicing the territorial integrity of any Arab State.”

As with anything involving international law, much of what we know about terrorism as a concept is drafted and molded by the state itself. The Senate Bill 1083 or Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 in the Philippines is a prime example of a conspicuous widening of legislation of what can be considered ‘terrorism’ in the context of five decades of armed struggle in the Philippines, and endless land and labour disputes that are inextricably connected with the exploitation of tillers and workers all over the country. The NUPL has slammed the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 because it “criminalizes acts which have, traditionally, been considered legitimate exercises of free speech, freedom of expression, the right of peaceful assembly, and freedom of association.”[3]

In short, it is the state that decides who is a terrorist, and who is not. The categories are vague and fluid, and at times, nonsensical in the sense that specific regions can change their categories depending on their circumstances, or the whims of its clutch of politicians.

An analysis of the definition (sans state narratives) should put paramilitary, military, and police forces at the forefront of who can be considered terrorists — for these groups invoke nothing but fear in large groups of people. Military operations routinely cause terror in so-called guerilla zones. Villagers flee at the slightest presence of the military because of their long history of civilian abuse and violence. The imprisonment of Jovito Palparan is a prime example of how the butchers of the military can victimize utterly defenseless women in the guise of securing the state. Karen and She are just two of countless other victims who were never legitimately brought to trial. Those who are brought to trial and imprisoned for years are imprisoned with trumped-up and invented charges: illegal possession of explosives, illegal possession of firearms, murder — again, the list goes on and on. Many of them are young activists whose choices of weapons are their intelligence and their burning passion to help uplift their fellow Filipinos.

The police are no better, with 30k+ deaths attributed to the drug war, and billions of pesos worth of drugs still being smuggled in, still — what were the deaths for, anyway? To fill quotas? Urban poor communities now feel largely unsafe (even more than before), because at any time, anyone can be a drug addict, or a drug pusher.

Is this not terror of the most nightmarish kind? This is state-sanctioned terror in its most brutal form. And the people’s taxes are used to carry out this years-long war against the poor.

Surely, there is a difference between the parliamentary struggle of the streets and the violent means that Alchie used to speak his mind. However, one should not forget that the elephant in the room is not the hostage taking incident, which Alchie will surely be punished for (obviously, the police already have him), but the factors that contributed to the reality that a worker felt that there was no other recourse but to hold hostages just so he can be heard. His mental fitness to have access to firearms notwithstanding, his deed, which surely captured the national imagination to some extent, is symptomatic of deeper and more sinister problems that continue to victimize people who are a lot like Alchie.

How many Alchies are there in the Philippines?

How many workers are there, who have barely scraped by to finish elementary or high school, and are flung into labour-only contracting and other fishy arrangements between agencies and moneyed businesses for the sake of profit? That we have grown to view these capitalistic measures as “sane, legal, and right,” while the concerns of our workers are “excessive and imbalanced?”

Pres. Duterte barely batted an eyelash when he said that he will not end ENDO because it will bring ‘imbalance’ to the Philippines. This is no more than kowtowing to the private sector, which would love nothing more than to eliminate regularization in the country completely. No employee regularization means the private sector can hire and fire at will, while fattening their coffers unethically. All the while, businesses will be greasing their way into abundance while their employees rot in poverty.

Our greatest shame

For a country that holds God and the bayan at the top of its idealistic notions, we are a godless bunch of heathens. That we find no contradiction in praising OFWs as modern day heroes and sneering at protests to end contractualization and giving land to the tillers is telling of our deeply-rooted delusions of how society should be.

That we salivate over the successes of Singapore and Taiwan, or any other country for that matter, but we continue to allow the private sector to abuse our workers daily boggles the mind to no end. It appears that our ‘love for God and bayan’ is largely limited to elementary and high school. Adulthood perhaps, calls for apathy and a complete abandonment of the natural desire and need for economic independence and liberation?

We continue to believe that by ‘working hard’ and by ‘being disciplined,’ we can ‘fix’ the economic malaise of the country. We still believe people who say that trickle-down economics will eventually make every Filipino a member of the middle class. The utter corruption of Filipino values in the midst of so much decay and poverty has pitted Filipinos against Filipinos. Slaves in chains hitting fellow slaves in defense of the masters.

Our failure to see the connection between the crumbling of the larger economic system and increased privatization plus reduced government regulation is indicative of our inability to comprehend what we needed to comprehend decades ago. Or perhaps until now, we hear, but we do not wish to listen, nor comprehend these facts. We continue to desperately search for answers in the midst of the rubble of our failed institutions and outdated laws.

And judging by some reactions to the Greenhills standoff, perhaps all we see is the path toward individual convenience, which is hampered largely by institutional corruption and economic failure. Too bad for those who live, breathe, and dream only of buying a nice car and a house.

We continue to walk this path today, with little knowledge of what is going on, as we carry the cross of our greatest shame.

[1] Counter-Terrorism Module 4 Key Issues: Defining Terrorism. (2020). Retrieved 3 March 2020, from https://www.unodc.org/e4j/en/terrorism/module-4/key-issues/defining-terrorism.html

[2] Ibid.

[3] Olea, R. (2020). Why the anti-terror bill is sanctioned state terrorism — Bulatlat. Retrieved 3 March 2020, from https://www.bulatlat.com/2020/03/02/why-the-anti-terror-bill-is-sanctioned-state-terrorism/

Marius Carlos, Jr. is a storyteller, essayist, and journalist. He is the current editor-in-chief of Revolt Magazine and Creative Director at Vox Populi PH. He is also the English editor of Rebo Press Book Publishing. He is an independent researcher focused on transnational capitalism, neocolonialism, empire, and pop culture. Contact him for writing projects.

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