- J Watford
Generations of Filipinos have been conditioned to be suspicious of activists. We see acts of dissent as disruptive and destructive, and the people who commit them as agitators with no legitimate cause. Never mind that activism is rooted in communities that form the foundation of our country—indigenous people fighting for their ancestral domains, overworked and underpaid workers, continuously exploited farmers, the poor and overlooked.
Activists work on the ground to listen to the oppressed and underrepresented, inform them about their rights, give them tools to be heard, and take to the streets to amplify their voices.
But we live in a country where government corruption and human rights suppression have been normalised and where facts are filtered through the lens of state propaganda. In this upside-down society, activism, not apathy or complacency, is frowned upon. Here, activism, not state-sponsored mass murder, is considered pathological.
Within weeks of Duterte's announcement of his so-called war on drugs, it became clear that the war is a sham and that its real targets are the impoverished and the people who are fighting for them. And like the poor, dead activists most often remain faceless and are left out of national news.
Orlando had been an activist for a long time and worked full-time for Partido ng Manggagawa, a workers' rights group. He was a well-known figure among human rights groups in Cebu as a union and community organiser. He also dedicated his time to helping people with disabilities in his hometown and founded an organisation that would campaign for better social services for them.
Only two newspapers reported Ka Lando's death. The news articles said that on September 16, 2016, Ka Lando was shot by one or more unidentified gunmen on his way home from a meeting with workers in a fishing village. They said that Ka Lando's body was riddled with bullets, that there was a witness who said that his killer looked like one of his neighbours, that he had no known enemies.
Here's what the news articles left out: The day before he was killed, Ka Lando went to his local police station to complain about the illegal detention of his nephew. The police had barged into his mother's house in the middle of the night on September 11. One of the policemen started searching his nephew's room, and when the nephew asked for a warrant, he replied, 'It's now Duterte's administration, there's no need for papers.' The same policeman claimed to have found a gun in the room, and the nephew was then arrested and charged for illegal possession of firearms and drugs.
The news items also failed to report that on the day Ka Lando's body was brought to his mother's house, as she and her family wept over the tragic loss of her beloved son, a group of policemen once again illegally searched the house but found neither guns nor drugs.
Also unmentioned in the newspapers: That Ka Lando avidly documented his travels with smiling selfies posted on social media, that he adored his wife and loved his mother, that he had two young sons whose academic achievements he constantly bragged about.
Ka Lando was 35 years old.