Some 2,600 Moros and indigenous peoples from across the Philippines joined the month-long lakbayan in the capital region to speak out and protest against the continuing oppression perpetrated by state and corporate powers.
Through creative activities and militant assertion, the lakbayan headed by Sandugo succeeded in highlighting the precarious situation of national minorities under the government of President Rodrigo Duterte, who assumed power in 2016. Sandugo exposed how Duterte’s increasing reliance on the military led to brutal acts of terror in the provinces, the use of martial law tactics to silence dissent and grassroots organizing in ancestral domains targeted by the extractive industry, and the unbroken feudal rule of despotic landlords in haciendas and corporate plantations.
Thus, the demand to end military occupation of Lumad schools, the lifting of martial law in Mindanao, addressing impunity, and resumption of the stalled peace process between the Duterte government and communist forces.
Sandugo’s lakbayan is familiar because it’s similar to the caravans and camp-out protests regularly organized by peasant groups from Central Luzon and Southern Tagalog.
But Sandugo’s lakbayan is bigger in scope and encompasses a broader set of political objectives. It involves the mobilization of mass organizations from Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. And since 2012, the Mindanao contingent of the national lakbayan has been returning to the capital every year.
Why do protesters have to cross seas and walk hundreds of kilometers to present their political demands to the national government instead of merely submitting them to local politicians or regional agencies? Why repeat the same form of campaign every year?
The main reason is probably to underscore the inhumanity of displacing indigenous peoples who stand in the way of domestic and foreign plunderers. The persistence of Lakbayanis could be their way of countering the callous attitude of the government to their plight while unmasking the connivance of bureaucrats and state troops with greedy loggers and miners.
The decision to hold an annual lakbayan could mean two things: first, rural oppression has gotten worse; and second, which is hopeful, the people’s resistance in the countryside is gaining strength.
Lakbayan as a form of resistance reflects the uniqueness of the Philippine national democratic struggle. It gives a glimpse of the mass movement in the countryside where the people are supposedly building political power.
It seeks the best and most effective route to reach the capital from the peripheries while touching base with the rural population where the mass movement is relatively weak or facing some difficulties in organizing. It establishes links with potential supporters of the struggle who can provide useful information, supplies, and other logistics.
It educates the masses about the political program of the national democratic struggle. It normalizes the caravan protest as a legitimate political act that can empower and mobilize thousands. It humanizes the rural-based resistance movement.
More importantly, it inspires urban activists to remember their role in contributing to the strength of the rural struggle by integrating with peasants, the IPs, and the masses.
It is also redefining the meaning of outreach. If Manila-based groups often conduct medical, relief, and charity missions in rural areas, lakbayan is quite the reverse since it features the arrival of the oppressed and poor from the provinces into the capital. The camp set-up is not mainly intended to receive donations but as staging ground for political protests. Lakbayan appeals to the public not for mercy but solidarity. The Lakbayanis are victims who are organized and ready to fight for their rights.
In other words, Lakbayan enhances the capacity of mass organizations on how to ‘transport’ the struggle from the remote to the center.
This mobile protest actually deserves greater recognition. It allows us to recall the ‘Long March’ in China and the ‘Ho Chi Minh Trail’ in Vietnam which mobilized thousands in aid of revolution. Is lakbayan a legacy of these historic mobilizations? Did it derive inspiration from how the Chinese and Vietnamese pursued their revolutionary struggles?
Viewed from the perspective of an activist who supports the national democratic struggle, lakbayan appears to be more than just a campaign protest. It could also function as an innovative drill for the anticipated revolutionary upsurge; and an early manifestation of how the people’s resistance will encircle the cities from the countryside. It is an organizing tool, protest tactic, propaganda machinery, and a lobby mechanism. It is building the future by changing the present, a history-in-the-making event.
Lakbayan is on the path of evolving into a stronger movement capable of changing the rural-urban dynamics in the country.
Lakbayan, along with kampuhan and ‘occupy’, symbolizes the people’s striving for a suitable form of political action that will help them fulfill their national democratic aspirations.
Lakbayan signals the people’s unity to surmount the challenges of the geographical, political, and economic divide in order to win the war for true freedom, peace, and justice.