“WHAT is burnin’?/ Last night/ I saw the fire spreadin’ to/ The Palace door...”
--”Effigy,” Credence Clearwater Revival
The dream of protesters against a president is for the fire from their protests to reach the Palace, the flames licking at doors and walls and converting or driving away its occupants.
Symbolism, yes. And an exercise of free speech, protected by the Constitution, though loathed by the target of the protest and the leader’s sympathizers.
Not only is the 14-by-15 effigy burned, the caricature is hardly flattering to the president maligned: it’s as ugly as the vengeful and perverse mind of the effigy-makers can conceive. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was “Gloriang Tuko” in 2005 to signify her “lust for power” and “Gloriang Manananggal” in 2009 to flog her “vampire-like greed for wealth.” Benigno Aquino III in 2015 was a grotesque monster on top of a broken-down LRT. Look up samples of the images on the web.
Why do the effigies have to look monstrous?
In a 2010 interview, Max Santiago of Ugat Lahi, which conceives and fabricates the effigy, said the president “as embodiment of the evil” the activists are fighting against must be depicted as horrid and menacing.
But they don’t have to be burned, do they? Burning it would be like pouring out the hate of protesters. It would bring “relief,” Santiago said.
The effigy ritual is usually done at each Sona or state-of-the-nation address. But besides the Sona, where they never fail to get media coverage, the display, capped by burning, is also done during protests on big issues.
In 1987, they did it to unleash fury over the killing of land reform activists.
Nine years of the Arroyo rule, left-leaning groups did it nine times. (Imagine the strain on the creativity of the designers who had to make GMA’s image in each year more horrendous than previous effigies.) In 2010, PNoy’s first year, they had an effigy of him but didn’t burn it. In 2016, President Duterte’s first year, the same breather or reprieve for him: no effigy, just a six-panel mural depicting hope for peace.
But the first Sona only, it would seem, as they announced they’d have one for Duterte’s Sona Two. As they similarly felt disappointment about PNoy after his first year, they’d revive the effigy burning today. One teaser: they wouldn’t say whose.
From their billing, today’s demonstration wouldn’t be totally anti-Duterte. They’ll protest only against the illegal killings in the drug war and the extension of martial law. But whose effigy will they burn?
In 2009, as protesters burned his effigy outside a hotel in Montreal, then US president George W. Bush quipped to his audience, “I believe in free speech, except now.”
Effigy-burning, other than possibly setting off a fire at the Palace door, communicates indeed, not just rage but also how they calibrate their rage.