Velez: Labels

“LABELS kill”, I remember reading that from an interview with ethnic folk musician Joey Ayala way back in 1992. The magazine was a fledgling new publication called Pag-asa, created by veteran women journalists, which wanted to draw inspiration of the first Philippine Eagle hatched in captivity named Pag-asa, which could symbolize the hope of our country for change among other things.

Back to Joey’s point, he was asked about how he deals with the tag on him as an ethnic or alternative musician, and he said something about labels limiting and narrowing one’s space and perceptions of things.

That is true to some extent. Labels could help identify a person for his or her artistry, genre, political beliefs, sexual identify, labels can also be limiting. But sometimes labels could be divisive like the times we have today.

Take for instance, why do we easily label activists as lazy? Or the Lumads as uneducated and ignorant? When in truth, activists are aware or “woke” to take into the streets to demand accountability on broken MRTs, government anomalies and attacks on human rights. Remember the march against pork barrel? The Marcos burial? Lazy doesn’t define that.

Lumads may not have attained literacy in formal schools, but they are rich in the histories of the land that tells them the vital role of protecting the land as it nourishes life. Compare that to technocrats and businessmen who see profit in destroying the environment.

We also see labeling as the easy way to take down an opposing view. The government and its keyboard army makes it easy to brand critics. From dilawan, drug addict, sympathizers, communist, and now terrorist.

And that labeling already has consequence. When the president made real its proclamation that a group he engages in peace talks is now a terrorist group, and his threat of crackdown on “legal fronts”, the consequence was the assassination of one priest in Nueva Ecija, the killing of a pastor in an encounter in Mindanao, and eight Lumads massacred in Lake Sebu who were defending their ancestral domain. A week before that, a community organizer in Mandug suspected earlier as an informant to the Lapanday warehouse burning, was killed.

The military made confusing announcements in the killings of the Lumads in Lake Sebu, claiming at first the Lumads were NPAs, but later claimed the Lumads were killed in a crossfire. Nevertheless, one photojournalist points out that the claims brush away the memory and legitimate struggles of the Lumads in Lake Sebu, led by the slain Datu Victor Danyan, who fought against the expansion of a coffee plantation in their ancestral lands.

How convenient it has become to put a label on what are supposed to be legitimate rights. The Lumads who want to protect their ancestral land and send children to school, the farmers who want agrarian reform, the workers who want job security, the youth who want accessible and better education, the people who want peace and not war.

But then again, labels silence you. For that, how do you label those who put labels on you?

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