Heckling is culturally embedded in Philippine politics. It is popularly construed as disturbance of a current activity through interrupting, questioning or shouting at the other party as in the case of disrupting a speech of a political figure. While associated with derision in terms of speech and/or actions, heckling must be situated in its proper political context.

You may recall the news about an Iraqi journalist, Muntazer al-Zaidi, who threw a shoe at former US President George W. Bush during a press conference in December 2008. In Arab culture, hitting or throwing someone with a shoe signifies loathing and that the victim, in this case Bush, is regarded a lower kind. At the time, the Bush regime was effectuating its self-proclaimed war against “terrorism” in Arab territories. Despite the assertion that it was an expression of freedom and not of a crime, Zaidi was sentenced three years in jail by the Baghdad court.

In recent Philippine history, we have witnessed how heckling was utilized by individuals and collectives to raise valid political issues.

President Aquino III, during his Independence Day speech in Naga City in June 2014, was briefly disrupted when Pio “Em” Mijares, a student at Ateneo de Naga University, yelled ‘Patalsikin ang Pork Barrel King! Walang pagbabago sa Pilipinas!’ (Out with the Pork Barrel King! There is no change in the Philippines!). Mijares was charged with public disturbance and was held for 12 hours at the Naga City police precinct.

Accordingly, the Independence Day celebration was at the height of pork barrel issues — the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and presidential pork barrel funds. Aquino, while responding to questions concerning extrajudicial killings in the Philippines at the World Leaders Forum, Columbia University, New York in September 2014, was also challenged by Joelle Lingat of Anakbayan-New Jersey and other Filipino-American activists like Jenab Pareja. During the forum, Lingat expressed dismay over the inaction of the Aquino regime on killing cases like the 2004 Hacienda Luisita massacre, which killed seven  farmworkers and injured 121 others, including 11 children and four elderly women. Before they were escorted out of the venue, Lingat unfurled a banner of ‘End Impunity!’ and chanted ‘No Justice! No Peace! Stop the Killings in the Philippines!’

More recently during the vice presidential forum held at the University of Sto. Tomas in April 2016, the opening statement of aspirant Bong Bong Marcos was jeered when members of the Youth Alliance Against the Return of the Marcoses (Youth ALARM) chanted ‘Never again! Never again! Never again to Marial Law!’ The hecklers were immediately escorted out of the venue. With the formation of various campaign groups against the return of the Marcoses to central political power, the catchphrase ‘Never Again!’ has once again gained ground support from the public. And it is historically legitimate to support such clamour considering the plunder and human rights violations committed by the Marcoses against the Filipino people.

For one, the statistical data documented by SELDA (Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto) of 9,539 martial law victims and Amnesty International’s estimates of 70,000 imprisoned, 34,000 tortured and 3,240 killed during the dark years of martial law proved the misguided fantasy of the young Marcos that martial law years was indeed an era of progress and economic development.

Drawing from the abovementioned case scenarios, we point out the thematically organized  characteristics of heckling:

First, the power dynamics between the heckler and the heckled. The heckler is producing an abrupt and ephemeral space for democratic power. The heckled on the other hand is temporarily losing some space but will eventually fight back with ominous forces at hand. And this is the rationale behind disrupting a political power. At some point, the socio-political issues raised by the often voiceless and marginalized heckler must be verbalized in order for the message to get across the heckled and the public discourse.

Secondly, the nature of the socio-political issues. The issue raised by the heckler transcends the boundaries of politics, economics, history, and culture which further legitimize the need to arouse the heckled to respond. Issues of state terrorism, political killings and dictatorship are ever entrenched in Philippine politics and form part of the culture of impunity that nurtures more powers-that-be to be heckled on one hand and more critical voices of hecklers to soon rise on the other.

Thirdly, the symbols of heckling are symbols of protests and resistance. As the throwing of a shoe at someone in Arab culture symbolizes revulsion, so is the use of banners and shouting of political chants against the heckled in a public arena. The shoes, banners and chants are not mere symbolic representation ofoutrage, more importantly, these are  reminders to resist historical amnesia and political ignorance as in the case of Aquino and Marcos who, despite public indignation are still unimpeachable in their own way.

And lastly, the heckler always has a public appeal. The heckler does not only interrupt the power of the heckled. He too is trying to extend the reach of his democratic power by engaging the public in shaping an alternative discourse. Such discourse is crucial because it negates the rhetorics peddled by the heckled e.g., economic gains and political security in spite of poverty, corruption and widespread human rights violations. The intention to amass public support is pivotal in heckling because only through an informed and critical public we can reformulate an alternative discourse.

If we as a people fail to see the value of political  heckling, then we fail to grasp the quintessence of the peoples’ collective struggle for genuine independe nce and democracy.


http://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/mar/13/journalist-shoe-bush-jail, 16 April 2016

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iraq/3776970/Arab-culture-the-insult-of-the-shoe.html, 16 April 2016

http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/610939/student-held-for-heckling-aquino, 16 April 2016

http://pinoyweekly.org/new/2014/09/after-the-protest-fil-ams-who-dared-to-question-aquino/, 16 April 2016

http://bulatlat.com/main/2014/11/18/hda-luisita-massacre-no-justice-after-10-years/, 16 April 2016

http://www.karapatan.org/Claims+Board+should+recognize+9,539+class+suit+members, 16 April 2016

http://www.rappler.com/nation/121365-torture-martial-law-marcos-regime, 16 April 2016

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