MANILA — The people were once hopeful.
In 2016, progressive artist collectives such as Tambisan sa Sining, Sining Kadamay, and UGATLahi collaborated on a 6-piece portable mural dubbed "Portraits of Peace" that visualized the realities the masses wanted to see during the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.
The murals, standing 9 feet tall each, were to be paraded during the first State of the Nation Address (SONA) of the first Mindanaoan president, who then pledged to end labor contractualization and reopen peace talks with communist insurgents, among other promises that appealed to the Left.
"Hindi siya katulad ng mga nagdaang SONA na anti-administration, bumabatikos ng mariin sa Pangulo... Meron lang sigurong magaganap na konting adjustment dahil nga ang turing sa nakaupong pangulo ay hindi naman kaaway at meron ding mga kasamahan tayo na bahagi rin ng administrasyong Duterte," Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) secretary general Renato Reyes told ABS-CBN News in 2016.
It ended up being one of the biggest and most peaceful SONA protests in recent history, with around 30,000 demonstrators, no violent dispersal, and, more notably, no burning of effigies.
According to professor Lisa Ito, who teaches art history and theory with concentration in protest art at the UP College of Fine Arts, 2016's Portraits of Peace was an "important work for discussion" due to its remarkable departure from previous SONAs that featured elaborately-made effigies of a sitting president that were then burned and destroyed at the end of the rally.
"Nung first SONA ni Duterte instead of producing an effigy, portraits of peace was made... Instead of portraying the enemy or the system that needs to be changed, ito this was an attempt to show the change people want... It's not an effigy, not a figure of the president, but it portrays a kind of challenge," Ito told ABS-CBN News.
But the cordial dynamics between the administration and the progressive movement was fleeting.
"Year 2017 is a landmark year, biglang nagsilabasan na 'yung effigies along with the protests ranging from extrajudicial killings, 'yung kaniyang subservience to the US, later on to China, tuloy-tuloy na militarization," Ito said.
"Nag-end 'yung 2017 with an image of Duterte na all-out demonyo na siya," she added.
Since then, countless incarnations of Duterte effigies have become a staple in every protest.
Militants march towards the House of Representatives during President Duterte's second State of the Nation Address on July 24, 2017. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
Protesters march with an effigy of President Duterte during his third State of the Nation Address in Quezon City on July 23, 2018. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
Protesters burn an effigy of President Duterte on Commonwealth Avenue on July 22, 2019 during his fourth State of the Nation Address. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
Multisectoral groups gather in UP Diliman in protest on the day of President Duterte's fifth State of the Nation Address on July 27, 2020. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
Ito recalled some of the most memorable Duterte effigies in terms of scale and concept, among them "Rudy’s Cube," "Duts in Boots," "Duterte Hitler," "Monster-Te," and "Duterte Shokoy" during SONA 2019, the last being a standout.
"Shokoy (sea monster) kasi reference to the West Philippine Sea and siya 'yung shokoy. May mga symbols pa 'yan eh, meron siyang China flag, may baril. It depicts paano niya binibitawan 'yung sovereignty ng Pilipinas and paninindigan for the Philippines in the face of China becoming more aggressive."
EFFIGIES: A 'VISUAL TRIUMPH'
An effigy is "a way of visualizing collective victory and signifies the struggle to overcome and destroy inequality," Ito said.
"The president symbolizes the system na sinusubukang baguhin and when you burn the effigy, you are not just burning the image of a single person but also symbolically conveying na gusto mong baguhin ang system."
This is why effigies are also "made to be destroyed."
"Sinisira niya rin 'yung idea mo what a work of art is, na parang something permanent, very precious, hindi pwede hawakan o sirain... Built-in na doon paano mo siya sisirain," she added.
The tradition of using effigies in the Philippines began in the 1960s, but Ito said there were recollections of them being used during the Commonwealth era.
"In the Philippines, it started out here as simple agitational propaganda and was documented as early as protests in 1960s, leading to the fist quarter storm," Ito said.
In the pre-martial law years, Ito said effigies started to become more visible during protests on oil price hikes, increasing militarization in the countryside, and the continuing ties of the Philippines with former colonizers.
"Noong una it was not as elaborate as to what you see today, very simple siya, napakapayak."
Beginning martial law in 1972, however, effigies and other objects of mass protests vanished.
"It really disappeared in the time of martial law. Lumabas siya ulit noong 1980s, when Noynoy Aquino was assassinated," said Ito of the pivotal slay of the opposition senator on August 21, 1983, which sparked a peaceful revolt that eventually led to the collapse of the Marcos regime.
Effigies then became a popular form of dissent in demonstrations during the 1990s, but it really took off during the brief presidency of actor Joseph Estrada.
"That started in the time of Joseph Estrada in the late 1990s. Makukulay ang mga rally kasi kapag personality mo ay Estrada—actor siya, maraming persona sa films, sa TV— talagang nag-spark ng imagination sa lahat," Ito said.
Since then, effigies have become more conceptually complex and highly-produced, with an aim to give people a picture of the current realities in the society.
"You are able to amplify very complex messages and distill it in a single image... You see how each admin[istration] is viewed. Nare-reflect niya rin 'yung mga issues, 'yung burning concerns, 'yung unity ng mamamayan to critique the current state of things," Ito said.
EFFIGY TRADITION WILL CARRY ON
For the SONA protest this year, Tambisan Sa Sining prepared an effigy of Duterte as a beheaded “Endo King,” whose severed head was to be served to the “starving masses.”
"May historical basis siya eh, hango siya sa practice noong unang panahon kung saan 'pag may namumunong hari na maraming kasalanan sa mamamayan, ang hatol ay kamatayan o pagpugot ng ulo. Sa present context isa siyang hari ng kontratwakisasayon, ngayon sinisingil na sya ng mga manggagawa sa lahat ng kasalanan niya," said Jaime Calma, member of Tambisan Sa Sining.
"Kinakatawan niya, ginagawa niyang tangible 'yung desire at poot sa naging 5 taong panunungkulan ni Duterte," added Jose Tanierla, another member.
Asked why artists like them make effigies, they said it signifies their solidarity with the working class.
"Ang paggawa ng cultural output tulad ng effigy ay pagpapakitang may mga artista, manggagawang pangkultura na nakikiisa sa batayang sektor tulad ng manggagawa at magsasaka. Nagpapakita rin siya na hindi hiwalay ang laban ng mga artists sa mga mangaggawa at lahat ng pinagsasamantalahan sa lipunan," Calma said.
This is why the Philippines' effigy "tradition" will carry on, said Ito.
"These are markers of our critical history and signs of the times. That alone is a very valuable part of the practice… Mahalaga siya para ipaunawa sa marami na tuloy-tuloy ang laban," she said.