Waray as battlecry

Mong Palatino


Waray, which refers to both the lingua franca and the people of Samar and Leyte, literally means nothing. It is interesting and also quite strange that this term is also used to signify nothingness. But can there be something out of nothing? Can nothing produce something?

Today, the word Waray is both real and symbolic in the aftermath of super typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan). It reflects the ground zero in Tacloban, the wiped out coconut fields in Samar, and the criminal negligence of the BS Aquino government. And precisely because of this natural and man-made disaster, Warays are being pitied. Right or wrong, they are seen as weary survivors in need of rescuing and continuing relief.

But charity is not enough. It is actually always never enough. Because for people who lost everything and for those who have nothing to lose anymore, their emancipation begins when they dare to end their miseries by changing their circumstances.

Perhaps it is time to rethink the concept of Waray. Why not let it stand for the historical injustices committed against our people? Remember how Balangiga was reduced into a ‘howling wilderness’ by the Americans. Remember too the murderous legacy of political dynasties. Imelda may be a Waray but her becoming a First Lady (or the other half of the conjugal dictatorship) didn’t uplift the lives of the Warays, even if she built the country’s longest bridge that connected Samar and Leyte.

No doubt Yolanda was extremely strong but it is wrong to blame it for the surge in poverty in Eastern Visayas. Landlessness, hunger, inequality, and environment degradation are deadly disasters that have plagued the region for many decades already. What Yolanda did was to exacerbate the suffering of the Warays in a land of more than nothing but less than something.

Therefore, as a way of suggestion, let Waray embody the rage of a people oppressed by geography, poverty and political cruelty. Make it the rallying call of Yolanda survivors and the poor of Eastern Visayas as they renew their lives. Prove that there can be something out of nothing. That the nothing can certainly produce something.

History has taught us that it is through struggle, and only through struggle, that the people condemned to nothingness can most effectively alter their social conditions. That is why the ‘People Surge’ movement which was initially attended by more than 15,000 Warays was truly awe inspiring. Finally, a Yolanda-related story that is not entirely about gloom and despair but hope and resistance. Indeed, there is so much pain and greed today but why dwell on these evils when we can showcase the fighting spirit of the Warays?

The idea of the People Surge is simple but powerful: The people’s will is supreme in a democracy. That the poor themselves can best articulate their specific political demands; and when the multitudes speak, we must be ready to listen to them and if necessary, join their struggle. In other words, Yolanda victims need our compassion; but more importantly, our solidarity.

First, there was the example set by the admirable typhoon Pablo victims who militantly asserted their right to access relief goods illegally hoarded in a government warehouse. And today, we have Yolanda survivors who ‘surged’ and marched in the streets of Leyte as they called for a faster and fair rehabilitation of their damaged communities. We may be witnessing the emergence of something new in the disaster-prone Philippine political landscape: ‘Disaster protests’ aimed against government incompetence; and ‘climate change protests’ highlighting climate injustice and environment plunder. The uprising of islanders capable of overthrowing callous regimes and igniting social revolutions. The poor, the people unleashing a ��storm surge’ of protests.

The People Surge has a real potential of developing into something bigger and more radical phenomenon. Its name and methods remind us of the First Quarter Storm of 1970, the year when Manila was rocked by storms and protests. It could spread and become the Philippine contribution to the global ‘occupy’ movement. The peoples of other countries conduct food riots, urban strikes, and barricades but Filipinos prefer to ‘surge’ like storms as they attack the citadels of power.

Yolanda is a buzzword of the semi-apocalyptic event that overwhelmed the Visayas islands. In the current reconstruction phase, Yolanda signifies the imperative and the yearning to overcome the tragedy. But Yolanda is specific to the storm deluge while the greater challenge is to confront the historic inequities in the region. This makes Waray a more appropriate and potent political term.

Waray – the language, the people, and now the struggle for a new future. Waray, the new subversive, as an alternative to the dehumanizing bureaucratic and corporate-led remapping of Eastern Visayas.

Who are we? Waray!

What do we want? Waray!


Mong Palatino is a Filipino activist and former legislator. Email: mongpalatino@gmail.com

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