Whether you agree with it or not, the Philippines is a country of resistance. Protest and revolution are intertwined with our history — from fighting for our independence from colonizers, to rising up against the late Ferdinand E. Marcos in the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution. Coincidentally enough, today (February 25) is the 38th anniversary of the latter. In 1986, the Filipino people organized a peaceful revolution of an unprecedented scale and ousted a dictator.

The resistance against Martial Law wasn’t just about the on-ground protest actions. As the government cracked down on dissent, the era spawned some of the best and most historical art in the history of the Philippines. Artist-activist Emman Lacaba (under the alias Ruben Cuevas) penned the iconic poem, “Prometheus Unbound,” which through the first letters of each line, concealed a chant that was regularly shouted during protests: “Marcos, Hitler, Diktador, Tuta (Dictator, Pup).”

Protest art wasn’t just limited to poems or visual art. Songs became the anthems of the EDSA People Power Revolution, and the most notable of them all was Dawn and Tony Orlando’s “Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Ol’ Oak Tree.” The song played an important role for the return of the late Senator and staunch critic of the Marcos administration, Ninoy Aquino. In the lead up to his return to the country, supporters would tie yellow ribbons around the tree to celebrate his return. However, Aquino was assassinated on the tarmac of the then-Manila International Airport. His assassination became a key factor in the subsequent 1986 revolution.

Although most people don’t recognize it, music has always been a site for political action. Music has been used to be the anthems of revolutions, to confront social issues, and rally support for a cause. In the Philippines, this is most seen in folk music. You have the likes of Gary Granada, Noel Cabangon, and more who are best known for penning great protest songs. However, most recently, a seemingly unlikely genre has become a potent space for resistance: hip-hop.

Some of the very first Filipino hip-hop songs were ones of nationalism and love for country, like the “King of Filipino Hip-Hop” Francis M.’s “Mga Kababayan” (My Countrymen). Other hip-hop songs touched on social realities like socio-economic struggles or even gender-based discrimination, as in Gloc-9’s “Sirena” (Mermaid).

However, in 2019, and in the heat of the controversial administration of former President Rodrigo Duterte, KOLATERAL emerged. It was billed as a project that aimed to merge data and art, with real case studies and statistics of the human rights violations under Duterte’s war on drugs. The 12-track record is menacing; perfectly capturing what various international and local human rights organizations describe as an ominous and hostile environment.

KOLATERAL is supposed to be listened to as a narrative. Songs are written and performed from the perspectives of the personas in the song, all of which are real life cases that happened under the drug war. The best example of this is the album’s lead single, “Boy,” which tackles the alleged “kill list” of the Philippine National Police that identifies drug ushers and pushers. The kill list outlined the list of suspects that were murdered. However, more often than not, the victims are given aliases or reported as unidentified instead of their actual names. In fact, the song references two specific cases like alias Boy Mata, who was a suspected drug courier. He was found dead on July 12, 2016 with a placard that read: “You’re a traitor, hold-up man and pusher. This will happen to others like you” in Filipino.

In the track, BLKD, Calix, and rap collective Kartell’em interpret the use of “boy” in their aliases as a way of dehumanizing the victims of the drug war. Just before the verse where he takes on the persona of Boy Mata, Ononymous raps: “Tanginang pulis, ano ang aking kasalanan? / ‘Wag niyo nga ‘kong bino-boy, meron akong pangalan / Bakit ‘yung iba napakilala nang husto? / Hindi man lang ginalang ang aking pagiging tao.”

(F*cking police, what’s my crime? / Don’t you call me boy, I have a name / Why are the others’ names given with respect? / You don’t even respect my humanity.)

Another standout track is “Distansya” (Distance) by rapper Muro Ami and 霏. In the song, Muro Ami takes on the persona of Luzviminda Siapo, an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) in Kuwait. In April of 2017, Siapo learned that her disabled son, Raymart, was abducted by unidentified gunmen, who later shot him twice in the head after a neighbor accused him of selling marijuana. Siapo shared to Inquirer that upon hearing the news of the murder of her son, she asked her employer to allow her to go back home to bury her son. Her employer didn’t allow Siapo to leave until she kneeled and kissed their feet three times.

Muro Ami and 霏 start off their interpretation of Siapo’s story in the context of a Facebook Messenger call, which is how most OFW contact their relatives back home. They go on to describe the difficulties of the overseas Filipino worker life — leaving your children behind to look for a better paying job and the sacrifices made to give a better life to your children. Siapo’s words after the murder of her son seem to ring in your ear while you listen to the song: “I’m working hard abroad just so I could raise my kids well. But this is what I’d come home to? My dead child!”

霏’s hook, “Para sa ginhawa” (For a better life) whispers throughout the song, even as Muro Ami channels Siapo’s anger into rapping, “Humalik sa sahig para pakawalan / Ng amo, lumipad libing mong dinatnan / ‘di to pagbabago nais kong uwian / Pano naging tulak ang may kapansanan.”

(Kissed the floor so my master could let me / Leave, only to come home to your funeral / This isn’t the change I wanted to come home to / How did someone with a disability become a pusher?)

What makes KOLATERAL stellar is that as a listener, you face the realities of the drug war head on. The artists are not just relaying these case studies and statistics to you — they embody the stories and take you through the experiences of police brutality, abuse, and murder. However, more than that, the album is also shows the humans behind the numbers. It doesn’t just relay to you the reality of the world in general. The victims’ stories are rounded out, and through the verse of every song, you hear their emotions, aspirations, anger, and wants.

Perhaps the most important track is its closer, “Sandata” (Weapon). The track features a collective of some of the most recognized hip-hop artists in the industry like Kiyo and Because as well as heavy-hitters in the underground like Promote Violence, Pure Mind Quiet Heart, and more. From the get-go of the song, they don’t mince their words; the track opens with the artists chanting, “Pasistang rehimen, buwagin!” (Bring down the fascist regime!) They cover the major issues covered in the war on drugs like police brutality, the targeting of urban poor communities, violence against women, and more. However, the final message is clear: a call for a complete revolution of a system that breeds corruption, abuse, and murder.

Despite KOLATERAL being an album that is specific to the Duterte administration’s policies, it uncovers the roots of the social ills that continue to plague the Philippines until today. The spirit of the record is one that bridges the country’s past, present, and future. Whether you believe in reform or revolution, the record emphasizes the call for collective action. Collective action has been the driving force of what liberated the country from colonizers centuries ago, what liberated the country from the hands of the dictator 38 years ago, and what will liberate the country in the future.

In the final line of the album’s announcement, the collective shares a harrowing warning that truly transcends whatever administration is in power: “Di ninyo mahuhugasan ang dugo sa mga kamay ninyo” (You can’t wash the blood off your hands).

Focus tracks: “Boy,” “Distansya,” “Papag,” “Sandata”

Revisit KOLATERAL below.