Alternatrip’s ‘Ngayon ang Panahon’ as Call for Solidarity Amid the Anti-Terror Law
Words by Ian Urrutia
Header Art by MC Galang
Despite the overwhelming increase in COVID-19 cases and the lack of efficient response to control the outbreak, the Philippine government somehow still managed to prioritize a piece of legislation that grants authorities the power, among other things, to detain suspected terrorists for up to 24 days on grounds that are vague at best and dangerous at worst.
Despite strong opposition from various sectors, President Rodrigo Duterte last week signed Republic Act No. 11479, also known as the Anti-Terror Law. The law not only stifles the right to dissent and free speech, but could also be weaponized to tag any perceived enemies of the state as terrorists. Worse, it doesn’t zero in on activists and journalists alone, but even ordinary citizens who may be perceived as engaging in terrorist-like behavior, and that casts a pretty wide net.
It doesn’t end at counter-terrorism efforts. Apart from civil liberties being put on the line, and the country’s already-dire human rights situation poised to be exacerbated further, media giants such as ABS-CBN and Rappler continue to be on the receiving end of institutionalized intimidation. This is largely due to their critical reportage on state-sanctioned policies such as the war on drugs, and more recently, for putting to light the government’s incompetence in handling the pandemic. The conviction of Rappler’s Maria Ressa for cyber-libel, as well as ABS-CBN being forced off the air, are clear impingements on democratic spaces; moreover, such moves effectively deprive millions of Filipinos access to critical information about the prevailing sociopolitical conditions that they currently face, on top of the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The law not only stifles the right to dissent and free speech, but could also be weaponized to tag any perceived enemies of the state as terrorists. Worse, it doesn’t zero in on activists and journalists alone, but even ordinary citizens who may be perceived as engaging in terrorist-like behavior, and that casts a pretty wide net.
Music as an agent in shaping society
With the entire nation on the brink of societal collapse, there’s a need to foster more critical voices and take a stand against the state’s exploitation of the public health crisis to advance its interests.
As cultural workers, musicians play a vital role in community-building and critical conversation, both online and offline. RJ Mabilin of independent music platform Alternatrip stresses the importance of art and music in shaping society and unifying its people. “It may be overly romantic to state that art and music give us hope and a sense of togetherness during these times, but it has been true for centuries. We want to emphasize that the old adage everything is political still rings true. We should no longer remain silent as this government continues to inject fear in us in its bid to further silence [us] and curtail our freedoms.
With freedom of expression in danger of being compromised, several artists have expressed their discontent against the Anti-Terror Law and its questionable provisions which demonize dissent and infringe on privacy. In an interview with Alternatrip, proponents of the said music collective speak up about the law’s serious risks, and how it could possibly endanger cultural stakeholders once it takes effect. “It is important to highlight that some of the country’s most influential artists have histories that are closely linked to protest culture, and many of these artists and musicians have been censored in the past because of this.”
The group proceeds to express grave concern over what would, in effect, be a scarlet sign hung on artists’ necks. And government’s dismissive, offhand rhetoric isn’t the least bit comforting. “National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, Jr. said it best [when he said] ‘Kung tahimik ka, ‘wag mabahala.’ The government is openly admitting its intention to go after its critics. Silencing us goes directly against the ideals of democracy and is an affront to our rights as artists,” Alternatrip’s lead figures say.
‘Ngayon ang Panahon’: a modern protest anthem
In a massive effort to helm a protest song that echoes the collective sentiments of independent Filipino musicians against the Anti-Terror Law, Alternatrip gathered 33 artists from various indie and underground bands to record from their respective homes during the quarantine.
As revealed in an e-mail conversation with the song’s writers and producers—RJ Mabilin (The Axel Pinpin Propaganda Machine), Jam Lorenzo (The Geeks, Mirror Masks), and Ean Aguila (Ang Bandang Shirley, Stomachine)—the collaboration was a product of the artist community’s growing dissatisfaction with the government and its failure to address the crisis. “After a few days of back-and-forth discussions, we decided to write a song partly because we felt that this would better encapsulate what we wanted to say,” shares Alternatrip’s main creative forces. “Contrary to the government’s assertion that their critics are limited to leftist organizations, a lot of us are just fed up with the blatant [disrespect] of our rights. This statement in no way serves to undermine the efforts of these organizations, but we believe that this highlights how widespread the discontentment is in our society.”
The project in the end yielded “Ngayon ang Panahon,” a fuzzy, alt-rock anthem that continues in the long-standing tradition of music as a potent expression of resistance. With soaring verses and hypnotic instrumentation, the protest tune was written with accessibility in mind, making sure that it transcends social classes and generational divides while still maintaining an adventurous edge in arrangement.
The trio shares, “RJ initially came up with the verse melody, and [he] asked Ean and Jam to write additional parts. The pre-chorus, chorus, the bridge, and the song’s overall structure were finalized the next day. Lyrics-wise, we wanted the song to serve as a call to action and a reminder that, collectively, we can still make a difference. A lot of the song’s themes may be borderline cliché, but these calls are true now more than ever.”
According to the main writers and producers of “Ngayon ang Panahon,” the most daunting part of the creative process was figuring out how to fit the participating musicians in the song. The trio admits, “We had to figure out how each musician could contribute substantially and not just be relegated to having glorified cameos. Thankfully, everyone did a great job of coming up with their own parts and making the song even better.”
Taking the song’s lyrical value into consideration, “Ngayon ang Panahon” succeeds in its crusade to bring the music community together in calling out social injustices perpetrated by the current administration. The chorus powers through honeyed distortion and compelling riffage, and also encourages listeners to explore meaningful ways of expressing dissent.
We should no longer remain silent as this government continues to inject fear in us in its bid to further silence [us] and curtail our freedoms.
While other songs written during the pandemic have embraced resiliency in the face of powerlessness, “Ngayon ang Panahon” courageously empowers the disenchanted while challenging the present conditions we live in. The artists participating in the track are using the platform to educate people within and outside their spheres, and to underline the importance of collective resistance during these trying times.
Mabini, Aguila, and Lorenzo, the writers and producers behind the collaborative song, are encouraging other bigger artists to follow suit. “In the US, celebrities have been speaking up in support of the BLM [Black Lives Matter] movement, and this has played a critical role in encouraging people to participate in public protests and air out their grievances. We need people of influence to take part in the movement, especially with all the major incidents and blunders we’ve witnessed under the current administration. We shouldn’t wait for things to personally affect us—and they will—before we start fighting back. The time to act is now.”
Friends of Alternatrip’s “Ngayon ang Panahon” is a solidarity effort that feature performances by Ahmad Tanji (We Are Imaginary, Washington Drama Club), Ana Ruiz (Capacities), Billie de la Paz (Oh, Flamingo!), Debb Acebu (Ang Bandang Shirley, Honeydrop), Enzo Zulueta (Beast Jesus), Greys Enayo (Cat Puke, The Shocking Details), Iego Tan (Shirebound and Busking), Janine Samaniego, Jon Tomayo (The Strange Creatures, Cinema Lumiere), Kaloy Olavides (Pastilan Dong, Grows, Kapitan Kulam), Marc Inting (Slow Hello, Eggboy, Twin Lobster), MC Sacay (The General Strike), Mikey Amistoso (Ciudad, Hannah + Gabi), Pat Sarabia (Oh, Flamingo!, Apartel), Tamia Reodica (Grrl Cloud), Aldus Santos (The Purplechickens, Pamphleteer), Beejay Esber (Identikit), Christer de Guia (Deggs and Gabba), Diego Mapa (Eggboy, Pedicab, Tarsius), Evee Kae Simon (July XIV, Megumi Acorda), Howard Luistro (Oh, Flamingo!), Iggy San Pablo (Rusty Machines), Jerros Dolino (Megumi Acorda, TAPPM), Josh Balagopo (Stomachine), Lucas Ferrer (Wish Sticks, With Fingers Crossed), Mariah Reodica (The Buildings), Megumi Acorda (The Strange Creatures, TAPPM), Nigel Cristobal (The Geeks, TAPPM), Sandy James (Identikit), and Zig Rabara (Ang Bandang Shirley, The Purplechickens, Pamphleteer). The song was written and produced by RJ Mabilin (The Axel Pinpin Propaganda Machine), Jam Lorenzo (The Geeks, Mirror Masks), and Ean Aguila (Ang Bandang Shirley, Stomachine).
Editor’s note: Redverb Studio, where “Ngayon ang Panahon” was mixed and mastered, is launching a series of livestream shows in collaboration with Alternatrip to raise funds. Support the event by purchasing tickets to the online show here. Featured artists include Alyana Cabral (Ourselves the Elves, Teenage Granny) and Cinema Lumiere (7/12), Shirebound & Busking (7/18), Megumi Acorda (7/25), The Geeks (7/26), and The Axel Pinpin Propaganda Machine (8/2).