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Rodrigo Duterte under attack by 'Temperamental Brats'

Tired of authoritarianism and drug war, young Filipinos are using social media to organize mass protests. They fear their country is heading toward a dictatorship under President Rodrigo Duterte. Ana P. Santos reports.

Annie and Ria were spending their Saturday night as many young people do - they went to a bar for a birthday. But this wasn't an ordinary party.

The girls were meeting up for the anniversary of the 100th birthday of former Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who ruled the Philippines for 21 years and enforced martial law for almost a decade.

And rather than blowing out candles, they smashed a cake formed in the image of the late dictator.

Annie and Ria are part of a Philippine youth protest group called Temperamental Brats. At the "birthday party" together with other youth activist organizations, they listened to protest songs, and passed around zines full of political messages set to narrative art.

The party and protest are one of many events leading up to the anniversary of martial law ending in the Philippines on September 21. Massive rallies are scheduled to protest current Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's policies, which many fear are starting to resemble the dark dictatorship of years past.

The temperament of youth

Philippinen Manila Proteste Duterte (picture-alliance/AP Photo/B. Marquez)

Young protesters in Manila at a rally celebrating the fall of Philippine dictator Marcos

The Philippines is a relatively young country, with a median age of 23.  And they are making their voices of protest heard in a unique fashion.

The Temperamental Brats, along with other youth protest groups made up of mostly millennials, began sprouting up when Duterte came into power last year and launched a drug war. And more protest groups were formed after Marcos' remains were secretly buried in the Heroes Cemetery.

The group's name actually started as an insult. After the Marcos burial protests that were led by youth groups, then-presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar wrote a column calling the protesters "temperamental brats." Rather than refute it, the group owned it.

And frustration and anger continued to build with each of Duterte's controversial policies and questionable appointments.

"There were even more additions when Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao and then conducted airstrikes over Marawi, when the extrajudicial killings ballooned, and propagandists became actual government officials," Annie a 30-year-old writer, told DW.

The young activists find each other online and meet in person to brainstorm, collaborate and discuss issues among like-minded peers.

These youth groups, though still quite fragmented, are redefining hardline political ideas using language that they say resonates with their generation.

"We all mean the same thing when we say we oppose 'rising authoritarianism' or "dictatorial tendencies" or "historical revisionism" but that's not the language we would use," Annie said  

Social media savvy

Using their mastery of social media, these millennials have translated hardline political concepts into witty memes or what they refer to as "shareable content."

"Creativity is important but not everything. We have to make these issues personal to our target audience. Placards and sharp twitter commentaries help get the message across. Many people just want to do something but don't know where to start," Ria, a 30-year-old graphic designer, told DW.

The Brats have attracted a mixed band of mostly college students and young professionals - but they have also attracted people as young as 15 or 16 years old. These teens lament that their immediate network in school, work or at home are not engaged in important issues.

Determining the group's official size is difficult. Outside of the handful of core members like Annie and Ria, many are juggling work and school, with the younger crowd negotiating curfews with parents and just turning up at events or showing up in online discussions. 

Still, they are united by their social conscience and stand against extrajudicial killings and martial law, while demanding transparency and accountability of government officials.

Philippinen Proteste vor Rede zur Lage der Nation von Präsident Duterte (Reuters/E. de Castro)

Protesters before Duterte's State of the Nation address in July 2017

 More creative than angry

"There is a common notion that young people are apathetic, have no sense of nation or community. But what we are seeing is a different kind of activism that is more creative than angry," Perci Cendana, former Commissioner of the National Youth Commission, told DW.

"Youth activists are defining their niche, making a stand and marking their identity with protests that are creative, witty and effective," Cendana said.

Antonio La Viña, former dean of the Ateneo School of Government agrees.

"I am amazed at two characteristics of the current generation of activists: they have mastery of data and information and they have a lot of imagination and creativity," LaViña told DW.

Another youth group, Millennials Against Dictators, is gearing up for protests tomorrow.

"We are frustrated now more than ever. The killing of minors like Kian delos Santos that was caught on CCTV proved the government wrong when they denied police involvement," Karla Yu, 23-year-old spokesperson for Millennials Against Dictators, told DW.

"The government is also targeting institutions that are defending human rights. The defunding of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) is clear," Yu told DW referring to recent vote by the Philippine Congress to allocate a mere $20 for the CHR 2018 budget.

"The number one thing we want is change. We want to uplift the lives of others and we all expected him [Duterte] to do that. We want him to be held accountable. He is not the president that I want to be governing this country for the next five years," said Yu.

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