There is the “laban” or fight sign, which one makes by raising and spreading out only one’s thumb and pointer finger to form the letter “L.”
This is the classic hand sign used by Filipinos in their struggle against the authoritarian rule of the late Ferdinand Marcos.
The sign came to be closely associated with the late president Corazon Aquino.
The laban hand sign may not be so popular nowadays, but I still flashed it at the end of the last commencement rites in the University of the Philippines Cebu when the faculty left the stage and some students, true to tradition, seized the opportunity to demonstrate against realities like extrajudicial killings and meager public funding for education.
One cum laude graduate from the mass communication program left his row and in jest shouted “dilawan” at me. The term is a pejorative used by fanatics who support President Rodrigo Duterte on those who critique his pronouncements and policies, whether or not the critic supports the Liberal Party, which official color is yellow.
The misinterpretation of a symbol is not its meaning. The laban sign is not the property of the Aquinos or the Liberal Party. It remains relevant today because the people’s real enemies, the spirits of greed, apathy, despair, and selfishness still lord it over our leaders so that they in turn lord it over us.
The rival hand sign used by Marcos loyalists in the 1980s was the “V” sign, made by raising only one’s index and middle fingers.
The “V” purportedly stood for victory and sprang from the elder Marcos and his Kilusang Bagong Lipunan party’s consistent record of winning Philippine elections, nevermind that many of these, like the ones of 1986 were marred by cheating and violence.
Interestingly, a friend of mine from the largely Orthodox southeastern Europe once told me that the “V” sign is regarded as Satanic there because it is seen as a counter-punch to the one God in three Divine Persons symbolized by the thumb, index and middle fingertips held together as they would normally be when one makes the Sign of the Cross.
Perhaps some of us must remember this the next time we try to send flying greetings of peace to our neighbors at Mass using the same hand signal. In any case, it is always more fitting to shake hands with or bow to those around us, looking into their eyes when we offer one another the pax Christi.
The term of president Fidel Ramos saw the mainstreaming of the single or double thumbs up sign, ordinarily a signification of approval as the administration tried to convey to the public the vision of a progressive Philippines by the year 2000.
This hand sign lost its meaning when the financial crisis of 1997 hurt economies and peoples, especially in Southeast Asia, and the Ramos years tapered off with journalists exposing anomalies related to the centenary of the country’s revolution against Spain.
The thumbs down sign became emblematic of popular discontent in the time of president Joseph Estrada. I joined nightly protests in January 2001 after his impeachment trial at the Senate failed until he stepped down. We flashed the thumbs down sign as we chanted “Erap, resign!” calling on the chief executive by nickname. The passing motorists who shared our sentiments honked their horns.
There was no popular hand sign during the term of president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. But the thumbs up sign made a comeback in 2005.
Several groups had demanded the resignation of the chief executive after a recording surfaced in which a voice, widely recognized as hers, could be heard discussing with an elections commissioner the number of votes she had while tabulation of the results of the 2004 presidential race was still underway.
Then Lower House chief Jose de Venecia and Ramos, with thumbs raised all over the place, rushed to Arroyo’s side to prop up her tottering government.
The clenched fist raised forward at shoulder level became the symbol of the Rodrigo Duterte campaign and remains the favored icon of his fans. It is a logo to websites that are part of his propaganda machinery.
The fist so raised was quite innocuous if not brotherly, having been a substitute especially among men to the usual handshake. They would opt to greet each other with a fist bump.
Nowadays, however, the clenched fist of Dutertismo only brings me with trepidation to a time in the not too distant past when masses of Europeans, seemingly turned into zombies by tyrants saluted them with raised hands while death and devastation ensued all around them.
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