Art imitates life.
In this case, the deaths that struck the lives of those around Pepsi Paloma, Kian delos Santos, and many more victims like the ones of Ozone Disco Fire, of Extrajudicial Killing, and of Martial Law. Whether it’s rooted in corruption or oppression, these masterpieces remind us why life itself is a never-ending protest.
These songs performed by Celeste Legaspi, Eraserheads, Gazera, Bandido, and UNIQUE gave beauty, rhythm, and melody to pills that are hard to swallow–enough to not romanticize tragedy but to fearlessly confront it.
To induce chill down your political consciousness back to your spine, here is a list of Filipino songs with either subtle or vivid real-life imageries; referential to the Philippine history that is artistically executed through sound and self-expression.
1. ‘Sarangola ni Pepe’ by Celeste Legaspi (The Martial Law)
Matayog ang lipad ng saranggola ni Pepe
Matayog ang pangarap ng matandang bingi
Umihip ang hangin, nawala sa paningin
Sigaw ng kahapon, nilamon na ng alon
Malabo ang tunog ng kampanilya ni Padre
Maingay ang taginting, rosaryo ng babae
Behind the cheerful tone of ‘Sarangola ni Pepe’ played with a ukulele is a serious topic. The song has, in fact, attracted the attention of scholars for its complexity in meaning. Among the many analyses of this, we’ll be steering our wheel towards its depiction of Martial Law. Although written in the era of the Marcos regime that suppressed every pint of freedom of speech and censors any type of criticism against the dictatorial government, Celeste Legaspi’s husband, Nonoy Gallardo used the rhetorical power of subtlety to condemn human right abuses and the economic downturn during that time. But the most beautiful part is the song’s uncomplicated message of hope for peace.
2. ‘Spoliarium’ by Eraserheads (The 1982 Pepsi Paloma Rape Case)
Umiyak ang umaga
Anong sinulat ni enteng at joey diyan
Sa pintong salamin
Di ko na mabasa
Pagkat merong nagbura
Ewan ko at ewan natin
At bakit ba tumilapon ang spoliarium
Diyan sa paligid mo?
As the song progresses with its painfully chaotic melody, you are left to question its lyrics as much as how the mysterious case of 80’s ‘soft drink beauty’ starlet, Pepsi Paloma still leaves us puzzled after more than three decades. What torment must have had really occurred that prompt her to commit suicide in 1985? According to the old article, ‘It hurts only when they laugh,’ Pepsi Paloma claims she was raped in the evening of June 21, 1982, by television hosts; Vic Sotto, Joey de Leon, and the late Richie d’ Horsie while they also took photographs of the cruel act. After a formal complaint was issued with the then-Defense Minister, Juan Ponce Enrile, Paloma stated that Joey de Leon wanted to teach her the art of kissing. There is much more to the story but today, Vic Sotto, Joey de Leon, and the alleged involvement of Senator Tito Sotto has accumulated more power and success after the tragic rape and death of a young star. Furthermore, Eraserheads’ lead vocalist Ely Buendia perpetuates the public’s interest in the enigma that is Pepsi Paloma by saying in 2011, “I will take this secret to the grave.”
3. ‘OZONE (Itulak ang Pinto)’ by UNIQUE (The 1996 Ozone Disco Fire)
Tinulak ang pinto ng iilang kaibigan
May kumalat sa loob
Lahat ay nagsitakbuhan
Isang daan kami lumalayo
Mula sa kamatayan
Mabubura ang ala ala
Mapapaso ang kaluluwa
Basang basang ng pawis ang
Pagitan ng aking mata
As written by an 18-year-old musical genius, ‘Ozone (Itulak ang Pinto)’ eerily references the disaster that killed 162 people on March 18, 1996. It was an unusual night of partying that turned into a tragedy that went on to change the lives of the families that were affected. Despite the limited capacity of Ozone Disco Club that could only accommodate about a hundred people, there were more than 300 people that occupied the room including students. Before midnight, there was circuit damage that sparked at the booth. Some party-goers thought it was one of the club’s “special effects.” It was then and there, when a fire broke and spread through the ceiling of the place. According to Rappler’s 2015 interview with one of the 93 survivors, Jhunie Mallari; he said, “Nakikipagsiksikan ako. Hanggang sa hindi ko na kaya, huminto na kami kasi hindi na… trapped na kami,” (I pushed myself through the thick crowd until I couldn’t anymore. We stopped because we were already trapped.) However, what really killed almost 200 hundred people is the lack of safety in the way the disco was built. The door that trapped individuals to burn to death could only be opened inward. There were no other doors for an exit. But the hardest hurdle to escape is the trauma that will forever rack in the memories of the survivors, families, and anyone who has had their eyes witness the tragic event.
4. ‘Nanlaban’ by Bandido (The ‘Nanlaban’ Victims of President Duterte’s War on Drugs)
Pero ako’y nangangamba
Mahaba kasi ang buhok ko
Malalim ang mga mata
May tattoo ako sa braso
Hikaw sa kaliwang tenga
Pwedeng sabihing nanlaban
Alam mo naman ang nilalaman ng balita
Sabi ni tatay maraming biktima ng tamang hinala
Payo niya sa ‘kin kung maari umuwi ng maaga
Kahit ‘di gumagamit mukha raw akong nagdodroga
Bandido poetically veils this song of protest as a love song. With the band’s sense of lyricism that uses imagery to show what a ‘Nanlaban’ stereotypically looks like, it depicts the dark side of President Duterte’s war on drugs. To recapitulate the tragic story that presumably prompt Bandido to create such definitive anthem for the innocent victims of Extrajudicial killing, let’s retell the story of a young boy named Kian Loyd delos Santos. In August 16 of 2017, prior to the song’s release, the killing of 17-year-old Kian broke the news and got the country in tears. Based on a CCTV footage and eyewitnesses, he was dragged from one alley to another into a dead-end corner of a street where he was forced to run with a gun – and when he did, was shot. The family of the Kian Loyd delos Santos did not live in luxury just like the other victims. He was merely a student with a dream for a better future but was cut short by an anti-poor system.
5. ‘Kung Puntod Na Ang Bukirin’ by Gazera (The 2004 Hacienda Luisita Massacre)
Kung pa-purgatoryo na yaring bagnos
At pyudalismo’y hila ang paragos
Na karga’y bangkay ng mga hikahos
Na magsasakang sa dusa ay lipos;
Mga naulila na ang lulubos
Sa lupa’y babawi, sa laya’y tutubos!
“Kung Puntod na ang Bukirin” by Gazera is based on Axel Pinpin’s poem of the same title. The music video is produced by Luisita Watch and Molotov as a tribute to seven farmworkers who were murdered along with the hundred other martyrs who were badly injured in the infamous Hacienda Luisita massacre on November 16, 2004. Hacienda Luisita is a 6,453-hectare sugar estate located in Tarlac province under the jurisdiction of the Cojuangco-Aquinos, “one of the most powerful landlord families to ever hold state power in the Philippines.” 14 years later, political killings and human rights violations still exist today.
This is dedicated to all the victims whose lives were cut short too soon. We are fighting for justice by never forgetting.