are terms for two types of Indonesian ‘gangsters’ or ‘bad-asses’. The former ‘good’, the latter ‘bad’. According to Wikipedia, jago (link) “literally means a rooster and refers to a type of strongman that exists as a part of the everyday life in urban and rural areas of Indonesia. The jago is a social and political actor in both recent and more distant history of Indonesia. In Indonesian popular culture, the jago is often romanticized as a champion of the people whose acts of violence are motivated by a deep sense of justice, honour and order.” Sounds like a Filipino action star.
A preman is “the modern, diagonally opposite form of the jago. This word originated from the Dutch word vrijman (free man)” or pree man since it seems that Indonesians also make F into P. The Wiki article also says: “In the traditional state of the Medang (Mataram) Kingdom, thuggery was very much part of rural Java. The jago in pre-colonial times gained their legitimacy through their physical strength and sense of justice. In contrast, preman are notorious for their bullying behavior. Due to their image as thugs, the preman in rural Java were very much despised by the locals, while Jago were highly praised as heroes.” One can also see from the article that jagos played a role as intermediaries between the people and the traditional elite or priyayi, and that they also were a major factor in Indonesian independence. The Pancasila Youth (link) that played a major role in the 1960s killings in Indonesia were considered preman or political thugs. The Act of Killing documentary movie (link) is about some of the former perpetrators of the killings that took at least half a million lives by the lowest estimates – all within just a few months.
Indonesians are also known to drink “tagay” like Filipinos – they are the neighbor closest in culture, which could be the reason why Rappler and Eat Bulaga both succeed there as well. And the parallels are striking and worth looking at. There is indeed a history of admiring “honorable bandits” in the Philippines as well, not only in movies. The culture of the “tulisan”. Matanglawin or Eagle Eyes is the name of a dangerous and respected bandit in Rizal’s El Filibusterismo – former barangay captain Telesforo or Kabesang Tales. Well, one could also look at cowboy movies which have characters like the jago and preman – High Noon anyone? Or go to the Balkans, where the Hajduk according to Wiki (link) “is a romanticised hero figure who steals from, and leads his fighters into battle against, the Ottoman or Habsburg authorities…. In reality, the hajduci of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries commonly were as much guerrilla fighters against the Ottoman rule as they were bandits and highwaymen who preyed not only on Ottomans and their local representatives, but also on local merchants and travelers.” Sounds a bit like some NPA characters.
Filipino World War 2 guerillas will also have moved within the spectrum from jago to preman. The Makapili were neither – they were simply scumbags with baskets on their heads who pointed out fellow Filipinos for execution by the Japanese. Although they were originally formed as another flavor of Filipino nationalism, a pro-Eastern one, with former revolutionary general Artemio Ricarte playing a major role. Anti-American Ricartistas in the 1910s were often street tough types. Quezon got the Jones Law through in 1916, the Senate was founded and they had lost ground.
Nowadays one can hardly tell who are the jagos, preman and Makapili among the different groups of Filipinos. With the killing happening, Pandora’s box has been opened. Oh yes, there is also the police. The gist of a posting of Senator Gordon Facebook (link) is: ‘a policeman has the right to defend himself, but where are the reports of Internal Affairs?’. This is correct. There are indeed situations where policemen have no choice. But there are also situations where a review of strategy to learn lessons can be useful. Checks also make sure that those who bear arms in order to protect people do not start to think they are naturally right. Because violence, even if it cannot be avoided sometimes, must always be used in a controlled manner. Everything else, and that is an experience that cuts across cultures, is a very slippery slope. Recent incidents show rage rising in the Philippines – a cyclist shot over a trifle, a motorcyclist arrested and shot by some policemen, wannabe holduppers run over intentionally by an SUV (link) – and everything that heats things up more might not do the country any good. Think Indonesia in 1965 – or Bosnia in 1993.
Irineo B. R. Salazar, München, 6 August 2016