Jago and Preman

Suzuki Bandit 650SA - sideare 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

4 thoughts on “Jago and Preman

  1. Irineo, I think it would be useful to think about the position of the police pre-Duterte. I saw lots of police when i was staying in Manila. Almost universally they were standing around doing very little. In the morass of Quezon Blvd Quiapo traffic trams on Fridays and Sundays they stood about watching..If a jeep did something crazy like stopping in the middle lane, it was ignored….If young guys stood around stoned on Shabu, they still stood around….

    I cannot comment with any depth on why this was the case. Some off the cuff remarks : The police motto imposed by the government, says “We Serve” and maybe that was confusing for many as it says nothing about enforcing the law…Unless directly told to be higher ups…And maybe there was ‘protection’ happening with lots of people paying off individuals officers not to enforce the law.

    And now there is a president who says enforce the law on drugs ! Drugs are major threat t the nation and society.And if they fight back, kill them, the users & pushers….I suggest that suddenly the police have been freed & are are being encouraged, to enforce and be the saviors of society and the nation from this threat.

    So they are doing it….And encouraging communities to inform them of who the pushers & criminal type users are …

    Of course some folks see this as a threat to their vision of the nation & society : they prefer to see an emphasis on preserving human rights over ‘saving the nation’. But Duterete warned that he would lead this process last year. And Filipinos decided to support him in great numbers : 16 million adult Filipinos; in large part because he staked his presidency on changing the country…

    And I hear that Blvd Rizal has been cleared by the police of all the vendors who blocked it at Carriedo LRT station..They were warned and ordered to move. And now traffic is moving smoother along Blv Rizal.Maybe Quezon will be next !

    • Senators and Congressmen are elected by adult Filipinos to represent their voice. What Senators and Congressmen say are the voice of the adult Filipinos.

      16,000,000 adult Filipinos initially elected Duterte by simple majority. Senators and Congressmen, one-by-one and in droves dumped Benigno Aquino & Mar Roxas’ Liberal Party affiliation to switch to Duterte’s.

      It is not the voice of the Senators and Congressmen, IT IS THE VOICE OF THE PEOPLE WHOM THEY REPRESENTED.


      Duterte got humongous POLITICAL CAPITAL to spend and he spends it wisely killing the durugistas without due process of law which adult Filipinos supported by super-popularity of 90% of the adult Filipinos!

      Filipinos are tired of Witnesses and Affidavits. I am tired of witnesses and affidavits, too !!! I am tired of it because prosecution by witnesses and affidavits is not justice it is justice-by-Duterte but in an ignorant way.

      This time I supported the killings. Because I am tired of it.


  2. Fascinating. I see in President Duterte the classic Jago, which I have called the typical local mayor, dominant in his town, with his rules the only rules that count. Admired for being ruthless. Anti-intellectual, even though he managed to pass the bar exam. Jokester, as if every debate were a session under the mango tree with a jug of tuba and coke. I particularly enjoy your point that “one can hardly tell who are the jagos, preman and Makapili among the different groups of Filipinos.”

    Yes, true, but here in the provinces, there are a lot of Jagos.

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