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Graffiti As A Means Of Protest In The Philippines

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Decker and Curry (n.d) define graffiti as a method of visual communication done by individuals or groups. Graffiti may be taken as an expressive art form, however, this act is often considered illegal as it involves writing or imprinting symbols or phrases on public spaces. The authors also construe that it is a type of rebellious behavior that seeks to gain attention or thrill.


The origins of graffiti can be traced back to prehistoric times in the form of cave inscriptions, long before the concept of ‘art’ existed. Later, forms of graffiti can be found during the time of Ancient Greece and Rome. According to Baird and Taylor (2011), public inscriptions in Ancient Greece served as advertisements by merchants, spells from prophets and oracles, praises towards gladiators, and as well as political criticism against the authorities of their time.

During the Middle Ages, historians and archaeologists discovered a plethora of graffiti among old European churches, reflecting significant collective information among the common folk of their time. This comprises about 95% of the period’s population, compared to mainstream imagery of knights, castles, and damsels, which depicted only 5% of the population.

What is now known to be modern graffiti began in the 1970’s by a young man named Darryl McCray, also known as “Cornbread”, who became recognized as the “Father of Modern Graffiti”. He initiated writing his nickname around different places and thus began the act of “tagging”. His actions, which was initially done to impress a young woman, later on evolved as a form of protest against racism and police brutality in the U.S. This later on progressed into more elaborate graffiti masterpieces and spread across the United States by the 1980’s and became a global impact by the 1990’s.

By 2000 and at present, people’s views towards graffiti are still divided. While there are those who still condemn the act and deem it as illegal, there are those who now uplift and even legitimize works of graffiti in elite art centers.


Late in November 2019, spray-painted statements on the walls of Lagusnilad underpass, Manila, caught the attention of the public and as well as government authorities. The walls were written with “Digmaang bayan sagot sa martial law – PS” and “Atin ang Pinas! US-China layas! – PS”. The act was later on identified to be done by youth activist group, Panday Sining. Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso recently lead the clean-up of the underpass on July 15, 2019. The vandalism on the walls of the underpass sparked a public outrage because of the defacement of the newly-painted underpass walls. This also prompted Mayor Isko Moreno to call out and threaten the youth group to scrub the walls using their tongue. The mayor’s resentment towards the act caused an online debate on whether vandalism is acceptable behavior as a form of protest.

The Problem of the study

Presentation of the Arguments

The Lagusnilad underpass vandalism issue caused a massive debate on whether vandalism should be considered as acceptable behavior from protesters. On one hand, opposers of protest graffiti raised questions asking whether it would be acceptable behavior if people were to vandalize the homes of those who initiated the protest. Additionally, opposers state that these kinds of acts wastes government money. In an article by Winna Vista (2019) for the Philippine Daily Inquirer, she states that vandalized areas costs a lot of money to be cleaned and argued that the money used for cleaning could have been used for different purposes such as public health care.

On the other hand, youth group, Panday Sining, who were behind the Lagunsilad underpass graffiti, stood their ground explaining that protest art was meant to “sound the alarm of the public” against injustices such as martial law in Mindanao and it was not meant to provoke citizens. Protest art is also considered necessary by various activist groups.

Reasonings and Assertions from Various Contexts

Kantian Ethics

German philosopher known as Immanuel Kant believed that reason takes a huge part in the essence of morality. According to Kant, decisions can be made primarily on the contingence of the desires that drive you to act upon it, however, this relates more towards prudence rather than morality itself.

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To determine whether a certain action is of good reason, Kant created formulas to examine and conclude whether the action is deemed to be good or bad in terms of violating the moral law adhering to the categorical imperative; to act as if through your will, the principle from which you were to act was to become a general law.

The act of graffiti as a means of protest can be seen as an imperfect duty. The act of protest in order to provide justice towards society in shedding light to help people live a better life can be quite vague to be considered a duty. Protestors who disagree with the practices of the governing body would want to let the population know that we are being treated unfairly; not letting the government reign free from injustice. In this sense, people creating graffiti for protest would rather act upon the matter to give rise to such issues than to sit still, however, this is quite difficult to judge without specific details of who owns the property being defaced, what is the government doing exactly, why doesn’t the individual commit a different approach to attend to the issue; maybe by being more direct. Without all the other details at hand given more specifically, it is considered an imperfect duty, at best.

The Principle of Respect for Autonomy

The Principle of Respect for autonomy stipulates that individuals have an obligation to respect other people’s independence even though it may be considered a negative duty not to interfere with other people’s decisions, furthermore, it is also a positive duty to encourage others for whom we are accountable and responsible for. In the case of graffiti made for protest, the individuals believe it is their duty to act for those who cannot, thus encouraging others to do the same. Living in a democracy gives the whole population a right to determine who is in power. This gives the population a responsibility for selected individuals abused by the system that elected representatives have imposed. It can be considered right to help those of whom you are accountable for in respect for autonomy, however graffiti for protest is simply one of the many acts that can be done regarding the matter. Therefore, the act should be made in full knowledge and understanding of the relevant information necessary to make such a decision, as an autonomous decision made freely without undue influence by a competent person. It should also apply to current circumstances or situations.

The Principle of Beneficence

The principle of beneficence specifies that in all actions done, mankind has an obligation to bring upon goodness. This principle is in direct conflict with the context given, graffiti as a means of protest. If all actions donee should connote and bring goodness, it implies that the individual should take the best course of action to do what needs to be done. Graffiti is one of many acts that can be done to aid the issues at hand and graffiti, when done in property of other people, could lead to a negative impact to those affected. If the principle of beneficence is to be followed, graffiti is not an act to be considered.

The principle of justice states that all beings are to be treated impartially, all individuals acquire an obligation to provide to others what they are owed or deserve. In the context of graffiti made for protest, the acts done to public property made by the government may do no harm to other people in a physical aspect, but act as a voice for those who have experienced the injustices made by the government to hopefully provide a change in the flow of information regarding the decision of the masses to support the government body. This is a great example of an action made for the benefit of those who are being treated unfairly.

Social Constructionism

The Social Construct theory is a perspective that views the realm of reality dictating what is real and differentiating them to the constructs made my humanity. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Duis tempus leo id facilisis accumsan. Curabitur sed mollis enim. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Duis tempus leo id facilisis accumsan. Curabitur sed mollis enim.

Utilitarian Ethics

Utilitarianism is known to be independent of religious belief focusing on the consequences of the act itself. It revolves around making decisions for the benefit of the majority of individuals which determines your moral choice. This acknowledges the role of pain and pleasure in human life, disapproving of action based on whether the results of the said action result in pain or enjoyment, it equates pleasure to be good and pain to be bad; both being measurable and quantified. In accordance with the Principle of the Greatest Good, the means of graffiti as protest needs to be observed through certain criteria.

Act Utilitarianism – the graffiti being made, despite defacing private or public property should lead to an outcome that lead to the greatest good. If the protestors are right about the unfair treatment of the government to the nation and their graffiti has led to the realization of the masses regarding the issues being faced, it could lead to an overthrow of the current administration giving more opportunities for improvement rather than receiving injustice. However, if the information the protestors believe in is wrong, it could lead to a more negative outcome to the general population. There is also a possibility of the graffiti leading to no changes in the government body, hence, the outcome would just be the damages brought to the property defaced. The problem however, is that the pleasure of an individual making graffiti could be different to the pleasure of others. The probabilities are uncertain if the action is taken place, reliant on the principles of the person committing the act.


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  1. Hope, J. (2018, August 22). Medieval graffiti: The lost voices of England’s churches in the Middle Ages. Retrieved from
  2. (n.d.). Vandalism wastes gov’t money. Retrieved from
  3. Pao, J. (2019, November 13). Vandalism is a necessary tactic, say HK vanguard: Article. Retrieved from
  4. The Power of the Brush: Protest Art in the Philippines (1st in a series). (2010, January 18). Retrieved from
  5. Staff, C. P. (n.d.). Youth group sorry, but justifies Manila underpass vandalism. Retrieved from

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Graffiti As A Means Of Protest In The Philippines. (2022, Jun 16). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 1, 2022, from
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