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Independence from Ignorance

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Commemorating our “independence”

116 years ago today, Emilio Aguinaldo proclaimed the independence of the Philippine archipelago from the Spaniards. It ended oppressive Spanish colonial rule and started a new era in the country. However, the declaration wasn’t recognized by the international community. The subsequent Philippine-American War and the signing of the 1898 Treaty of Paris resulted to the Philippines to become yet again another colonial state, this time of the United States.

68 years ago, the Treaty of Manila was signed on the 4th of July that year, following the aftermath of the Second World War and the Allied victory. With this, the Philippines and the world finally recognized the genuine sovereignty of the Filipino people.

28 years ago, Filipinos declared a different kind of independence. They regained their freedom and emerged victorious against an oppressive regime in what news commentators would say “the revolution that surprised the world”. It was a nonviolent revolution. It was one of those revolutions that made an impact on subsequent uprisings around the globe. The upheaval that resulted to the restoration of nationwide democracy still lives in us, but is slowly fading away.

As a staunch advocate of human rights and democracy, I would like to urge the Filipino people to not only commemorate this day as the day we fought for our freedom, but also urge them to start realizing and start fighting for our freedom from un-enlightenment or the incomprehension of the reality of history. Therefore, I would like to emphasize the notions of a liberal government and of every human being’s fundamental and inalienable rights in this op-ed.

Remembering an oppressive regime

With the recent rise of Marcos loyalists in social media, particularly from the millennial base, actions must be taken in re-educating the masa regarding our past mistakes for we cannot afford to repeat them again. It is understandable that we live in tough times where our government backstabs its people, but we should not lose hope and adhere to radical views to fuel our anger because that is not a future our people deserve.

When former president Ferdinand Marcos proclaimed Martial Law, he sought to replace the American-styled Congress with an adverse parliamentary system where he was to be given executive as well as legislative powers. This meant that Marcos could make any law without interference from the National Assembly or the courts, thus circumventing republican principles such as the separation of powers and checks and balances that produced detrimental ramifications in society.

When public service becomes self-service, the whole system fails. Marcos’ abuse of power and discretion reached maximum level the longer he stayed in power. He implemented nepotistic policies that protected his close allies while others were forced to suffer abusive and arbitrary laws. Marcos has been titled as one of the world’s most corrupt politicians by embezzling billions worth of taxpayer’s money and also due to his reckless crony capitalist agenda in appointing close friends in higher positions, which made the nation’s economy dependent on the relationship between the Marcos government and his allies.

One of the political repressions suffered by the nation was the deprivation of the rights of mass media to seek the truth. Censoring free press by shutting down newspapers and heavily controlling broadcast media meant that the regime had the ways and means to control the flow of information given to the masa.

This disregard to press freedom also implied the total degradation of the freedom of speech as well as the freedom of assembly. By prohibiting all demonstrations and other forms of group actions and giving the state broad powers to arrest and detain anyone suspected of voicing an unfavorable opinion against the regime, the likelihood of abuse was inevitable which led to brutal consequences.

This led to gross injustices everywhere. The brutal consequences resulted from the broad powers given to the state were wide to the point where not only judges, but also “responsible officers”, could issue warrants to search or arrest an individual suspected of any crime.

Moreover, the writ of habeas corpus the presumption of innocence did not exist during the Marcos reign because regardless of the presence of probable cause, the government adhered to its detrimental discretion. About 70,000 detainees were locked up in military camps and were reported to have been harassed and tortured by the regime. These civil rights violations undermined the people’s fundamental right to be treated fairly under the law. The due process violations’ most atrocious outcomes weren’t the torture reports, but rather extrajudicial killings. During Marcos’ reign, tens of thousands of regime-related deaths were reported, mostly unsolved.

Parallels to our modern society

The reason why I emphasized abundantly on the Marcos dictatorship was because our society needs to be admonished of the oppressions suffered by the country in the past. We cannot afford to let them be indifferent to the veracity of the predicaments because that indifference could generate an approbation of injustice in our modern day society, which is arguably occurring right now. Remember that change can only result from our ideas and actions as sophisticated citizens, and we can make the first step by beginning to understand what our people endured during a regressive and repressive rule.

Last month, Human Rights Watch published a report regarding death squads facilitated by the city government of Tagum City. The revelations showed that former mayor Rey Uy had been responsible for initiating vast extrajudicial killings of petty criminals during his term.

The issue has so far not concerned the people enough to incentivize the government to act. And that is alarming. Blinded by the injustices Filipinos face every day, they fall for other masked injustices; they consider criminals as pests of society with no human rights and dignity. Take for example Ramon Tulfo of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, who has written an opinion article justifying the squads by asking, “Who’s complaining, anyway?”

My response to that is a quote from the late Benjamin Franklin: “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Such thinking that was shown by Tulfo is the reason why radical mayors who threaten to kill in public get elected and praised by the people who would rather give up freedom for security. It is also the reason why military men get praised by a former president for their activities against communist rebels despite numerous condemnations from civil society regarding their human rights abuses.

John Sifton of Human Rights Watch responded in a letter to PDI condemning Tulfo’s dangerous views. And indeed Sifton was right in saying that the solution to a crippled justice system was reform, and not death squads. A civilized society in the 21st century should realize that the rule of law along with the democratic and universal human rights principles that go with it should be respected.

It’s in our human nature to condemn killers. It’s also in our human nature to act for ourselves if justice fails to right the injustices we see. One notable example of a gross injustice that is fueling our country is the recent pork barrel scandal. The gross malfeasance of our elected officials gave the masa the notion of our justice system being a joke due to the failure to deter corruption and hasten the investigations of the disgraced politicos. This notion also generated an idea of reviving the death penalty as a punishment for corruption.

But do they deserve death? I believe that our society should realize that the true question is not whether they deserve to die, but rather, do we as a society deserve to kill.

Capital punishment was abolished in the Philippines in 2006. The international community regarded the abolition as an impressive step for a developing country to be in accordance with a developed world. And that is a developed world founded upon the principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

Our humanity depends on everyone’s humanity. Our society’s unintelligence must be fought against. We cannot move on as a nation without learning from history; a history where cruelty controlled our spirits. We can and should make a change by educating ourselves through our rational understanding of the current political circumstances and the promotion of idealistic goals.


About the Author

Josh Makalintal (@joshmaks) is an EU/International Affairs blogger and is currently a university-preparatory student based in Innsbruck, Austria. Although he still holds a Filipino passport, he truly considers himself as a citizen of the world. Aside from being a writer, he likes to travel, hike, stargaze and attempt to learn new languages. He is also an activist who’s engaged in advocating human rights and social change. He is a member the AKS, one of Austria’s largest student organization and the Austrian Young Greens. He considers himself as an idealistic cosmopolitan and dreams of making the world a progressive and sustainable place.