Instead of the extrajudicial killings and human rights violations that have surged in unprecedented numbers during their troubling watch, the minions of the Duterte regime are condemning activism as if it were a heinous crime whose perpetrators deserve the death penalty they so eagerly want to restore.
They’re not explicitly saying it, but anyone with at least a double-digit IQ can draw that conclusion not only from the statements of the boss of bosses himself and his capos in the executive branch and Congress, but even more clearly from what the police, the Armed Forces, and the paramilitaries under their command are doing. These self-proclaimed paragons of law and order are threatening, harassing, and even justifying the killing of environmental activists, the leaders and members of Lumad, workers’ and farmers’ groups, the lawyers of the poor, human rights defenders, and those journalists who are looking into and reporting government corruption and wrongdoing.
It need hardly be said that activism is not a crime. It is quite simply the practice of using direct political action in opposing or supporting one side of an issue of common or sectoral concern. It emphasizes the use of protests, demonstrations, and other means of free expression in the public sphere where issues can be examined and debated, and some consensus arrived at so that the problems that bedevil societies can be resolved.
Contrary to what the uninformed and the manipulative partisans of civic and political indifference are saying in social media as well as print and broadcasting, activism is neither pointless nor a waste of time.
Activism helped make the graduated income tax, the eight-hour work day, and the women’s vote realities in Europe and the United States. In the Philippines, the role of activists — students, academics, women, journalists, human rights defenders, Church people — who risked their lives and fortunes in resisting fascist rule was immeasurable in bringing about the fall of the Marcos kleptocracy.
Earlier, in 1917, led by Carlos P. Romulo, who later became president of the United Nations General Assembly, student activists from the University of the Philippines (UP) protested the attack by a Manila newspaper on the UP president, and forced the newspaper to make a retraction.
In 1961, UP students led by Reynato Puno and Heherson Alvarez demonstrated in Congress to defend academic freedom and to protest the persecution of some UP professors by the House Committee on Anti-Filipino Activities (CAFA). The Committee was forced to halt its anti-UP witch-hunt.
Virtually all activists are under threat today precisely because activism does yield results. But it is student activists that the Duterte regime and its hucksters are explicitly reviling supposedly as a threat to this country. The truth is that it is a threat only to their abuse and misuse of the political power that the sovereign people have unfortunately delegated to them.
Their hostility is perfectly understandable. Student activists have been among the most consistent in demanding government accountability and are today calling for an end to the “drug war”-related killings and the political murders not only in Negros Oriental province but in other parts of the country as well. They’re also defending the academic freedom of their universities, and in general calling out the Duterte government for its corruption, misogyny, mendacity, brutality, violence, and its selling-out of the country to the economic, political, and strategic interests of imperialist China.
Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Oscar Albayalde, the Department of Interior and Local Governments’ Secretary Eduardo Ano, neophyte senator Ronald “Bato” De la Rosa, and the usual suspects are blaming their professors for the rise of student activism, and demanding police and military intrusion into, among other institutions of higher learning, the University of the Philippines and the Polytechnic University of the Philippines.
They claim that the faculties of these universities are either indoctrinating their students into joining organizations that they say are recruiting young men and women into the New People’s Army (NPA) and/or the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), or are themselves NPA and CPP recruiters.
One thought immediately comes to mind in response to these outlandish allegations. Albayalde, Ano, De la Rosa and their accomplices apparently assume that universities are politically and ideologically homogenous. They are not.
Among the qualities that distinguish the true university from the diploma mills these gentlemen are familiar with is its diversity — in schools of thought, convictions, philosophies, and, yes, politics and ideology. Some faculty members even profess — although it is itself a political and ideological stance — neither politics nor ideology.
One event is particularly demonstrative of the diversity in UP. In the 1960s, what was in vogue in the Department of Philosophy of the then-UP College of Liberal Arts was logical positivism, not Marxism. But that didn’t stop some UP professors from urging CAFA to investigate the department because some of its professors were openly atheists and agnostics. Other faculty members of a more liberal bent opposed the CAFA investigation, which, among other absurdities, presented as evidence of a communist conspiracy the publication of a document on the Huk rebellion in a learned UP journal.
His leading the anti-CAFA demonstration did not prevent then-law student Reynato Puno from becoming Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Neither did it stop his classmate Heherson Alvarez from becoming a senator. And, lest anyone forget, the dictator Ferdinand Marcos was a UP alumnus. So is the former lawyer of alleged Maguindanao massacre mastermind Andal Ampatuan and of the rapist-double murderer Antonio Sanchez: Salvador Panelo, currently the Duterte legal counsel and mouthpiece who has become, to some UP College of Law professors, a daily source of embarrassment.
The same diversity of views continues in UP today. The police and military’s use of the mistaken assumption that the UP faculty is politically and ideologically monolithic as the excuse for imposing their unwanted presence on UP campuses so they can, in their own words, “indoctrinate students” is thus not only patently absurd. It is also counter-productive of regime intentions.
Far from curbing activism, police and military intrusion is likely to make activists of even more students rather than less. The reasons are fairly obvious. Activists are made by the poverty, injustice, inequality, corruption, and violence that they see around them, and by the human responsibility of helping bring about a better world. But it’s not only what they’re seeing, experiencing, and learning, but also the inanities they are hearing from so-called “authorities” that is driving the more principled, the more knowledgeable, and those truly committed to the betterment of this unfortunate country and its people — their best and brightest sons and daughters — into activism.
Activists are not the creations of anyone, but of the need to protest and correct the injustice, poverty, incompetence and corruption that doom millions to short, brutish lives. That fact makes it unlikely for those of some intelligence to be the creatures and clones of the intellectually and morally bankrupt individuals responsible for the making of the offense to humanity and common decency that Philippine society and governance have become.
Exposure to the madness, brutality and sheer imbecility of the benighted creatures who’re driving this country into irremediable ruin is among the factors that’s convincing even more students, as it did during the Marcos Martial Law regime, that activism is what is needed in the making of the alternative State and society that are the only solutions to the horrors of the present. Police and military intrusion into the country’s better universities will hasten the process, and make activists of them all.
Luis V. Teodoro is on Facebook and Twitter (@luisteodoro).