In 1972 I gave martial law a chance to prove itself.
The first 2-3 years were peaceful and orderly that gave hopes to a promising future. After that, cronyism gradually took root compounded by ego and power-tripping human rights abuses that fuelled insurgencies — rightist, leftist, and secessionist — throughout the country. What began with the best of intentions became a national nightmare and cause for international shame.
I returned to the streets in protest — previously I was part of the first quarter storm in my last year in college (1969-1970) — when a brazen murder at the airport, of an unarmed man already in the custody of arresting authorities, shocked the nation and the world. It symbolized the depths to which the discredited dictatorship had plunged into to stay in power. It lit a powder keg when Filipinos decided they could no longer stomach injustice and being lied to that insulted their intelligence and dignity.
Marcos may have ruled, for the sake of argument, with the best of intentions for the country. But his grip on his family, cronies, and security forces were quite loose allowing them wide latitude to abuse and plunder. At the very least he was ultimately responsible and accountable. At the worst, he was complicit in amassing wealth that could have brought the country to First World status had it been utilized the right way.
I was then a member of two organizations — KAAKBAY (left of center) and Maninidigan! (right of center). Their respective positions on the state of the nation provided me a balanced view of the past and present, and provided pathways to a better future. The journey I took with them culminated in another promise of a new dawn on February 1986. My personal take on that fateful event was that the Filipino was being given a heaven-sent opportunity to be a better citizen for a better Philippines.
To me, it was not about regime change that most thought was the solution to the country’s problems. Sure, regime change was important. But more than that was changing our inner self, or transforming what we were collectively into what we ought to become — a strong united people under one God and one Flag to build a nation for our children. Instead of a physical revolution, I opted for self-transformation and honest service as the pathway to a bright tomorrow.
That brings us to present day circumstances.
Last Thursday, on the “Day of Protest” against President Duterte, some went to push for regime change. Others went because they were upset with the President’s behavior, real and imagined. Others wanted to celebrate Marcos’s declaration of martial law and push for either a return to it or the imposition of a revolutionary government. Others went on orders and were paid to swell the numbers. And others went to satisfy their curiosity. Staged protests in key cities gave the illusion of size.
The “Day of Protest” went by peacefully. Messages were delivered; points were made. Whether there’s buy-in is another matter. There’s a golden opportunity here for lessons learned and to unite in common purpose to address lingering divisions and resolve them justly. After all, it’s up to the people to decide for themselves because sovereignty ultimately resides in them. It will boil down to credibility and relevance. That’s good for democracy.
I protested the “Day of Protest.” However, because it didn’t touch on root issues that we’ve neglected for decades that produced the consequences we suffer from to this today. Those are selfishness, greed and exclusion that spawn entitlement and injustice that, in turn, fan corruption, arrogance, impunity, abuse, deprivation, poverty, anger, and armed conflict. Protesters wanted the ouster of president that’s into his second year in office, contrary to the views and sentiments of the supermajority. That’s not good for democracy.
My real Day of Protest is every day. While everybody cries out for a better Philippines only a minority are really working to be better Filipinos. The journey has yet to begin. The ship’s already rusty.
Service delivery sucks. How many are deprived of the basics for a decent life — education, jobs, livelihood, homes, health care. That says a lot about the quality of governance. Then there’s lawlessness, disorderliness and mindlessness. I have not wavered. I remain true and committed to this view. I continue to:
• advocate for criminal justice reform, professionalization of the bureaucracy, and modernization of our security forces.
• remain steadfast against behavior that divide, impoverish, and demoralize us.
• choose activities and organizations that demonstrate social responsibility, and causes that promote patriotism, integrity and performance excellence.
• work voluntarily for peace with justice, law and order, and national security through my relationships with the public and civic sectors.
• remain partisan to values, principles, and service.
I prefer evolution over revolution. It’s the better way forward. The trouble is that the country’s older generations are still compromising the future, unable to build a strong and just nation for our children. We remain rooted in self-interest that’s placed firmly above the national interest, then blame everyone else except ourselves for our dismal state. If we all desire a better Philippines, we must be better Filipinos every day in thought, word and deed.
Crucial to democracy’s vibrancy is respect for human rights for ALL. The House of Representatives delivered a stinging rebuke to the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) for its perceived unwarranted partiality and for politicizing human rights. Its budget reduction to P1,000 for 2018 was symbolic of that anger. I’m confident its budget will be restored to a reasonable level because the CHR is needed to instill a healthy respect for human rights through balanced and impartial investigations.
Democracy is dynamic. It calls us to strive to be better Filipinos in thought, word and deed. No one is exempted. It calls for maturity, mutual respect and compassion. Inang Bayan needs us. Let’s love our country; it’s our only home. Let’s love and serve each other; we’re all we’ve got.
Rafael M. Alunan III served in the Cabinet of President Corazon C. Aquino as Secretary of Tourism, and in the Cabinet of President Fidel V. Ramos as Secretary of Interior and Local Government.