May 27, 2005

Today's imperative

The Movement of Concerned Citizens for Civil Liberties (MCCCL) was formed by the stalwarts of the civil liberties movement in the 70s, including Sen. Jose W. Diokno, Sen. Lorenzo M. Tañada, Chino Roces, Joaquin Po and National Press Club (NPC) members shortly after the suspension of the privilege to the writ of habeas corpus, a year before the declaration of martial law by President Ferdinand Marcos.

The MCCCL was revived yesterday in a nostalgic reunion of hundreds of civil libertarians from the 70s and 80s as well as a broad gathering of legislators, spiritual leaders, trade unionists, peasant leaders, human rights and peace advocates, feminists and other progressives. According to MCCCL convenors, the landmark event was impelled by the rash of killings of journalists, lawyers, church people and activists since the start of the Macapagal-Arroyo administration in 2001.

Stage and film director Behn Cervantes captured the moment with appropriate dramatic flair. He underscored the fact that the struggle to uphold civil liberties and political freedoms in this benighted country is never done. Again and again -- concerned citizens must take up the challenge to uphold basic democratic rights and defend hard-earned freedoms in the face of political repression and state-sponsored violence.

Feisty and irrepressible Sister Mary John Mananzan, OSB, activist nun par excellance, highlighted the lessons that the Filipino people have learned in the life-and-death struggle against the Marcos Dictatorship as well as the arduous struggle to uphold civil and political rights in the post-Marcos era. We consider it worthwhile to quote extensively from her speech:

“First lesson: armed conflicts, mass protests, dissent and the general instability that has characterized our political life and continue to threaten every sitting government are the result of social injustice and discrimination, the deteriorating economic conditions and unrelieved impoverishment of our long suffering people. These in turn have been brought about by anti-people and anti-Filipino policies and corrupt and treasonous governance. Therefore the solution to the chronic political instability we suffer is thoroughgoing economic, social and political reforms and not repression or ‘total war’ against one’s own people.”

“We must reject the concept being peddled by government today of a ‘strong republic’ founded on using the military, the police and their assets as well as the courts and new fascist legislation to curtail our people’s democratic rights in the guise of fighting ‘terrorism’, ‘criminality’ and ‘destabilization plots’.”

“Every so often the militarists inside and outside government try to recycle strongman rule and various forms of military or civilian-military juntas as the ultimate solution to the country’s political malaise and periodic convulsions. But these we must also reject outright.”

“Second lesson: The purpose of repression is to cow the people into submission. The only way to beat it is by broadening and heightening resistance and defiance, to show that repression is ineffective and counterproductive.”

“The anti-dictatorship struggle underscored the importance of vigilance and the militant, united action of the working people and other democratic sectors and forces in breaking the “terror effect” of martial law and gradually building up the critical mass that would topple the dictatorship. For example, the religious, supporting the La Tondeňa workers resulted in the breakthrough strike of 1975. The underground, alternative media including the “xerox” press broke the Marcos monopoly of the avenues of information and the molding of public opinion. Protest mass actions grew in numbers and gained breadth especially after a series of desperate measures resorted to by the dictatorship to remain in power such as the Aquino assassination, bogus presidential elections (1981) and snap elections (1986) as well as brutal counter-insurgency campaigns that victimized hundreds of thousands of civilians. Unpopular and corrupt-ridden projects such as the Bataan nuclear power plant further widened opposition to the dictatorship.”

“Even in the post-Marcos era we have seen that there is no substitute to uniting our people to fight for our democratic rights and freedoms. Today we must all link arms to resist each and every attempt to impose a de facto, if piecemeal, martial law and to thwart all schemes to systematically cripple, if not wipe out, all dissent and opposition especially by state terror in the form of assassinations, torture and enforced disappearances.”

“Third lesson: there are powerful foreign interests that are at play and intervening actively in our country’s internal affairs that we cannot ignore. The US, our former colonizer, continues to exercise a dominant influence on the way our government makes policies on domestic and foreign affairs and undertakes and implements programs including so-called “counter-insurgency” and “counter-terrorist” programs (including, ironically, peace negotiations with armed rebel groups). Most ominously, it is still the single most decisive factor that can make or unmake a sitting government.”

“Unfortunately, the lesson that what is good for the US is not necessarily good for the Philippines and that US political and military intervention in the Philippines is in fact harmful to the immediate and long-term national interest has been a difficult one for many of us to learn. Blame it on our colonial mentality. But blame it as well on the political dynasties and other elite-based politicians that have ruled this country post-independence. They have never questioned much less resisted US interference for their own selfish reasons.”

“We must learn this hardest lesson of all from the struggles against the US-backed Marcos dictatorship and subsequent US-supported anti-people regimes and oppose both covert and overt US and other foreign interference in our internal affairs.”

“Finally, we pay tribute to the martyrs in the anti-dictatorship struggle both the well-known and the unknown -- the Ninoy Aquinos, the Macliing Dulags, the Edgar Jopsons, the Dr. Bobby de la Pazes and the Juan and Juana de la Cruzes -- those who fought through the legal venues and those who perforce took up armed struggle to counter the systematic and oppressive violence of the state wreaking havoc on the people’s lives.

Today we pay tribute to the scores of men and women who have been summarily executed or involuntarily disappeared under the administration of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo whose murders cry to the heavens for justice and whose innocent blood gives us all the more reason to relaunch and reinvigorate this Movement of Concerned Citizens for Civil Liberties. We must vow to stop these killings, to end political repression and to defend and uphold our rights and freedoms as a people.”

May 27-28, 2005


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