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The power of nonviolent resistance

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Commentary

The power of nonviolent resistance

/ 12:28 AM February 17, 2017

Nonviolent resistance has seen a recent resurgence in many countries. Its aim: to challenge personalities and policies that discriminate, exclude, or trample on the rights and harm the dignity of others.  By peaceably gathering and making their voices heard, people across the globe are demonstrating that the struggle for basic rights and justice truly has no boundaries. Principled in character and peaceful in manner, this form of resistance has been embraced across generations.

Strength of spirit. Nearly five decades ago, at the onset of what was then dubbed “The First Quarter Storm,” a band of students and seminarians, out-of-school youth and professionals came together to establish Lakasdiwa. It was founded on Feb. 17, 1970, the day of the martyrdom of the Filipino patriot-priests, Fathers Gomez, Burgos and Zamora, during the Spanish colonial era. Lakasdiwa espoused the ideals of nonviolent struggle for justice, the defense of human rights, and the protection of democratic space.

Lakasdiwa drew inspiration from the immortal Mahatma Gandhi, and the principles of satyagraha (strength of spirit) and ahimsa (truth). Encouraged by the experience of the civil rights campaigner Martin Luther King Jr. and Dom Helder Camara, the bishop who championed the rights of the poor in northeast Brazil’s Pernambuco, Lakasdiwa aimed to nurture the Filipino spirit of courage under fire in its advocacy to build a country where rights were upheld, greater equality advanced, and the twin ills of impunity and exclusion addressed.

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Defiant civil disobedience. Its signature campaign consisted of accompanying the vulnerable in their plight, which culminated in a protest action inside Congress called “Operasyon Tuligsa sa Kongreso.” The protest action was undertaken after nearly 100 days of protesting Congress’ systematic setting aside of the  right of farmers to the land they tilled. Singing the national anthem in the halls of Congress in an act of peaceful defiance and mass civil disobedience unprecedented at that time, members of Lakasdiwa were hauled in army trucks to Camp Crame. At another time, they occupied the office of the justice secretary demanding justice for 17 members of the Federation of Free Farmers who were unjustly detained.

Lakasdiwa also assisted in organizing and mobilizing the residents of Sapang Palay, in San Jose del Monte, Bulacan, who were unceremoniously dumped there from Intramuros without adequate provisions for livelihood, shelter, water and electricity. Together, they marched 42 kilometers to Malacañang on Oct. 5, 1970, in a demonstration of solidarity to speak truth to power. In another instance, in February 1971, the youth linked arms with people in the streets in the historic 1971 jeepney strikes which took place in the midst of police brutality.

Resistance. In today’s context, pushing back against the rising tide of intolerance and indifference, resistance lives! Our millennials are in the frontline of protests against attempts to revise history and to bury the truth along with the remains of the dictator in hallowed ground.

They protest in concert with veteran street parliamentarians who had put their lives on the line and citizens concerned that the principles and values they fought for in the past are being set aside. This emerging alliance continues to explore more imaginative ways of principled nonviolent resistance.

In this digital age marked by the proliferation of social media, our youth are tackling the tasks of the hour and creating coalitions of conscience, learning to demonstrate their courage in diverse ways, taking single steps to explore a new way of doing politics. It is a brave brand of citizenship.

Lakasdiwa was a form of principled and militant nonviolent resistance then; today, our people, particularly our youth, have to discover the most effective ways of exercising citizenship with courage to craft the kind of country we aspire to live in and the shape of the future that we wish to build.

Ed Garcia was one of the founders of Lakasdiwa.

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