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A citizen’s manifesto, 2017

/ 12:06 AM December 31, 2016

Resilience best describes the Filipino response to countless challenges through the years, in season and out of season. It has certainly been the way we survived 2016, and it will be the manner in which we will confront the year ahead.

Friends from countries as far as Norway and New Zealand have commented on how we seem to have changed in so short a time: from a country that showed the world the power of nonviolent resistance that toppled a dictatorship three decades ago without throwing a single stone, to a country now made infamous by over 6,000 deaths in the ongoing war on drugs at the hands of police operatives or men on motorcycles “riding in tandem” in the space of six brief months.

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Push back against the culture of death, one step at a time.  The task we face is to push back against the culture of death, impunity and indifference.  We have to a large extent become complacent in the face of the daily loss of lives of people found in the “order of battle” in the war of attrition against drugs or innocent victims alike. Equally appalling is the general lack of moral outrage against the mounting number of either targeted deaths or those counted among the so-called “collateral damage.”

Insults, invectives and intimidation have become the new normal in our political landscape and the language of our leaders. Threats and the inability to listen to others, particularly dissonant or alternative voices, as well as utter disregard for facts, have become part and parcel of the strident chorus that hinders respectful conversation among us.

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To reverse the tide of intolerance and the gathering clouds of hate that threaten to engulf us all and to take back our country from the brink, I propose the following measures from the perspective of a citizen who has sought “to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield”:

Citizen’s charter of small steps at a time

Show small acts of kindness daily to others, friends or strangers alike.

Demonstrate in equal and regular measure, acts of mercy and forgiveness to those who may cross our paths or touch our lives; we are a country of generous people and understand the meaning of magnanimity.

Speak the truth to power, gently but firmly, particularly in situations when the disadvantaged and the less fortunate seem to be on the receiving end.

Express our gratitude openly to those who make sacrifices or provide services so that our lives become more agreeable, manageable and filled with blessings.

Create circles of concern focusing on the causes that can help improve our people’s lives.

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Help build safe spaces of dialogue so that people can express their thoughts and feelings, concerns and grievances and their thoughts without fear, hesitation or trepidation.

Catalyze zones of peace, life and development in communities, in schools and places of worship so that our children can play, sing and dance without a care in the world.

Celebrate the dignity of difference so that our diversity is recognized as a source of strength rather than of weakness.

Act against injustice at all times, particularly when committed against the most vulnerable, our indigenous peoples, the dispossessed in rural and urban areas.

Retrieve the Filipino spirit so that we are not cowed, bullied or cajoled by any temporal power since we are strong not because of the wealth we possess but by the power of the principles and values we uphold as a people.

Be proud to be Filipino but show solidarity with those whose rights are trampled upon in faraway places of violent unrest, such as Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries living in fear of terror, injustice or unjust rule. We cannot stand aside when the dignity of a fellow human being is disrespected wherever and whenever it takes place.

The year of moral courage. The year 2017 must be a year of moral courage for citizens proud to call themselves Filipino. Each of us can be a bearer of hope, accountable and responsible for what takes place in our land.  We cannot abdicate that role and give it to our leaders alone. We are our brother’s and sister’s keepers, and we need to create conditions in our country so that we can raise happier and healthier children by addressing the basic needs of our people, the countless who are poor and feel hunger, who lack livelihood, food and shelter, who do not receive adequate healthcare and social services.  We need to redress the built-in inequalities in our midst, and to create level playing fields so that diverse sectors and businesses which provide dignified jobs can thrive.

We must silence the guns by means of peace negotiations and deal with the twin challenges of exclusion and impunity, thus addressing the underlying causes of the armed conflict that we have lived with for nearly five decades.  We need to convert the resources devoted to arms, munitions and the implements of war into tools of development that can be both sustainable and inclusive.

Finally, we need to learn from the comparative experiences of other countries and similar situations as articulated by United Nations agencies and related institutions who have drawn lessons from the failures or successes of other related endeavors. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime as well as the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions visit countries not to engage in debate but to provide recommendations based on best practice to help countries like ours to better deal with the issues that confront us.

To paraphrase St. Ignatius of Loyola, quoting Scripture, “What does it profit a people if we are able to wipe out all the drugs in our midst, but in the process lose our soul?” We must ask ourselves as a people: What will inspire us to tackle the hurdles ahead and not flinch, cower or turn back in the face of the odds?  We must do whatever is required and whatever it takes to retrieve the undying Filipino spirit.  This is the kind of 2017 that we deserve; this we pledge to work for.

Prof. Ed Garcia, one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution, taught political science at the University of the Philippines and interdisciplinary studies at Ateneo de Manila University. He worked with Amnesty International and International Alert in London for over two decades, and in his postretirement serves as a consultant for the formation of scholar-athletes at FEU Diliman.

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