Conspiracy of hope
In times like ours, when lives have become cheap, when threats are aired with abandon, and when human rights are honored more in the breach, it requires a brave brand of citizenship to come together and put a stop to an escalating “moral meltdown.”
In words said in contempt during the anniversary meeting of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption, the President threatened to kill human rights defenders. They have become, it seemed to him, obstinate obstacles to an overriding obsession: the elimination of people related in diverse ways to drugs. Moreover, he threatened human rights advocates and workers who had called for inquiries into the continuing killings in the country that they would be investigated themselves. For what? For “conspiracy.”
If that were so, conspire we must: to keep hope alive, to take a stand for the rule of law, for the sacredness of life, for the spirit that inspired the framing of our Constitution. People are called upon to exhibit a rare courage to take a stand on issues, in season and out of season. The youth, in particular, have to relearn what those who fought the excesses of Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law lived in the flesh: that courage is a verb—which requires deeds and sacrifices, if and when called for—for the struggle to defend human rights is what has forged our character as a people. People power has defined us, and at the heart of that struggle was reverence for life and a recognition of the human rights imperative.
In the process that led to the framing of the 1987 Constitution, I was privileged to be a coauthor of the provision creating the Commission on Human Rights—a constitutional body whose sole objective is the independent, impartial and consistent promotion and protection of human rights. When a president can with utter disdain shrug off the killings of more than two dozen people in drug raids conducted in one day in Bulacan, saying “Maganda yun” and urging that these be replicated, it seems to me that we are witnessing a failure of moral leadership that betrays our character as a people. This is not who we are!
We are a people forged in the fires of trials and tribulation. Subjugated by colonial rule, we did not allow Spain to destroy our soul as a kind and gentle people. Against all odds, we conspired to set ourselves free.
Bombed by the Japanese during the occupation of the country, we refused to bow down and cower before superior firepower. We conspired to drive the Japanese back to where they came from. When the American empire refused to confirm or deny the presence of nuclear weapons in foreign military bases on our own soil, we found a way to say “No” to the most powerful nation on earth and told them firmly but politely to withdraw from our shores. We conspired to make our territory free from nuclear weapons and foreign military bases.
Courage is indeed a verb, and the noun is the Filipino people. Lives do matter; human rights do matter in the same way. For when we lose our moral compass, then we tarnish the character forged by our forebears who sacrificed their lives before us to build a nation worthy of their children. History is an unforgiving teacher. If we fail to heed the lessons of the past, then we are condemned to repeat them. Our people deserve a future far better than the past!
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Prof. Ed Garcia taught political science at the University of the Philippines and Ateneo de Manila University before working with Amnesty International and International Alert in London for over two decades. He now serves as consultant for the formation of scholar-athletes at FEU Diliman.
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