‘To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield!’
I still vividly remember the first truncheons that were swung at students at the foot of the Old Congress in Manila during the First Quarter Storm (FQS) in 1970. The annual address dubbed the “State of the Nation” had just been intoned by then President-turned-dictator Ferdinand Marcos, while the real state of the nation with all its unrest, suppressed brutally, was unraveling in the streets.
“Conscientization,” a word coined by the author of the “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” the Brazilian Paolo Freire, meaning “growing social awareness,” was hastened by the blows of truncheons or the suffocation caused by tear gas or the sudden gust of water cannons thrown at protesters; “mulat” we said then, the equivalent of the word “woke” that you often use now.
I relate this experience because the FQS in a sense presaged the political upheaval that led to the eventual overthrow of the conjugal dictatorship. The fact that a Marcos is poised once again to claim a seat in the Senate, another scion of the family to reclaim the family’s place in Congress, and yet still another in the provincial capitol of Ilocos Norte without mentioning its capital city, is perhaps irony in the most bitter sense of the word. Where in the world is redemption gained without even a hint of remorse or acknowledgment of wrongdoing? Or, is this the warped justice that we have become used to because of the countless times justice has been denied in our country?
Never before, except perhaps in 1938 or some 80 years ago, has democratic opposition been so obliterated as in the recent midterm elections. Not a single candidate from the opposition survived the onslaught of the resource-laden administration. The names that your generation voted at the top of your slates in some 40 mock polls held in colleges and universities across the land were nowhere on the list that will represent you in the Senate.
But the Otso Diretso experience, in a sense, is just the beginning. It could signal a new awakening. It provides our youth an opportunity to shape a future different from the shameful past. It raises issues you will need to grapple with, such as the following: the challenge of Charter change by an unbridled Congress that will be converted into a constituent assembly (con-ass); the pushback against an escalation of the bloody war on drugs with its attendant devaluation of human life, particularly in inner-city communities; the resistance against the continued incursion of China into Philippine waters; the fight back against threats to our freedom to dissent and our rights to a free press and media; and the resolve to put a stop to the moral meltdown in our society caused by so-called leaders who believe that cursing those who differ is unifying the country.
We have in our hands a continuing nightmare, certainly a far cry from the dream of our great statesman Ka Pepe Diokno who, in confronting the dictatorship that had jailed him in solitary confinement for seven long years, said in defiance: “I fight, I continue to struggle to build a nation for our children.”
To the young who were not only witnesses but participants in the valiant campaign of the Otso Diretso, I have this to say: “Be not afraid! Yours is the successor generation. The future belongs to you, and its shape and texture, its spaces for freedom and progress are yours to design, and the ranks of the committed yours to forge.”
If you feel underrepresented in the halls of Congress, remember that you have power in your hands and strength in your numbers—if you are able to organize and mobilize.
In a sense, you are called upon to stand up and give voice to the aspirations of many who have become timid or fearful, who have become indifferent or apathetic, who have been cowed to silence and intimidated by the forces of state repression or coercion, or have been overwhelmed by the demands of daily subsistence—the unceasing efforts simply to wait for a ride (which I have witnessed a thousand times) or just to survive.
We believe in you. We have seen hope in your eyes. We have seen courage in your actions. Our generation may have tried but failed. But yours is more prepared, more real, more capable, and certainly “woke.” Thus, with you in the forefront, the battle is joined, and may the words of the poet accompany you in this uncertain and improbable quest: “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield!”
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Ed Garcia is a framer of the 1987 Constitution. He worked at Amnesty International and International Alert in the United Kingdom for over two decades and taught at the Ateneo, UP and FEU.
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