Olga Misik sat cross-legged on a Moscow street, reading the Russian constitution in front of a phalanx of Vladimir Putin’s dreaded riot police in full battle gear (shields, batons, helmets and all). While the 17-year-old high school graduate read the Russian charter from her laptop, the dreaded men in their dreary outfits seemed unsure how to handle the audacious act of resistance by a lone dissenter, who stood between the police and a throng of demonstrators protesting against the banning of opposition leaders from running in next month’s Duma elections for Moscow.
The picture of the young demonstrator struck me as a defiant image of our times. In fact, it stunned me, for it is rare, as far as I can remember, that a constitution is brandished as a shield against repression. This photograph, which reminded me of the young man—holding shopping bags at that—who tried by his lonesome to stop the Chinese tanks from rolling toward Tiananmen Square, has now become another iconic image of resistance against authoritarian rule, in Russia and beyond.
In our country, diverse forms of resistance live, but they are under serious threat. Human rights defenders have been threatened and, in many instances, killed. Our environmentalists and antimining advocates are an endangered species. In the global ranking of the most dangerous countries for ecological workers, our country now occupies the top of the list.
In Mindanao, our indigenous people have had their right to education curtailed after their schools were shut down. In Negros Oriental, a culture of impunity prevails, while a virtual policy of annihilation has sent a chilling effect on dissent not only in the provinces of the Visayas, but also elsewhere.
Meanwhile, in a situation that has become a tragic farce, 36 people have been charged with inciting to sedition and related charges, based on a dubious affidavit that has been executed by a confirmed con man. Its eventual aim, it seems, is to silence the opposition.
Among the “Sedition 36” who have been issued subpoenas to appear before the Department of Justice are, from the Church: the outspoken Archbishop Soc Villegas of Dagupan, the shepherd-bishop Ambo David, former Novaliches bishop Ted Bacani, Cubao Bishop Honesto Ongtioco, De La Salle president Br Armin Luistro, and Fathers Robert Reyes, Jesuit Paring Bert and Flav Villanueva, SVD; from the legal profession: Integrated Bar of the Philippines president Egon Cayosa and Abdiel Fajardo, former Supreme Court spokesperson Theodore Te, and other lawyers and personalities from civil society; from the political opposition: Akbayan Sen. Risa Hontiveros and the imprisoned Sen. Leila de Lima, former senators Antonio Trillanes IV and Bam Aquino, the defeated senatorial aspirants from Otso Diretso—former solicitor general Pilo Hilbay, former deputy speaker Erin Tañada, law dean Chel Diokno, former representative Gary Alejano, election lawyer Romy Macalintal and Marawi civil society leader Samira Gutoc; and finally, the ultimate target of the sedition charges—Vice President Leni Robredo.
When first apprised of the charges against her hurled by the shadowy Peter Advincula, that she was involved in antigovernment meetings with the opposition candidates at Ateneo’s Loyola Heights campus, Robredo stated without hesitation: “I do not know the man, not even his shadow. I go to the Ateneo to hear Mass, not to plot.”
“I am willing to face any investigation or any probe because I stand by the truth,” she added. “My accuser is a liar. I will do my job and help uplift the lives of our people. If need be, I will continue to speak; to point out what we consider to be flawed policies or wrong priorities pursued by this administration.”
Calm, composed and courageous, Robredo was the “last (wo)man standing” in the vice presidential election in 2016, and now she shows no intention of backing down; she has learned a brave brand of politics that is fearless and unyielding in her improbable journey as an “accidental” leader of our country. For her and for many other citizens in the face of harassment and intimidation by the government,
“Resist!” is once again the name of the game.
Ed Garcia is one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution and a teacher and mentor to the young.
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