The Filipino students of ‘Kalayaan, Atin Ito’
THE CONCEPT of recognizing an individual or a group of individuals for something they have done that influenced the life of a community, for better or worse, is an idea that has been with us for quite some time now.
In 1927 the editors of Time Magazine came out with its first “Man of the Year” cover honoring aviator Charles Lindbergh for becoming the first person to fly solo nonstop across the Atlantic from New York to Paris. The 1930 yearend issue carried Mahatma Gandhi who led a “March to the Sea” to protest the imposition of a salt tax by the British authorities. It would spotlight the growing Indian independence movement that eventually led to freedom for the country. In 1936, Wallis Simpson, an American divorcee whose relationship with King Edward VIII of England would lead the king to abdicate his throne in order to marry her, was chosen for the magazine’s “Woman of the Year” cover. She would be the first woman to be so recognized by Time Magazine.
Perhaps, one of its most controversial choices was made in 1938 when Adolf Hitler, chancellor of the Third Reich, and commander in chief of the German Army, Navy and Air Force, in a conference with the leaders of Great Britain, France and Italy, redrew the map of Europe with him as the dominant figure. Instead of “peace with honor,” the Munich Conference would lead to World War II, resulting in the suffering and death of millions of people around the globe.
In 1986, for the first time, a Filipino was honored with the “Woman of the Year” cover. President Corazon Aquino was the first female president not only of the Philippines but also of Asia. As the self-proclaimed “plain housewife,” she inspired the Edsa Revolution that toppled the 20-year dictatorship of President Ferdinand Marcos and restored democracy to the country.
In 1999, the title “Man of the Year” was replaced by “Person of the Year.” Among the recent awardees under the new designation are US President Barack Obama (2012), Pope Francis (2013), and the “Ebola Fighters” (2014). Only last month, Time came out with its Person of the Year for 2015. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was chosen for resolving the euro crisis brought about by the fragile financial condition of Greece and for opening the gates of Germany to over a million asylum-seekers, victims of Middle East violence and conflict.
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This year I am starting my own version of “Filipino of the Year.” I intend to recognize and in a modest way pay homage to our countrymen who by their actions during the past year have contributed to a better understanding and appreciation of events that affect the national interest.
In November 2015, a group of some 48 students, members of a volunteer movement “Kalayaan, Atin Ito,” decided to visit Pag-asa Island, one of several in the Kalayaan Islands group. China claims the Spratlys to be part of its former Middle Kingdom, based on dubious documentation that it refuses to submit for international arbitration.
I do not know the names of the students, what schools they attend, or what provinces they come from. Neither do I know anything about their families or their status in the community. Perhaps, precisely because their activities were not covered by the media in the same manner that some social events in this country are given so much publicity and attention, we must assume that the students come from simple, lower middle-class homes with almost no connections to the powers that be. Why would they be refused support by the government on the flimsy grounds of dangerous sea conditions during this time of the year?
But in the face of indifference if not outright resistance of government, as indicated by earlier statements emanating from military and defense officials, practically telling them to go home, they persisted in their planned visit to Pag-asa Island.
Let me refresh our memories.
The objective of the students was to remind the world, including the bullies in the neighborhood, that under international law the Philippines has a right to the Kalayaan group of islands as well as other areas in the Spratlys. We have shown our willingness to follow the rule of law by submitting to international arbitration. But it is not enough to just sit down and wait for decisions from international bodies or assistance from friendly countries. Just as the United States and Australia continue to uphold their right of navigation in the area in the face of Chinese warnings for them to get out, we should conduct activities to impress on all concerned our determination to uphold territorial rights and the national integrity.
Last Dec. 26, the group of 48 youth volunteers arrived on the island of Pag-asa for a stay of several days, after which they were scheduled to return to Palawan.
As expected, the visit drew an angry protest from China. A Reuters report said China was “strongly dissatisfied by what the Filipinos had done, reiterating that China has indisputable sovereignty over the Spratly Islands” and “we urge the Philippines to refrain from actions that are detrimental to regional peace and stability, and not conducive to Sino-Philippines relations.”
Even Taiwan voiced its concern over the visit of the students, reiterating its own claims over the disputed areas.
How about the home front?
The Inquirer story on the visit read: “Kalayaan protesters get grudging government support” (News, 12/29/15) while the Philippine Star had a different angle, saying “Military lauds volunteers for voyage to Kalayaan.”
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For their courage and strength in the face of physical dangers and uncertainties in connection with their visit to Pag-asa Island; for their perseverance and determination to carry out their mission of upholding Philippine sovereignty in the Spratlys in the absence of any significant government support; and for reminding their elders that promoting and defending the national interest are not the sole responsibility of government but of all sectors of society, my choice for “Filipinos of the Year” are the students of the “Kalayaan, Atin Ito” movement.
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