Last June 8, De La Salle Philippines held “Gathering of Hope: An Open Forum on Civil Liberties and Democracy” at the 20th floor Multipurpose Hall of the Br. Andrew Gonzalez Hall. The forum highlighted the current administration’s recent declaration of martial law in Marawi City, campaign against drugs, and phenomenon of “Dutertismo”, among several others.
The speakers included Akbayan Senator Risa Hontiveros, former Commission on Human Rights Chairperson Etta Rosales, Atty. Jaye Bekema, Philippine Daily Inquirer Associate Editor John Nery, DLSU Professor Dr. Leloy Claudio, and former Senator Rene Saguisag. Former DLSU President Armin Luistro FSC was also among those who spearheaded the event. The forum was divided into five talks and a question and answer portion.
“What happens in the Philippines is the business of every Filipino. The constitution is only as good as the people who defend it. How can we, however, trust a government who relies on erroneous information? I hoped to offer comforting words, but the truth is that we are living in very challenging times. Your generation will be tested,” asserted Hontiveros during the forum’s opening remarks.
Upholding human rights
To start the presentations, Chairperson Rosales briefly spoke about her experience during the Marcos administration. She recalled her time as the president of the teacher’s union in Jose Rizal College and the student activism she witnessed. She had organized a strike within the college that involved the entire school from elementary to tertiary levels. Although she noted that the strike failed and led to her eventual dismissal, she stressed that the strike had created a movement and united different sectors of society such as the student body and the media.
“We win in intangible ways. We get people to get ideas and organize themselves,” Rosales shared.
While she talked about the past, Rosales also related it to what students can do today. She called upon students to learn from each other and work together with other sectors as a unified force. On a similar note, former Senator Saguisag briefly talked about this generation’s duty to carry on the torch of past freedom fighters such as Jose Diokno.
To discuss the legal boundaries of martial law, Atty. Bekema focused on three issues, namely, the parameters, processes, and remedies of martial law under the current situation. She stressed that only under the concurrence of an invasion or rebellion and threat to public safety can martial law be legally enforced and both the judicial and legislative bodies should continue their operations.
Furthermore, Atty. Bekema expressed her disappointment in the congress for the failure to convene in a joint session as mandated by the constitution. Without a session, legislators cannot voice their desire to revoke or support the declaration of martial law and discuss the basis of martial law with members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. However, individual citizens have already taken action by filing petitions in the Supreme Court.
“A constitution is only as good as the people who breathe life into it,” Atty. Bekema wrapped up her presentation. “Yes, this includes the government who implements and executes executive decision-making, but it is equally about the citizens.”
After following Duterte since the campaign period, Nery discussed the administration so far and the possibilities if extreme Dutertismo, as he called it, occurs. Truth, innocence, and democracy were all identified as vulnerable concepts under the current administration and Nery followed up by highlighting the war on drugs, pivot to China, and rehabilitation of the Marcos family as the observable changes.
Afterwhich, Nery presented seven issues that would characterize extreme Dutertismo: the hardline approach to drug addicts, the reinstallation of death penalty and the lowering of the age of criminal liability, the disregard of human rights listed in the constitution, the outdated west versus east narrative, the rejection of criticism, the attack against truth and accountability, and the desire of power.
“If we don’t do our part, we will reach that extreme form of Dutertismo where there will be no limits on the power of the president,” Nery closed his presentation.
Dr. Claudio traced the history of liberal democracy in the Philippines to the country’s initial conception by national hero Jose Rizal. It was further embodied by Salvador Lopez, a former diplomat and president of the University of the Philippines who strengthened the UN’s ability to enforce the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and prosecute its offenders. Another case is that of former National University President Camilo Osias, who looked at the international realm to challenge the country to improve.
In the country’s history, the exceptions of martial law under Marcos brought out extremism in the country within the administration. At the other end of the spectrum, membership multiplied in groups like the New People’s Army. While Dr. Claudio said it was too early to declare this point as a period of extremism, he labeled it as a threat to liberal democracy. In response to this, Dr. Claudio called on the audience to talk to their co-citizens and recommit to the country everyday.
Despite the intolerance that characterized the current administration, Saguisag believes that the president still deserves to succeed. As the government pushes for a platform centered around Dutertismo, the coming years are even more uncertain and will inevitably necessitate an increase in social awareness among Filipinos.