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Artists, senators, students hold online Independence Day rally

The Anti-Terrorism Bill of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the ongoing tensions surrounding the West Philippine Sea—these are just some of the issues discussed during IPAGLABAN ANG PINAS!, an online rally hosted by Sen. Risa Hontiveros last June 12, in the morning of the country’s 122nd Independence Day, via Facebook Live.

Joining Hontiveros in the online rally were several artists, political figures, and student leaders who expressed indignation at the Philippine government’s handling of the COVID-19 situation. Hontiveros bluntly stated, “Naging second-class citizens tayo sa sarili nating bayan.”

(We have been made second-class citizens in our very own country.)

Leniency undeserved

The words uttered by Hontiveros came from what she perceived to be leniency afforded to public officials such as Police Chief Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas and Sen. Koko Pimentel, who both remain scot-free despite violating quarantine policies.

Sinas had been lambasted for celebrating a manañita feast last May 8, with surfaced photos showing at least 50 guests in attendance and almost no physical distancing being practiced.

Pimentel, on the other hand, accompanied his then-pregnant wife to Makati Medical Center last March 24 despite the senator being a Person Under Investigation for COVID-19 and having been required to be under strict self-quarantine at the time.

To actor and DLSU alumnus Enchong Dee (AB-DSM, ‘09), these cases were clear instances of “selective justice”. Dee contrasted Sinas and Pimentel’s cases with the ongoing hearings for ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal, where lawmakers grilled the media company’s Chairman Emeritus Eugenio “Gabby” Lopez III over his citizenship. Dee sarcastically said, “Gusto ko ngang palakpakan kayo (the government) kasi ang galing ninyo magtanong.”

(I actually want to applaud the government for asking such great meticulous questions.)

Dismay was further expressed toward the brazen lack of accountability expected from the government’s own officials. “Sana ganoon din ‘yung pagsusuri at pananagutan na binibigay ninyo sa bawat pulitiko na nagnakaw, na hindi sumusunod sa quarantine protocols,” Dee lamented.

(If only the government would render the same attention and scrutiny against politicians who are corrupt and who disobey quarantine protocols.)

Where priorities lie

Several of the government’s decisions amid the pandemic were castigated during the online rally, including the recent passing of the Anti-Terrorism Bill of 2020 last June 4. The bill is set to relax safeguards for the country’s existing anti-terror laws—the Human Security Act of 2007—expanding the definition for who would constitute as a “terrorist”, and making it alarmingly easier for military and police personnel to detain those in question.

For Hontiveros, the focus on the Anti-Terrorism Bill failed to address urgent needs like addressing unemployment and providing aid. She furthered, “Inuna pa ang Anti-Terrorism Bill. Imbis na mass testing, naging mass arrests ang programa ng gobyerno.”

(The Anti-Terrorism Bill was prioritized. Instead of mass testing, mass arrests became the focus of the government.)

The bill would further “weaponize” the law and “stifle activism”, claimed Atty. Philip Sawali, speaking on behalf of Sen. Leila de Lima, who remains in detention at Camp Crame. As relayed by Sawali, De Lima warned that if the government already had the power to falsely accuse senators even before the drafting of the bill, its passage would grant authorities even greater room for abuse. For De Lima, it will be “the final nail on the coffin” for the average Filipino’s “rights and freedoms”.

Hontiveros also criticized the reopening of Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO), which are not considered as “essential services”, at the height of quarantine protocols last May 1. She questioned, “Pinasara ang ABS-CBN pero binuksan naman ang POGO. Anong priorities mayroon tayo?”

(ABS-CBN was shut down, yet POGOs were reopened. Where do our government’s priorities lie?)

The government’s continued approach toward establishing stronger relations with China was also denounced by Hontiveros. Local Sailors and fisherfolk continue to be driven out by the Chinese Coast Guard and harassed by Chinese fishing militia in the West Philippine Sea, she highlighted.

A celebration filled with sorrow

With the issues unfolding, Atty. Chel Diokno speculated that national heroes Jose Rizal and Apolinario Mabini would be gravely disappointed with the rapprochement to China and the passing of the Anti-Terrorism Bill.

June 12 is meant to commemorate a historic moment when the Philippines declared its independence from Spain more than a century ago. “Pero bakit hindi tayo masaya? Tayo ay pagod, tayo ay takotgalit, naghihirap. At ang iba, pinagbabantaan ng marami,” observed actress Agot Isidro. She mused that she is not the only Filipino to observe the country’s current bleak state. 

(But why are we not happy? We are tired, we are scared—angry and suffering. Some are even being threatened.)

Comedian Chai Fonacier pressed that if Filipinos want to preserve the land and freedom “[their] ancestors fought so hard for [them] to have”, citizens must start speaking out. Diokno shared similar sentiments, pleading to Filipinos to continue advocating for a better future, until the very end. 

“Commit ko ‘yung buong buhay ko, ‘yung lahat ng dugo ko—lahat ng kaya kong gawin para sa aking napakagandang Pilipinas,” he declared. “Tuloy ang laban.”

(I will commit my entire life, all of my blood—all that I can possibly do for this beautiful country. The fight continues.)

By Enrico Sebastian Salazar

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