Opinion Opinion Feature

Our rights are not theirs

We were never really safe in our country, not even within the confines of our homes. An environment that is perpetrating a deluged type of freedom will never be ideal—but rather dangerous.

Truly, the current political climate in the Philippines highlights how criticisms coming from the youth are often viewed as the basis to categorize the government’s enemies. This action is actualized through the rampant red-tagging done by public officials and their staunch supporters against students across the country who share progressive views.

Four days after the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 took into effect, a news article that I co-wrote for the The LaSallian’s University section tackling the flaws and harsh implications of the said legislation was published. There remained the fear in my mind that was initially instilled due to the various incidents of red-tagging against progressive student organizations and even the press. Eventually, that fear became my driving force in using my platform to amplify the voices of people around me because that is what we really need right now—a collective effort. It made me realize my relevant responsibilities as a journalist which are to “hold the line” and critically check those in power.

The Duterte administration has been weaponizing laws to benefit their side of the table, ensuring that the ones who are in the opposition are bombarded with fear and eventually silenced. Consequently, the youth who have been at the forefront of pro-democracy movements was no exception to this action of the authorities, specifically students from the University of the Philippines (UP) system who are put under fire and baselessly accused by Duterte allies as “communists”.

Last month, the UP-Department of National Defense Accord of 1989 was unilaterally terminated, citing that “a number of UP students have been identified” as members of communist groups. To provide context, it was an agreement with no exit clause that meant to protect UP students from military intervention and unwarranted detention. What does this mean? The termination signifies that the military and the police can now freely enter the premises of any UP campus even without consent from any school administration official.

That’s not the only problem per se. The acts committed by this government are clear manifestations on how far they can go in order to silence their critics. It started with attacks directed toward the very core of our democracy—an independent press. Now, they are targeting students who express dissent against an oppressive societal system. It clearly illustrates a treacherous whisper to the youth who are vocal with regard to their standpoints. If they can confidently go after UP students, what’s stopping them from insinuating censorship on students from other schools as well? 

Imperiling student activism seems like projecting a thousand cuts on our democracy. Amid that, they are continuously trying to justify their actions through accusations that have not been proven for years. It irks me that they are already trying to snatch our freedom of expressing our thoughts. 

The tenets of our democracy were not conceived to revitalize the ego of our leaders. Instead, we are tasked to hold them accountable for their actions as these have lasting effects on society. In a time where the Duterte administration continues to dismantle the voices of the masses, we must find a reason to fight back. But how? Ask the question yourself as to how you see the world in the future as a grown-up. 

Personally, I believe that it is really an inconvenient reality that we are caged together with fear because of our opinions. But nobody wants to live and stay in a somber situation like this. If the government thinks that these relentless efforts are enough to stoke fear among students and the youth, I guess they are really that egotistical. In fact, it will drive more and more students to go out of the streets and denounce the injustices committed by the current administration.

We should not allow the government to harass us just because we criticize them. It is our way of urging them to listen to what the country and its citizens are saying. We, and especially our liberties, are not owned by them. Basic human rights should never be snatched nor shrinked. 

Now more than ever, the youth’s role as the country’s hope in plotting a vital change in the current system is underscored. Stories of how the youth fought back during the Martial Law era are proof of how powerful collective action is. We can turn to these stories and once again defend our rights from being hampered and taken away. It is pivotal for everyone to amplify each other’s voices and increase involvement among the youth in lieu of this pursuit. 

Let us not allow repressive systems to snatch our freedom away. After all, our basic rights are our own rights and not the government’s.

Ian Kevin Castro

By Ian Kevin Castro

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