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A year of demands and accountability

With unemployment and limited resources, we have found ourselves clutching onto the tiniest bit of hope we could find just to survive.

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With unemployment and limited resources, we have found ourselves clutching onto the tiniest bit of hope we could find just to survive. We lived our days trapped in a sick routine that involved locking ourselves up in the confinements of our own homes, trying to pretend as if the four walls surrounding us weren’t driving us crazy. Every day had the same face. We could barely feel the months passing by and before we knew it, Christmas was gone and over, fireworks had begun fading in the sky, and we’ve entered a year that looks exactly like the last. It feels like nothing has changed — nothing but the circumstances and emotions we’ve buried deep inside our hearts. 

Fear, anger, and determination. The more we think about it, the more we should realize how things ended up this way. We had a part to play yet it wasn’t our fault, and with the new year that entered and the new days it brought, one by one, we’re all waking up to this truth. 2021, despite having the same face as 2020, should not and will not end in the same way.

Last year, we hoped for the existence of vaccines. We rejoiced for the news that multiple countries have begun their research and trials, that each phase they finished was a step closer for things to return to normal. 

For months we waited, and come 2021, we’ve got updates on the matter. Multiple vaccines that vary from prices and efficacy have turned up, and we could have gotten orders for the best one with a balanced status yet we didn’t. The year has just started yet we’re already facing the same incompetency we thought we left in 2020. We can’t keep closing our eyes to the reality that the people in power don’t have the peoples’ interests at heart — that they care nothing more than sinking this country to the ground to lift themselves up.

They’ve seen this pandemic as the opportunity to trap us, to make us believe that we’ve only got two choices: to settle for bad governance or to choose the lesser evil. But that’s the thing—if we keep choosing one over the other, we’re just going to keep falling into the same cycle, thinking that at least this one’s better than the last. But in reality, they’re all the same. We deserve better, and we always have the option to choose that, always and everyday.

We’re a year closer to elections, and politicians will try to bury the mess they have been during this pandemic and before, but we will remember every bit. We will remember their lack of urgency, their ignorance, and their nonchalance towards the people they’re supposed to be serving. We will remember the blood that stains their hands, the silent graves they dug behind our backs and we will demand accountability.  We have the right to feel angry and determined, to feel like we’ve been robbed of the taxes we paid and keep paying. 

We’ve gone through so much in the past year, from this pandemic to other natural disasters, people have suffered enough. We have suffered enough. It’s time for us to stand up against the government that keeps trying to silence us if we don’t want to relive the same nightmare in 2021.

We can never return to what was “normal” to us before, not when we’ve seen more of this horrifying reality we live in. Laws were broken by the ones who were supposed to uphold them. Who do we run to for help when the moment we open our mouths to speak against these multiple injustices, we’re shot dead before we can even make a sound? This has been going on long before the pandemic, and it’s about time we finally stop acting so blind. 

This year may save us from being confined in the comfort of our own homes for months on end, but it will not guarantee our safety and well-being from the true villains that run this country. If we keep pretending and tolerating the lousiness and selfishness of the people we put in power, we’ll never see the end of it — we’ll never see the end of bodies that died in the hands of incompetency, of the money that was stolen by the hardworking people of this country. We’ll fear the day when our freedom only consists of speaking unworthy praises about the government, where any form of resistance is a call for death.

Even months after, we still find ourselves in the same place where we started. It has been a long time indeed, but if we play our cards right, we can change the course of our lives for the better. The vaccine is not the sole answer to end this suffering, but it’s just a step to start the change. 

The previous year was hell, a living nightmare, and there were things that happened that we didn’t know were possible in real life but we made it. We crawled our way to wherever we are now, but we shouldn’t have to go through the same thing again. 

We should know better by now, that the well-being of the people is nothing but a hindrance to the ones who are in power. We should remind them that if it weren’t for the citizens of this country, they wouldn’t be there in the first place. If there’s one thing we should learn, it’s that if we’re not being listened to, we just have to speak louder. 2021 will be the year that we can call ours, a year where we can demand the rights we have, and for the accountability that was long overdue.

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Opinion

The regress of political discourse

Such statements coming from politicians are bothersome because it is as if they are not willing to listen to other people’s ideas, and given how they are handling the health crisis sloppily, they are not eligible for that kind of attitude.

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Engaging in political discourses on social media can be heated and toxic most of the time, but what is worse is when the elected officials tell the people they swore to serve, “kayo na lang tumakbo” as a response to constructive criticisms. This kind of ignorance is not new, but it seems that in the last five years, this has become the go-to reply not just for supposed “public servants,” but also for the supporters of an administration that shuts down criticsno matter how substantial their views, or even suggestions, are.

In this pandemic, the advice and suggestions of medical experts are crucial, such as increasing testing capacity to more than 100,000 per day—DOH’s April 9 figures showed that the Philippines was only able to have less than 40,000 tests in a day), improving the country’s contact tracing strategy—and boosting hospital capacity by at least 50 percent.

Last April 10, an elected official said on Twitter that these should have been continued, given the recent surge in coronavirus cases. “We just have to admit that gov’t (including myself) relaxed when cases plateaued at 2k/day,” the official tweeted.

One of the netizens, who is a friend of that official, responded to his tweet. “It took you 1 year to figure this out. Better late than never I suppose,” the netizen said, but the official clapped back by saying that if the former had figured this out a year ago, “you should replace Madame Auring. Better yet, become our president.”

The exchange did not end there. The elected official interpreted his friend’s constructive opinions as insults and insisted, ironically, that they can discuss issues “squarely and as friends.”

Such statements coming from politicians are bothersome because it is as if they are not willing to listen to other people’s ideas, and given how they are handling the health crisis sloppily, they are not eligible for that kind of attitude.

Section 4 of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees (or Republic Act No. 6713) states that every public official and employee must observe certain standards of personal conduct in performing their duties, but reality tells us that this provision is often reduced to mere sentences written on a paper, and this example is just one of many.

Worse yet, this behavior emboldens supporters and propagandists to act the same way as their idols do. Criticizing the errors of state policies usually leads to their fanatics responding with statements like “sumunod ka na lang” or “huwag nang magreklamo—the typical mentality of those who bathe in so much privilege and leave no space for intellectual discourses. No wonder why many find social media as a place bad enough to be in. Others have even quit the internet altogether as a result.

The bottom line: many no longer know the proper exchange of intellectual discourses on pressing issues. Factual-based arguments are a must, and fallacious or baseless accusations that go as far as endangering people’s lives are superfluous, because hostility to constructive criticisms, especially in cases like this, does not make you look cool. It only makes you look stupid.

We must stop acting like we are members of a cult, because at the end of the day, the public plays a huge role, too, in shaping the society, and that includes challenging officials to use their power in correcting the system, and along with it the policies, that is dysfunctional.

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Red-tagging is libel masked with death

This piece could label me as a sympathizer, supporter, or even a member of the CPP-NDF. Absurd as it sounds, the reality of voices being muffled is a usual feat.

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Libel may destroy a person’s image, but red-tagging can cleanse a life out of a person. This piece could label me as a sympathizer, supporter, or even a member of the CPP-NDF. Absurd as it sounds, the reality of voices being muffled is a usual feat.

Desperate suppression of critics and dissenters made the Duterte administration resort to labeling them as “reds”. The color is connotated to the armed group of the Communist Party of the Philippines who allegedly disrupt peace and order. This fear-mongering regime creates a chilling effect on our freedom of speech especially when we voice out criticism and dissent towards their atrocities. 

The Duterte administration and its supporters often call critics and human rights advocates terrorists, associating them with the leftist armed struggle whom they allegedly support and sympathize with.

Red-tagging is problematic as it asserts a subversive or rebellious crime is being committed by someone. This results in officials filing trumped-up charges, illegal arrests, or anything that they could weaponize using the law. 

Vanishing without a trace or even homicide might be the most exceedingly terrible thing that can occur. Last March 7, nine activists were killed in CALABARZON two days after President Duterte told police and soldiers to “kill” and “finish off” communist rebels in encounters. (READ: Bloody Sunday: 9 dead, 6 arrested in Calabarzon crackdown on activists.)

Last Jan. 23, Lt. Gen Parlade, spokesman for the NTF-ELCAC said the military has listed, at least, 18 colleges and universities mostly in the National Capital Region that communist recruitment activities are taking place. This was denounced by some universities that were mentioned by Parlade.

Despite the happenings, the administration itself, who itself makes the accusations, had preferred to call it “truth-tagging” to claim that their allegations are not baseless. These allegations are often posted on social media by regional channels of the police, an institution that’s funded by the administration itself through our taxes. 

This also happens to private institutions that are out of the government’s touch. Last January, the University barred a member of a student council from enrolling for the academic term due to his affiliation with a human rights group which also resulted in dismissal in his position in the student council and denial of good moral certification. (READ: SHS student barred from enrollment; admin cites code of conduct violation as basis.

A week later, the same university tags another student on the same grounds. These acts compromise the future of the students by hindering them from having the chance to study just because they are members of organizations which are often labeled as “reds.”

Red-tagging violates the constitutional guarantee of presumption of innocence. According to the Commission of Human Rights, it may have serious implications on the security and movement of individuals and groups being labeled. (READ: CHR warns red-tagging has ‘serious implications’ on security of groups.)

Red-tagging is an affront to the constitutionally guaranteed right to life, liberty, and freedom of political beliefs. As red-tagging endangers the lives of the people and while the Duterte administration squanders our taxes, perhaps it is time to consider treating it as a crime? 

How could this be possible? According to legal experts, its basis is quite obvious because red-tagging equates to harming the people. For it is not the speech that is being punished but what the speech—red-tagging claims—does.

The revised penal code defines libel as a malicious imputation that tends to cause the dishonor, discredit, or contempt of a natural or juridical person. Red-tagging may sound simple in that it basically defames a person’s reputation, but in reality, its consequences are to live which is more serious than being an affront to a reputation. A person could be stigmatized in a community or in society for being a disruptor of the public order or as a terrorist which could lead to discrimination, possible eviction, or even unemployment because of such reputation.

The recently passed anti-terror law has institutionalized this labeling, it will possibly lead proscription of left-leaning groups and dissent such as the Makabayan bloc in the Congress, National democratic unions, and Human rights groups. The possible proscription will label them as terrorists for the sole reason that they are dissent from the administration’s actions and policies. (RELATED: EXPLAINER: Anti-terror law’s IRR on delisting, warrantless arrests)

Criminalizing red-tagging could make lives more peaceful and with less cost. It will penalize unlawful labeling, government funds would not be squandered, and that the administration will not invest to prioritize a non-existent threat instead of addressing the pandemic.

Red-tagging is not the solution, but the problem. No one can solve a problem with another one. To dismantle a system of fear-mongering means addressing the problem’s roots—an inexistent reign of terror used as an excuse to instigate fear to critics does not extirpate the problem of terrorism.

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Opinion

A lighter shade

It seemed like there was nothing left to lose; that this week-long suspension is a gain for our wellbeing. A month later, it revealed itself as a black sheep in disguise.

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It wasn’t until last night when I saw the innocent look on my face from January that everything would go down in a matter of months.

Last January, I was naïve and had a fervent energy. Hopeful that I thrive in the face of new challenges, I felt ambitious at the beginning of the year as numerous opportunities presented themselves to me. As thrilling as they were, January was no caveat for me. It was only as sad as Christmas; an extension of grief. There were attempts to wash them by the presence of scrumptious dishes and the festive mood that was well alive in my family. After that, everything was back to the “normal” I used to know.

Earlier this year, I trod onto the different parts of the city with my friends. We go out in our free time whenever our professor is absent or if there are no immediate deadlines. We found ourselves in cafés, smoking alleys, parks, and libraries. These detours were something that kept us going. There was the sight of stacked papers, laptop chargers, beat-up notebooks, and some pens that no longer work. It looked quite messy but it was still a beautiful sight while we allowed the sunlight to graze over our irises to reveal a lighter shade.

It takes so much to squander a hopeful young adult’s energy; in my experience, invitations, conferences, and parties are what I define to be a “thrilling” experience in my life so far. All it took to scratch that is a pandemic.

I was in my campus at the time the City of Manila’s mayor suspended classes for a week. A week-long suspension meant one thing: rest. Consider it a short vacation, a little detour from the ways life usually went by. By the time I reached home, I packed up my suitcase to go to my mom’s hometown, convinced that I won’t be visiting after the suspension because of my hectic schedule.

“I’ll be back in a week,” I told my parents the night before I left.

I intended to stay there for a week. I stayed for four months.

I was well aware that there is a virus on the loose but at that point, it seemed like there was nothing left to lose; that this week-long suspension is a gain for our wellbeing. A month later, it revealed itself that as a black sheep in disguise.

Time wasn’t really of the essence back then. All I knew is that I’d be home in a few months. There were a thousand promises: an anticipated hangout with friends and colleagues, a dinner with my family, and a whole lot more. I was fawning for the things that passed by my newsfeed; tagging my friends and swore that we would do this and that. I’m certain that I wouldn’t be able to do all of them because I knew that I would be whipped with work by the time I go back to my real life. However, there was still an abundance of hope and of excitement.

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At dinner, my family and I would watch the news. There would be this wave of angst towering over me knowing what is happening in the country. The events were surprising at first but I learned to be unfazed yet still disappointed with the inconsistencies that the government threw in the bag. I am more than sad to say that this encounter has lasted for more than half a year. After dinner, I would return back to my bedroom or to the balcony, depending wherever solace is begotten to stay away from a child’s cries.

Many of my frustrations bloomed in the pandemic. It taught me what it means to be overwhelmed with college and with my personal life. There were late night calls, terrible drafts, and endless playlists that cater directly to the situation I have now: frustrated, exhausted, yet empowered. I can take a humble swig of confidence when I say that I have grown exponentially in the past couple of months despite the losses this year acquired. Despite the growth, the losses cannot be ignored; all the courageous yet fearful narratives of struggle, injustice, and hope. The latter comes by rarely as the former still is dominant today.

While I imagine myself at a silent café and the city streets, I cannot help but be angered at this problematic system we still endure. Compassion is often seen at the tipping scale; there should be an abundance of it especially when we need it the most. Thankfully, we have reached some heights for what we sought for. However, the fight is still not yet done — it is far from done.

All that I can do now is to apologize to myself who was hopeful that this pandemic would end a week or a month after. I yearn for the city streets and the touch of the people I was with. Most of them are still here, thankfully. For now, I only linger in the hope that I will see myself again in the places I go to with the same fervent youthful energy.

If there is anything else that I know now, it is that I am young, fearful, and apologetic to my past self; the self who promised that this would be over in a month. Or so, that’s what I thought.

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