Soyez Realistes (Be Realistic)

Much has already been said about the lumad and peasant barricade last 18 March in front of the Eastern Mindanao Command Headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in Panacan here in Davao City.

The first wave, the most knee-jerk of reactions, was expectedly about the terrible traffic and the bother it had caused to motorists and passengers in that area.  The second were those that defended the lumad and peasants who had set up that barricade – mostly from activists and sympathizers who urged the public to look beyond what was arguably a short-term nuisance (if compared to the length of time of the lumads’ own troubles) to the underlying causes of why the poor and the desperate would resort to such measures in the first place.

I think the latter actually makes good Lenten Season reading in the sense that they are mostly grounded upon moral persuasion that urges compassion.  They juxtapose the years of neglect and suffering of the lumad with a few hours of being stuck on the road.  They appeal to the public to reflect and realize that the two don’t even compare especially if one opened their eyes and hearts to the plights of others.

In fact I was somewhat reminded of my own spiritual molding with the ICM sisters who emphasized social justice and solidarity with the poor.  I remember in high school, there we would be, thoroughly bourgeois young ladies immersing with the urban poor and fisher folk, which was the sisters’ way of conveying the very simple message of: “count your blessings;  others do not have as much, so you, yourself, have to be a blessing unto others.”

The next logical step after internal moral persuasions and deciding what is right and wrong is taking those ideas of right and wrong to the outside, living them and building up one’s life, community, society, based upon them.  In short, after morality should come politics.

It is in this vein that I wish to add another line of defense for those embattled lumad and peasants.  Many of their castigators have also harped upon the supposed “illegality” of the barricade, in the same way that rallies in general are seen to be undesirable activities that disrupt peace and order and inconvenience other better, “law-abiding” citizens.  Hence, dispersals, law suits, threats of disciplinary actions, and mothers telling their children who have just passed the UPCAT not to join rallies are seen as justified responses and sensible advice.

What is forgotten, or erased here, is that rallies, barricades, and other “extra-legal” forms of protest and expression have (1) always been, and (2) should always be, part of democratic governance, law and order (and not just in a trite, simply echoing “it is in our bill of rights”, manner).  That it has always been apparent through a historical, or diachronic, perspective, and that it should always place us in an ethnographic, or synchronic, context.

As for the first, I always tell my students that everything they see in their society is the product of historical actions, and this could not be truer than with democratic freedoms.  With almost no exception, those freedoms had beginnings that were, at that time, unacceptable, or quite simply, illegal.

Women suffragettes who fought for their gender’s right to vote were ostracized, arrested, and tortured in prison;  workers’ strikes for reasonable working hours and conditions were violently dispersed;  African slaves running from their “masters” could be hunted like animals and lynched.  It is this common daring to go outside the legal sphere that now enable us to take for granted that women can vote, that there are regulations for humane working hours and conditions, and that slavery is outlawed and considered reprehensible.

This also allows us in hindsight to say that the milieu in which these took place were backward, restricted, and we can heave a sigh of relief that we live in a freer, more progressive era.  But the rub here is that, if we had a time machine to travel back, I will not be surprised if many living at that time would aver that their own era is likewise freer and more progressive.  These are the social blinders that fall over the eyes – especially over those of the content, those who can afford to say that now, the laws work for me, I see no reason to struggle anymore, therefore nor should anyone else.

The discontent are those who have always seen through those blinders and fight to rip them away.  This is the historical truth of how freedoms are won, rights are recognized, and democratic spaces are expanded.

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