(This was read by Mrs. Carmen I. Diokno, the widow of the late former Senator Jose W. Diokno on the occasion of his birthday, February 26, at La Salle Greenhills Chapel. Senator Diokno, Ka Pepe to many, was the founder of FLAG and the first Chairperson of the Presidential Commission on Human Rights created after the fall of Marcos.)
On July 2 last year, the Jose W. Diokno Foundation called on Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to step down from office. Today, on the 84th birth anniversary of Pepe, we no longer address Mrs. Arroyo, who heeds no one but herself and her coterie of advisers, and needs Proclamation 1017 to prop up her flagging government. We prefer to address our people, whom Pepe so loved and with whom he struggled for a better life.
On the matter of leadership, we say: Out of 80 million Filipinos, Mrs. Arroyo is not the best we can produce. She does not even come close to the best. But Mrs. Arroyo’s display of arrogance is not what disturbs us, though I must admit it is irksome. It is, rather, the implicit assertion that we deserve her kind of leadership—for our people do not—and that there is no alternative to her, when there are. Remember that martial law lasted as long as it did in part because some accepted the notion of a so-called ‘lesser evil’.
We who have asked Mrs. Arroyo to resign from office are often criticized for being disunited. So let us examine the sources of our disunity. Clearly there is an element of distrust, that some in the political opposition are out for their own ends just as some among organized groups are perceived to have their own agenda. Suppose we accept this to be a fact of our present political life. Is it nonetheless possible for us to come together on the basis of certain principles? I believe it is.
For example, we all want our elections cleansed of corrupt election officials, cheating and other corrupt practices. We desire an electoral process and system that will bring out new, good leaders who have a fair chance of winning.
We do not want the constitution changed at any and all cost, in the manner that Mrs. Arroyo and Speaker de Venecia know best. They make no effort at subtlety in their attempt to subvert elections and remain in power in the name of constitutional change.
Most of all, we reject the social inequity that our political system feeds on. Using the poverty of the people against the people is the worst, most painful crime of all.
So what is to be done? First and most immediate, we must not surrender our civil liberties. Sometimes I think that martial law was effective because it didn’t hurt enough people; the dictatorship selected its targets skillfully and then isolated these targets from the public view. A false sense of comfort thus resulted. Let us not allow ourselves to be fooled again. One act of suppression, if unopposed, makes possible other acts of suppression.
Second, let us seriously work out the bases of our unity and agree that we cannot have all that we want now. This is a difficult task—I know how hard Pepe worked to bring the opposition together during martial law. But try and try again we must.
In all this I ask that we think of our youth and consciously cultivate young leaders. We widows and veterans of martial law have reached the pre-departure area; our knees do not allow us to line the streets and march in protest. This is not just a world we are about to leave, but one we will bequeath to our children, grandchildren and, in my case, great grandchildren. Listen to 17-year old Jose Miguel Bermudez, a freshman studying in Las Pinas, who wrote in the Inquirer’s ‘Young Blood’ column. “Everyday of my life,” he says, “my teachers and my parents admonish me to shape up. I think it is now my generation’s turn to tell my parents and those who run this country that it is time for them to shape up. They are being selfish and myopic when they complain about the inconvenience and disruption caused by people protesting against lying, cheating and stealing. They would rather go about their regular business even if that means leaving many fundamental and moral issues unresolved.” Talking about how these issues will haunt the next generation, Jose Miguel asks: “Guess who will be left to deal with this ghost when it returns? Guess who will be left to deal with the ugly litter of an irresponsible and apathetic generation that would trade their children’s future for short-term convenience?” (7 February 2006)
My own grandson, Jose Lorenzo—we call him Pepe for short, who was born a little over a year after Edsa, wrote in yesterday’s Inquirer: “We relegate Edsa to these four days, we remember Edsa only when we feel the need to and we kill Edsa…. It makes me angry that the revolution to most of us has become a set of dates and actions that little children memorize for Sibika. And I’m angry that most of what we’ve read so far is about the events that transpired, and the generals and politicians ‘who made Edsa happen’. Edsa is not about them. Edsa is also more than the people who were there. It’s even more than the leaders it ousted.” My other Pepe ends with a request: “I’d like to ask a favor from you who were lucky enough to have felt the joy of revolution. Don’t tell us about it. Show us Edsa. A lot of us don’t even know what it looks like.”
So we who know, must show Edsa. But in this process of showing, I advise our youth: do not be passive onlookers. Your job, like that of my generation that is about to pass, is to constantly improve upon what is shown and to never give up. This was Pepe’s dream of a nation truly for our children, and it remains ours.
Carmen I. Diokno
La Salle Greenhills
26 February 2006