Where is the terror?
Where is the terror?
We, the Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan, the socio-political arm of the Philippine Jesuits, resonate with many institutions and people of faith in their condemnation of the series of events in the country that continues to undermine our democracy, including most recently the cyber libel verdict against journalists Maria Ressa and Rey Santos, Jr. of Rappler social news network.
The conviction of Ressa and Santos is not the culmination, but another painful point in the history of the persistent repression of the press in the Philippines and of free speech and dissent in general. Just this May, we witnessed the controversial shutdown of ABS-CBN, the largest media organization in the country, and the murder of radio broadcaster Rex Cornelio who became the 16th journalist killed under the watch of this administration. The claim of the President to be supportive of free speech makes no sense when this government still fails to make policy-based actions that genuinely and systematically protect these freedoms and even enables the same difficult and dangerous climate for journalists and dissenters through his suggestive pronouncements and direct attacks to the media and the public.
What does this mean to the ordinary people who do not make it to the headlines? How about those who cannot afford legal remedies and do not seem to enjoy the fairness of the law? What does this mean to the common Filipinos who are already being deprived of those socio-economic rights and whose only option left is to speak out?
We particularly feel disturbed that while the Filipino people still helplessly ache from the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, our government creates additional threats and challenges, intentionally prioritizing their own consolidation of power over the life, health, and survival of the Filipino people, especially those most vulnerable to the pandemic and its economic consequences. We are concerned that instead of being fed with food and basic needs, we are handed an Anti-Terrorism Bill that only adds to the government greater powers with lesser checks and causes another form of terror to those who speak their dissent. Instead of being shown how our billions of funds and loans are used for the promised economic recovery, more time is spent on blaming the common people for their predicament. Instead of being given platforms to air our pleas to truly address the issues of communities at the margins, more and more Filipinos are killed, arrested, silenced, and ignored.
There is more to the terror existing in external threats that the government insists on pointing us towards. In this time of the pandemic, the terror also lies in the steady rise of COVID-19 cases, even more so in urban poor communities. It lies in the lack of cohesive plans for the working class and the commuting public who are treated as second-class citizens. It lies in the lack of concern for locally stranded individuals who are in perpetual wait for proper government help. Terror exists in the fear that the New Normal we are anticipating is rather a normalization of these even greater poverty and injustices.
Where else does terror lie? It resides in the hearts of people whose remaining light of hope continues to be doused by those who have sworn to give life to it. In this pandemic of fear and indifference, we cannot give up for one another. Our invitation is for the public to never turn a blind eye to the agents and circumstances that led to these issues. We must look beyond the names that get on the news and more on the people they represent, or the people who are forgotten because of them. We must continue to strive to shape discourse by asking the hard question: What is all this for the poorest of the poor of our country?
In that regard, we ask also that you, our friends and partners in Mission, to engage with your local government units and congressmen and insist that they shift their energy and attention back to adequate testing, the provision of proper transportation, financial assistance to those most vulnerable, and the protection of workers from exploitation over supporting bills and cases that are fundamentally anti-Filipino.
In a time of terror, we must ask our lawmakers and our officials to take a stand and to prove that they are with us.
Only when we raise and bring our voices together can we cure these new terrors that so plagued our nation.