Thomas van Beersum, activism and dissent

Protesters march during President Aquino's 2013 state of the nation address. (Photo by Pinoy Weekly)
Protesters march during President Aquino’s 2013 state of the nation address. (Photo by Pinoy Weekly)

What’s with our kababayans who are clapping their hands and squealing with delight that the Dutch activist was detained and about to be deported? Hello, earth?

Thomas van Beersum did not violate any law. The cop cried because of a combination of sleeplessness, helplessness and – whether he admits it or not – a nagging conscience when he was confronted by a big protest action carrying slogans he identified with: Wage increases, price controls, tax cuts, etc.

The guy was already at the airport about to leave the country. But what did our great Bureau of Immigration agents do? They nabbed him. They stopped him. He was not to be brought to a regular jail – no, no. He was nabbed so that our awesome BI agents could deport him. It is not only stupid. It is insane.

Whether you agree with the guy or not – he has rights under national and international law. The same rights that our government wants to be protected and respected when we go abroad. Take a look at your passport. It is actually stated there. And there’s legal basis for all this: The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights guarantees that you don’t lose any of your essential rights.

I hope the craziness and political vindictiveness of the BI and this government would not badly affect the 10 million Filipinos living and working abroad. Our kababayans should never give up any of their rights, and exercise them when necessary. They should not stop joining or spearheading protest actions whenever and wherever racism’s ugly ahead shows up. They should not stop joining the gay pride marches and gatherings across the globe. And we just hope that no government would arrest any Filipino simply because he came out fighting and exercising his or rights under national and international laws.

But I don’t think this craziness and wacko antics is all about our Dutch friend or that he is a foreigner. Absolutely not. If he were with celebrities or a guest of a government official, he would be applauded and admired. Some folks are going ballistic because he had the temerity and audacity to join a rally of these squatters and activist folk, shouting slogans that puncture the alternate reality of “fastest developing”, “emerging economic power” spin.

Yes, it is all about this ignorant hatred of all things activist, radical and revolutionary. Some even go to the extent of questioning there activism and revolution has done anything good for the country. Don’t get me wrong: Activists make mistakes and revolutionaries have at times committed unbelievable mistakes. Yet – even with their failings and shortcomings – we cannot lie to ourselves and say all their efforts are worthless.

The idea of a minimum wage, sick leaves, paternity leaves, the 40 hour work week, the idea that women could work and get the same wages as men, the idea that we could have women cops, the idea that everyone, not just the landed, have rights to vote, universal suffrage. The list goes on. Each and every one of them did not fall like manna from heaven. They did not exist before. People had to fight for them, sometimes at the cost of their lives. That is activism for you.

And then you hear snickers about “alternatives”. Magbasa naman tayo pag may time. If you check the websites and documents of all these NGOs and people’s organizations, we would be pleasantly surprised that they have tactical and strategic alternatives to the problems they deplore in the streets. I won’t enumerate them here because that’s what Google is for.

And how could we forget the Cybercrime Law? Yes, that same law signed by our most competent, most intelligent, and corrupt-free president. We stopped that law through online and offline protests. Up to now, the president stands by that blasted law.

I don’t mind that some of us worship the Great Leader Noynoy Aquino as God’s gift to the Philippines. I don’t mind if you don’t agree with activists and activism. I don’t mind if you sincerely believe that our economy is growing when all you could show for it personally are ukay-ukay clothes, cellphones under contract for 30 months, and no savings. I really don’t mind.

We have to respect and recognize dissent. Dissent is important. Dissent tells us what’s wrong and what needs to be addressed. Dissent tells us democracy is truly alive because we let views we hate or disagree with get ventilated.

Our history as a people is a history of dissent. Great things happen each time Filipinos exercise dissent. The Propaganda Movement. The 1896 Revolution. The guerilla movement that fought the Japanese. The First Quarter Storm and the resistance movement that eventually helped topple the dictator. Bad things happen when we muzzle dissent and just let our honorable officials of government do what they want to do: Pardoning a convicted plunderer is one of them, and still having a huge Hacienda Luisita and more haciendas nationwide os another. There are also the curious cases of activists and journalists being killed for fighting or exposing social ills. And then, whatever has happened to Jonas Burgos? His story is not just the subject of a movie. His was a true-to-life story and he has not been found today.

The moment you kill dissent, applaud at the deportation of a foreign activist, putting razor-sharp barbed wire at routes of rallies, then you have a problem. Because it is not forever that you would agree with government, those same tactics and tools could be used against you.

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