"Time and again, brave and noble souls come out to rally us into action and wake us up from the slumber of indifference and apathy."
With this column, I start a series about great Filipinos—four who have passed to eternal life, one just yesterday, and one who is living but a political prisoner of the Duterte regime like the first hero was of the US-Marcos dictatorship.
I will end the series next Tuesday on Aug. 26, National Heroes’ Day, remembering the students and young who were killed during the Marcos martial law years and who have given up their lives to fight for what they think is right. It is important to do that as the state is targeting again our young heroes and heroines.
Aug. is a month of heroes not just because of the holiday on the 26th. Ninoy Aquino gave his life for the country 36 years ago, on Aug. 21, 1983. Cory Aquino, heroine of our democratic restoration, succumbed to cancer 10 years ago this month, on Aug. 1, 2009; her death filled the country with such grief and gratitude that swept her son to the presidency less than a year later. It was seven years this month, on Aug. 18, 2012 when Jesse Robredo’s plane crashed in the sea near Masbate, taking away our one big hope that a servant-leader would become our president one day. And then yesterday, the sad news of the demise of Gina Lopez, the great defender of nature, came.
And then there is Leila de Lima, senator of the Republic and most famous political prisoner of the Duterte government. Thankfully she is alive and still fighting, leading the resistance to growing repression in our land from her prison cell in Camp Crame. Born on Aug. 27, 1959, she too is a heroine.
More than 900 days have passed since charges had been filed against Senator Leila de Lima for supposed involvement in the drug trade operations inside the New Bilibid Prison and alleged extorting money from Bilibid inmates to fund her senatorial campaign, De Lima remains in detention, languishing in jail despite utter lack of credible evidence to pin her of the charges.
De Lima’s only fault was to earn the ire of the President when she investigated, as Justice Secretary, the extrajudicial killings of suspected criminals by the so-called Davao Death Squad (DDS) in Davao City during the term of then Mayor Duterte. She compounded the President’s anger by continuously criticizing Duterte’s bloody anti-drug campaign. Because of that, the President in his public statements vowed to destroy and crush her.
It did not take long for Congress to conduct a sham probe in an inquiry followed by the filing of cases in court. But the world saw through the charade and gross injustice against her. Many world organizations and rights groups, local and international, continue to cry out for her release from imprisonment and dismissal of the trumped-up charges. Even as she is now confined within the four walls of her cell, De Lima has proven that she remains uncowed and unbowed, continuing to castigate what she perceives as the Duterte administration’s misrule. Mindless of her safety and loss of freedom, she is an implacable thorn at the backside of this administration.
Senator De Lima’s travails reminds me of another senator, Ninoy Aquino Jr., whose death anniversary we celebrate this coming Aug. 21. I am reminded as well of Cory Aquino and Jesse Robredo.
Early on, Senator Ninoy saw through the evil plans of Marcos to perpetuate himself in power. Taking the Senate podium, he exposed Oplan Sagittarius, the blueprint formulated by Marcos to put the entire Philippines under martial law and thus pave the way for untrammeled concentration of power. As a result of his constant and unrelenting criticism of the abuses of Marcos, his family and cronies, Ninoy was arrested, accused of trumped-up charges of murder, illegal possession of firearms and subversion, tried before the Military Commission and sentenced to death by firing squad. Ninoy was persecuted and eventually felled by an assassin’s bullet which paved the way for him to be raised to the pantheon of the country’s heroes.
Ninoy and Leila are heroes with parallel lives. They dared fight abusive governments of their time, risking everything dear to them—their liberty and loved ones, suffering imprisonment and forced separation from their families, effectively foregoing a life of peace and contentment, to sound out to the people and the world that injustice in whatever form must be resisted; that evil cannot be allowed to run amuck without resistance. Their love for country takes precedence over the lure of worldly peace and tranquillity. They let their conscience rule over an option to be complacent, to compromise, enrichment, and enjoy the perks that power has to offer. Instead they chose a difficult path by fighting injustice and untruth in whatever form.
Although dark clouds continue to hover over us because of runaway extrajudicial killings, existential threats to our country’s sovereignty because of Chinese aggressive acts in the West Philippine Sea, and the implementation of government policies intended to subvert constitutional democracy, our collective strength and resiliency will ensure that we can tide over any and all challenges. Time and again, brave and noble souls come out to rally us into action and wake us up from the slumber of indifference and apathy.
The likes of Corazon Aquino and Jesse Robredo have given us a flicker of hope even in the darkest of times.
Cory rejected the opportunity to grab absolute power by establishing a revolutionary government and assuming the mantle of a dictator like her predecessor. Instead, she took the road to constitutional democracy by spearheading the passage of the 1987 Constitution and spending her term as president to dismantle the vestiges of the dictatorship and restore democratic institutions destroyed beyond recognition by the Marcos dictatorship.
Robredo, the paragon of exemplary public service, who as a city mayor of Naga, had shown to us that good and effective governance can be demonstrated not by abusing power by through leadership by example—selfless, dedicated and with sincere desire to serve the people.
And then there is Gina Lopez, who I will write about in detail in the next column. Gina was visionary and courageous, a woman for all seasons. Like Senator De Lima, nothing scared Gina—not corporate interests, not the politicians. Nature was in good hands when she was our environmental secretary.
These heroes personify the spirit behind Ninoy’s immortal words—“I have weighed all the virtues and faults of the Filipinos, and I have come to the conclusion that the Filipino is worth dying for.”