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An open letter to parents of activists

I write this for all parents who have children that are activists. I also write this to my fellow teachers who have students who are activists.

I was a student and youth activist in my high school and college days. I am now an international environmental lawyer, a writer and scholar, a social entrepreneur, and a law, philosophy and governance professors in 11 Philippine universities and several other learning institutions like the Philippine Judicial Academy and some Catholic seminaries. In the last 40 years, I have held top leadership positions in government, international organizations, academic, professional, and citizen organizations.

I owe my professional success to my being a student and later as a social activist, in particular as an environmental and human rights advocate. Because of my engagement in the biggest issues if our country and world, I acquired knowledge, skills, experience, networks, and wisdom that have brought me to where I am today.

That includes being a parent of young persons who are committed to build a better country, a more just and happy society—in a word, activists.

Recently, we have seen attempts by certain personalities in government including pro-administration senators, members of the lower house and ranking military and police personnel to criminalize membership in militant organizations and to revive the Anti-Subversion Law which had been repealed during the time of President Ramos. As we are all too aware, these legal measures had long been repudiated as vestiges of the Marcos repressive rule.

We all know that much like during the darkest days of the Martial Law era, these measures have no other purpose than to stamp down legitimate voices of protest and opposition to perceived abuse and misuse of power. As parents, we are doubly concerned that in these times when a climate of fear have so permeated our society given the thousands who are now dead as a result of the brutal anti-drug campaign, and thousands more of unresolved extrajudicial killings, we are fearful that our children might be counted as part of this horrible statistic, either because they end up in prison, become victims of maltreatment or worse.

Many young people were martyred during the dark days of the dictatorship, all of whom we now hail as heroes. But none of us parents want that for our children.

While our concerns as parents may be legitimate and our fears cannot simply be shrugged off, we must also be aware that our children are of majority age and are perfectly capable of critical and independent thinking and better judgment. Some of us may not be in agreement at times with their politics, or perceptions of certain things that are happening around them. But we must trust their judgment. That includes trusting also in their ability to make mistakes. And when they make mistakes, we should be there to help them—not scold them, not get angry with them, but love them even more.

For the record, I believe strongly that the way forward for any society to resolve its conflicts is through dialogue and consensus. I have long ago abandoned rigid ideological frameworks or labeling any person of group of persons as enemies of the state or people. I teach and mentor activists of all ideological persuasions; I also teach and mentor military and police officials (some already with high rank), a generation of social entrepreneurs, many officials from all branches of government, and quite a number of priests and religious people.

I condemn all forms of violence and violations of human rights—whether by the state or by other groups in society. For me, nothing can justify the torture or killing of a drug addict, a peasant leader, a union organizer, a human rights defender, a lawyer, a judge, a journalist, a government official, a policeman, or a soldier.

For sure, I sometimes disagree with the tactics and positions of the activists I engage with, including those personally close to me. But the more prudent way of approaching these disagreements, if any, is to guide them, and give them advice on what we believe in our hearts is the right path for them to take.

When children are still in their teens, or minors, it is natural for parents to command and order them what to do and they have to obey if only to instill discipline and inculcate in them good values. But as our children grow into adulthood, they begin to form and cultivate their own perception of things, influenced, as it is by their familial, relational, physical and social environments. The worst thing we do is when we disempower them, accuse them of being brainwashed, or being kidnapped by militant organizations that have in fact provided them with the tools and avenues to make a difference.

Many children, because of these varying internal and external influences, may be more assertive of their rights, more sensitive of injustice and perceptive of the social inequality that surrounds them than others, and are not contented to sit idly and wait for change to come but are always willing to take action in order to make right what they believe is wrong; hence, these are our children who opt to become activists for change.

These are the young people, our sons and daughters, who participate in rallies, mass protests and demonstrations in schools, streets, in front of government offices, foreign embassies or what not. These are our children who voice out their opposition against tuition hikes, rising prices of oil and commodities, against a hostile foreign government, official abuse and corruption and other relevant social and political issues of the day.

I support these young people when they speak truth to power. The truth is, given where I am now and the relationships I have, I cannot be as honest as them.

Look at the young people of Hong Kong! We would be a better Philippines if our ranks of activists would swell in the same way.

To ventilate grievances and to express one’s opinions and views on certain things, even if these may be unsavory to the power-that-be and the entrenched elite, is a guaranteed right and protected by our laws, not to mention the constitution, the fundamental law of the land. It is a vital component of every working democracy that our youth be allowed to air their opinions and grievances. To curtail these basic freedoms is anti-democratic and antithetical to the principles for which every civilized society is founded.

Noble peace prize recipient Kailash Satyarthi, endorsing the power of the youth, once said: “The power of youth is the common wealth for the entire world. The faces of young people are the faces of our past, our present and our future. No segment in the society can match with the power, idealism, enthusiasm and courage of the young people.”

In the same vein, the youth has always been a catalyst of change in every epoch of our country’s history. As our national hero Dr. Jose Rizal long ago realized and was quoted saying even during a time when Filipino nationalism was still at a nascent stage: “Ang kabataan ang pag-asa ng bayan (The youth is the hope of our nation).”

Dear parents and teachers of our student and youth activists let us not be afraid! Together let us be in awe of our young people today—their courage and idealism, their ability to think for themselves, their commitment to a better Philippines and world. As parents and teachers, let us not pull them back or restrain them, but be with them, always support them, in fact march and hold the line with them if necessary.

Facebook Page: Professor Tony La Viña Twitter: tonylavs

Topics: Activists , Hong Kong
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