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Righteous indignation

Last Thursday was quite confusing for a lot of people. First, President Duterte said he was going to declare it a holiday. Then he retracted and said it would not be a holiday. Then he said it would only be a holiday for government and public schools. After that he said he would require government personnel to attend counter rallies. Then it was declared an earthquake drill day. Finally the president said he would declare martial law if there were any martial law protests. Confusing indeed.

In the end the president declared September 21 a day of protest and let private offices and schools decide for themselves if they were going to remain open or allow their employees and students to join protest rallies across the metro. Most retained regular schedules but remained lenient when it came to those not going to work or school because they wanted to take to the streets and let their voices be heard.

Protest is an important tool for democracy. Being able to say what you think and what you feel without fear of persecution is an important part of a democratic system’s checks and balances. Once the right to say what’s on your mind is gone then you truly have something to fear. Many people claim that President Duterte making Sept 21 a “Day of Protest” shows that he is honoring everyone’s right to complain, to be heard, and that he is respecting the different views that make up our country.

However, those who are a bit more critical of the current administration know that it’s a lot more complicated than that. It seems that in many ways lines are being drawn in the sand right now and where you choose to stand could determine how “easy” or “difficult” life could be. While the administration claims that things are still equal and balanced it’s become increasingly obvious that those who don’t side with the president and his “War on Drugs” find that things are much harder for them than those who do.

Politics in the Philippines is a proverbial landmine these days and September 21 was a stark reminder of how divided we are as a country. I can’t recall the last time (in recent history) it felt this way. People are equally passionate on both ends of the spectrum and while I admire everyone’s desire to stand firm I also worry that the passion will bubble over and turn into something much more sinister.

It saddens me that we live in a world where regular people are hurling threats of harm and abuse against one another over something as trivial as a Facebook post or a difference of opinion. Have we really reached a point that a person’s life is so cheap that if they aren’t politically aligned with the troll masses online they deserve to “be raped” or “die”? This reality is bleak and I can only hope that it improves over time.

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Social media has given us many good things for sure but one of the bad things it has added to our lives is that we are now constantly privy to everyone’s thoughts all the time. While this may seem like a good thing it’s also a burden and too many people out there aren’t ready for the responsibility this brings. I suppose the same can be said for democracy. In many ways I feel that so many aren’t ready for democracy and therefore take the privilege for granted.

At the end of the day I think what happened last week was an important reminder that we can’t ever lose the desire to fight for what we think is right. While I admit that President Duterte is a strong leader with a clear vision of what he wants I also feel that there are things he may need to reconsider. Alongside his war on drugs he should also focus heavily on weeding out corruption in the government as well as these usually go hand in hand. I also think it’s important he listen to the people.

As a people, on the other hand, we need to be able to air our protests peacefully and respectfully. We don’t ever want to back to how things were during Martial Law when we weren’t allowed to share what he thought and felt. Let’s use our democratic privilege wisely and hopefully we can start to make a difference. Personally I pray for a more peaceful, safe, and united country.

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Just recently I wrote about our environmental woes and the impact climate change is having on the world and the hits just keep on coming. The recent 7.1 magnitude earthquake and the 6.1 aftershock in Mexico City should be another reminder to us here in the Philippines that the “Big One” could hit any time. In fact, earthquakes have been happening quite regularly these past few weeks – Mexico City, Japan, and just recently in Bukidnon/Cagayan de Oro. These are just more reminders that Mother Earth is not happy and we have only ourselves to blame.

I’m glad that we have been doing more drills to prepare for an earthquake but of course should one hit I hope we can follow what we’ve been trained to do, which is hard in a time of panic and crisis. I still remember when the earthquake hit Baguio City in 1990. It flattened several high-rise buildings and the Hyatt Terraces Hotel collapsed like a deck of cards. I truly hope that we are more prepared than this now and hopefully in the time that we have been making efforts to “get ready” we have also begun with infrastructure strengthening. That is going to be key when it comes to protecting buildings and preventing property damage, which could easily snowball.

As for us, my wife has made sure that we have our “go-bags” ready and hopefully the training we’ve received will kick in should the need ever arise. Philvocs reminds us to scamper for large open spaces like football fields, parks, and wide streets away from high-rises and potential objects that could break, fall, and hurt us. Let us keep doing the drills both at the offices and at the schools so it becomes so ingrained that muscle memory will kick in when we need it the most.

Hopefully we never have to use this training, but as I always say it’s far better to be over-prepared than to be sorry.

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