ESSENCE - Liagaya Rabago-Visaya (The Freeman) - June 13, 2020 - 12:00am

Long ago, I was invited to and even have initiated mañanita for my relatives and colleagues. This is a special gathering of friends and loved ones for a birthday celebrant. Done at dawn, friends flock to the house of the celebrant where a small salo-salo is shared. This is so unique in terms of the time when this takes place, in an early morning when all others are still in their deep sleep. The coldness of the air makes others don’t want to wake up and so this enables only a few close friends and relatives to celebrate with a sense of exclusivity. In the provinces, only those few who know of the occasion and there are also even occasions that the celebrants themselves were not notified.

This long tradition of exclusive social gathering has a new twist or flavor in the time of the pandemic, inasmuch as we are not allowed to have social gatherings. And for many of my friends who just celebrated their birthdays with only their immediate family members present. And friends did not expect invitation and so they just flooded their greetings on social media. And for those bold and unmindful of the health hazards of social gathering, managed to transgress this specific health protocol.

And yesterday, for this year’s celebration of the 122nd Independence Day, cause-oriented groups organized what they called mañanita and went out in the open early in the morning, voiced out their sentiments about what they believe are excesses. Specifically even before Independence Day, last June 4, protesters in UP Diliman held rallies while observing physical distancing opposing the Anti-Terror Bill. In Cebu, last June 5, dubbed as Black Friday, students and other militant activists held rallies within the premises of UP Cebu, unfortunately some of them were arrested, brought to the police station, but later on released without bail.  

Every year, Independence Day reminds of the greatest question of all: Are we truly independent? In what aspect/s in our lives and undertakings that we have achieved independence? And if not, what else do we still do to capture such elusive independence?

And at this year's Independence Day celebration, two key issues are highlighted. The first is the passage of the Anti-Terrorism Bill, which is up for President Duterte's signature, whose provisions may be unconstitutional and are vulnerable to abuse to the monitoring, arrest, and detention of government critics. The second is the national government's sluggish, frequently ineffective, and often authoritarian answer to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Through these activities, militant and progressive groups continue to serenade, albeit sarcastically, to highlight the impunity and blatant inequity of some government officials who break lockdown and security rules for their personal convenience while ordinary citizens are fined, arrested, imprisoned, and sometimes killed for infringements, such as not wearing a mask, crossing checkpoints, trying to work, or attending to emergencies.

We are in a society where independence, or being free from influence, dominion and control, is nothing but a chance to be better. And to some extent, a society where, in practice, it is safe to be unpopular.

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