Social unrest as an election issue

BAR NONE - Atty. Ian Vincent Manticajon - The Freeman

Starting today until May 9, I will try to write about issues that I care about in the coming elections. Some might consider this an act of futility, given the many faults of our electoral democracy. But let’s normalize trying to see through images, personalities, and slogans; to look for the substance behind the style; to examine the facts behind the smokescreen of catchwords and patronizing speeches.

For today, let me rewrite what I posted some years ago in my social media wall.

In September 2011, I was thrust in the middle of a conflict between a farmers’ group and a landed family in Cebu. The conflict had been simmering for decades, and that year it resulted into what local media called a "riot" after police tried to implement an order issued by a local court.

Because of that "riot", several farmers were jailed and I became one of their pro bono lawyers. I had actually lived with the same group of farmers way back in 1995 when I was still a college student. The living-in was part of a basic masses immersion program of our student council. That’s why I thought I had gained a good understanding of the farmers’ plight and their views of the issues affecting their sector. But I was still wrong on my basic assumptions.

Despite my political education, I was still working under the mistaken notion that poor farmers needed help in navigating our rule of law, and that a "highly-educated" person like me, steeped in the substance and formalities of law, can lend that helping hand. That kind of mindset followed a typical attitude that can be traced to our colonial (feudal) past.

I had the tendency to view the farmers as victims of their dire situation; that they were among the masses in this country who can benefit from the aid of those better situated and educated. Indeed, many of our poor rural folks do not see their poverty as a product of a deliberate and systemic deed designed by the ruling class, and by society in general, to work against the rural masses’ interest and welfare. Many see it as part of their fate or the normal course of life in a society divided by class.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I have not experienced poverty growing up; that I belonged in a relatively comfortable household in a typical middle-class environment. As such, I was also the typical citizen who tended to accept the narrative that the better situated among us can content ourselves with extending a helping hand from time to time --in my case, free legal service.

But when dealt with a militant group of farmers who were awakened, educated, provoked, empowered by the Left and what-have-you, I was suddenly jolted into a disturbing reality. It was like being pulled out from my social comfort zone that otherwise saw the farmers as people who simply needed my help. Consciously or unconsciously, I wanted the resisting farmers to toe the line, to see the laws as they are and just follow the mainstream narrative. If they needed help, we the "better situated" can just lend a "helping hand" from time to time.

Then the roots of the simmering social unrest never gets addressed --waiting for another round of "riots".

For the coming elections, we should look for candidates who possess a good mix of practical world view, idealism, experience, patience, maturity, courage, and competence to address the roots of social unrest.

By the way, I was eventually able to have the case against my clients dismissed on a procedural technicality.


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