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Opinion

Not a handful

BAR NONE - Ian Manticajon - The Freeman

I became an activist in college during the early to mid-1990s, a period I consider “unfortunate” for student activism. This was the time of the Fidel Ramos administration in the Philippines. Ramos, known for his mastery of 'psy-war', effectively promoted peace talks and the vision of a 'tiger-cub' economy by year 2000. His administration skillfully concealed its iron hand, extending instead a hand of peace. This approach was a sublime effort to win hearts and minds, undermining both the legal Left and the underground revolutionary movement.

But the country did not run out of significant issues, which led us, student activists, to hold street protests. During my senior year, as the editor-in-chief of our college paper 'Tug-ani' at the University of the Philippines Cebu, I focused our small paper on highlighting issues related to globalization. In my second year of college, I found myself protesting with a handful of other students in front of the then US consulate in Cebu, beside PCI Bank along Gorordo Avenue. We shouted: “Ramos, Aquino walang pinag-iba, parehong tuta ng mga Kano! Utang ng utang...(expletive).”

When I say a handful, I really mean just that. This is why I consider the early 1990’s an ‘unfortunate’ time to be a student activist. People, particularly the youth, seemed disinclined to challenge the status quo. The country had just conducted its first presidential election post-EDSA, and Cory Aquino’s endorsed candidate, Fidel Ramos, won with promises of stability and economic growth.

Fast forward three decades, and today's leaders seem to have lost the subtlety of 'psy-war' and the art of winning hearts and minds. I’m particularly referring to the former Duterte government and its remnants in the Marcos Jr. administration. They adopt a confrontational approach, as if to 'grab the bull by the horns,' showing an all-out war attitude towards communists, activists, critics, and other perceived enemies of the state. And yes, that's right. I'm not conflating communists with activists and critics, unlike the red-taggers at the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).

And what results have emerged from the 'grab the bull by the horns' approach adopted by people in the NTF-ELCAC? How has prioritizing raw power over nuanced and strategic thinking affected outcomes over the years? Have government confidential or intelligence funds made a meaningful impact?

I could just imagine those people thinking about asking for more of that confidential budget when they see that banner photo on the front page of The FREEMAN dated November 21, 2023. The photo shows a group of college students participating in a street protest along Fuente Osmeña. Newspaper reports pegged their number at more than 300 protesters, definitely not a handful. The students, who came from different universities in Cebu City, had walked out of their classes to voice their concerns against government policies affecting the country's educational system. They are seen in the photo carrying banners and placards with various messages. One prominent banner reads WALKOUT AGAINST COMMERCIALIZATION OF EDUCATION & STATE REPRESSION, while others contain slogans denouncing neoliberalism.

You see, the youth can neither be bullied nor sweet-talked into submission when the situation calls for their discontent. We were all young once, and we know from experience that during those years, when our only job was to study and we had a whole future ahead of us, we asked difficult questions and acted on our ideals.

A story in The Philippine STAR yesterday reported, 'More Pinoys say life has gotten worse – SWS poll.' Perhaps that sentiment is what's driving the youth.

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