On the afternoon of June 4, I was one of one thousand people who gathered outdoors despite an ongoing pandemic. Let me tell you about them.
They were activists and artists. Vegans and musicians. Academics and alternative medicine advocates. “They’re CITIZENS,” a Filipino poet and expatriate professor in Singapore wrote, as he observed online. ”They're ALL OF US.”
For three months, they had been on survival mode under the rules of community quarantine. With income erratic, bills looming, and health under siege, their freedom to form, share, and revise opinions was one of very few remaining existential essentials. But they stood to lose even that, with the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.
A revised version of an earlier bill, the act holds necessary rules for the maintenance of law and order in the country. But so vaguely worded are the provisions, so heavy-handed the penalties, and so quickly railroaded the legislative review, that the whole Act is cast under a shadow of doubt.
Will all civil safety nets be yanked from under the people, under the pretense of maintaining order?
And so the citizens assembled at the historic approach into the University of the Philippines campus. Some were on bikes, colorful streamers proclaiming support for freedom of expression. Others bore slogans pleading the government to prioritize the pandemic instead of its political position. All wore facemasks and stood apart, while those who didn’t want to risk being in the crowd, stayed on the sidewalks: law abiding people of a state so historically spiteful of law and justice.
They chanted and listened to speeches. Raised fists against abuse, and bent knees to honor bravery. They marched to the Commission on Human Rights. They gathered around the Pepe Diokno monument, and sang. Because what that statesman and nationalist had said of repressive laws in the 70s holds true today: “It may silence our voices and seal our eyes; but it cannot kill our hope nor obliterate our vision.”