On paper, the Filipino is free. He has a Constitution promulgated by “the sovereign Filipino people.” He has a democratic form of government. He has freedom of speech, of religion, of industry, of property – on paper, every right necessary to foster a just, strong society.
Yet, everywhere, the Filipino is in chains. He is chained to a system of government that makes only the appearance to be democratic, a system ruled not by the will of the people and the logic of great statesmen but by whims of a select few in the shadowy background. He is chained to an economy that produces substantial wealth that is never shared with the starving masses in the slums and on the streets. He is chained to a culture of institutional corruption that saps the idealistic virtue and spirited hope from the young and the wizened alike.
There have been instances in Philippine history where the chains seemed poised to break. The best example is the EDSA Revolution of 1986. In a great show of courage and determination, the Philippine people worked as one to topple the man that seemed to be holding the ends of the chains. For a fleeting while, the idealism and hope that had been missing for so long from our country had returned. The focus of the entire world turned to our usually overlooked archipelago as they applauded our great deed of courage. “For a few extraordinary moments, the people of the Philippines proved their bravery to the world, and to themselves,” proclaimed TIME Magazine in its article in honor of its 1986 Person of the Year, newly instated President Corazon Aquino.
This feeling of hope was short-lived. Over the years, as the excitement of EDSA I faded into history, the status quo was re-established. New public officials, as inefficient and unresponsive as the old ones, took office. The masses were still poor and repressed. Corruption returned as the order of the day. The chains had become brittle, but they did not break.
The great tragedy about EDSA I was that it was seen as an end, not as a means. Democracy is worthless if it is not nurtured and cared for by the people. As a form of government, hapless democracy is more dangerous to liberty than the most brutal despot. Truthfully, we did not fulfill our duties as citizens in a fledgling democracy. Thus, the current state of things.
Where have the Filipinos of courage gone? EDSA I was only 23 years ago, a mere generation or two removed from the current. Can it be that these men and women of noble disposition have all perished from this Earth? It cannot be so.
So where, then, are the Filipinos of courage? It seems the vast majority of them are hiding, allowing their virtue and idealism to sleep. Perhaps they have reason to. After all, it is an immense endeavor to stand against the tide of seeming inevitably. In its long history, the Philippines has known nothing but repression, whether it be by foreign colonial powers or by our own citizenry. There are few stories of Philippine antiquity for us to look to for inspiration. All in all, it seems as if it is a futile struggle.
If these are the reasons why the Filipinos of courage have gone into hibernation, then they have forgotten themselves and the definition of courage. Courage makes no concessions to ardor, hardship, futility, and all the like. The courageous stand strong, armed with virtuous conscience and unwavering resilience.
Philippine men and woman of courage, show yourselves! Do not merely fiddle as the Republic burns slowly around you. You are the last, best hope of our people, and as such must take upon the responsibility of breaking the chains that have held us in bondage for so long.
As a people, we stand at a precipice. One false step and we, and the Republic along with us, will descend into the familiar abyss of tyranny and chaos. This, however, is not the other option. Far off in the distance, just within eye’s reach, stands another cliff wall. If we take the one arduous, all-compassing gap, we can grasp the cliff wall and propel the Republic to a transcendent height.
Filipinos of courage, I challenge you to take that leap. For if you leap, your countrymen will discover within themselves the inherent courage that has been repressed for so long. They will leap with you. At few times in our history have the Philippine people had such an opportunity to build something more. It is not that we have much to lose if we refuse to act – if we act, we have so much to gain.
Again, Filipinos of courage, I implore you – reveal yourselves! Whether you are an established public figure, a simple everyman, or an idealistic youth, it does not matter – discover your courage once more. The fate of the Republic lies in your noble hands.
He has put to hazard his ease, his security, his interest, his power, even his … popularity …. He is traduced and abused…. He may live long, he may do much. But here is the summit. He never can exceed what he does this day.
– Edmund Burke in his eulogy for Charles J. Fox, House of Commons 1783. (The inspirational quote at the start of Profiles in Courage by John F. Kennedy)