When public uproar over the Anti-Terrorism Bill (ATB) erupted, civil society organizations, student governments and publications, as well as several other concerned groups in the country urgently released public statements expressing their opposition. They argued that the ATB is a travesty of democratic institutions. Some called for solidarity among the people while many more appealed to lawmakers to reject it.
These organizations wrote strong, thought-provoking statements evidently borne out of a desire to protect the people by safeguarding our basic freedoms. Unfortunately, the SAMAHAN, Ateneo de Davao University’s student government, was not one of them. When they finally did, it was too late to save face.
Since the final approval of the ATB in Congress last June 3, the SAMAHAN has gained the ire of netizens both from within and outside the Ateneo for their silence on the issue. Finally, yesterday afternoon, they posted a five-page statement on their social media accounts.
I would have been willing to set aside my prejudgment that, since they most likely did it to save face, the statement reeked of insincerity. But after reading it over and over, I could not help but become even more mistrustful of the SAMAHAN—my SAMAHAN, supposedly, as an Atenean.
First, the statement claimed that the SAMAHAN continues “to advocate and speak out against atrocities that occur in this country”. While they may have released a fair number of statements on social issues in the past, I argue that it was only because it was convenient for them.
Take, for example, their statement on Labor Day. Never did they hold the government accountable to any form of action like addressing contractualization. Instead, they just asked everyone to ‘honor [the workers’] sacrifices and efforts’.
In their statement on State Actions During COVID-19, SAMAHAN did, in all fairness, denounce human rights violations and appealed for concrete plans from the government. But the use of terms like ‘prevalence of political interests’ and ‘abused military-based approaches’ seemed too vague and theoretical. Human rights violations by whom? It’s almost as if SAMAHAN is tiptoeing around the harsh realities happening on the ground.
And when the attacks at Haran threatened the safety of Lumads, whom the SAMAHAN claims to strongly advocate for, where was the voice of our esteemed student government?
In the first place, it should be understood that the prime purpose of statements is to take a stand and to call for action, not to gain clout or to simply meet people’s expectations, and, definitely, not to play safe.
More lines in the ATB statement reveal the possible underlying causes of this pattern of SAMAHAN statements.
“We are privileged enough to use the democratic spaces and avenues granted to us by the Constitution,” it read.
“It is with this knowledge that we are at ease, knowing that our opinions, regardless if it stands on the side of the government or not, are protected,” it added.
Firstly, the use of democratic spaces is not a privilege, but a right. This is something that is afforded to us as citizens of a democratic country. To say that ‘we are privileged enough’ singles us out as part of a select few. To further claim that ‘we are at ease’ shows just how much the SAMAHAN revels in its privilege while simultaneously refusing to acknowledge that some people simply do not enjoy the same.
It is indeed very disturbing to hear this from our student government when, in the University of the Philippines (UP) Cebu, college students no different from us Ateneans had just been arrested after police violently dispersed a peaceful protest calling to junk the ATB.
To be ‘at ease’ during these times is to be blind to all the atrocities committed by the government against its own people. To be ‘at ease’ is to willfully deny the suffering of thousands victimized by state impunity and thousands more should legislation like the ATB be signed into law.
Releasing statements may not be the only measure in proving the commitment of an organization to its principles. However, it speaks volumes in terms of how we stand in solidarity with just and meaningful causes. When we plan of writing one, though, it pays to look into ourselves first and to ensure that we denounce certain actions because they can be detrimental to the people we serve, and not because it serves our interest.