There is a lacking understanding that the ordinary citizens have about the injustices that are happening in Lumad communities and Bangsamoro territories; that we know everything about them. We may assume that distance and ignorance can be our excuses to understand their struggles about ownership of ancestral lands, exploitation of the elites, mobilization of one’s identity and culture, and preservation of their fundamental freedoms and rights. I can always remember the story of my good friend whose grandfather is a Lumad. Since then, it was the Lumad people’s difficulty to position themselves between the control of the rebels and the military. When the rebels demand something from them, there’s no choice but to give back. But, as a consequence, the Lumads are tagged as rebels by the military because of such act of support. Simple logic can detect what is problematic in the aforementioned situation. The Lumad people, so as the marginalized sectors (including the poor, farmers, Moro Muslims, and alike), are always defenseless; vulnerable to being misinterpreted and misrepresented. Then, sadly abuse becomes the pacifier of all conflicts.
While I position myself inside a cramped room filled with unfamiliar people, I have no choice but to look for a place where I can sit. The 7th Mindanao Human Rights Summit just started and there’s no other way for people to notice you except if you are that prominent. In humility, I sat on an emptied platform and proceed to what I am there for. After listening to every speaker, my fascination pushed me to conclude three salient things: recognition of the generation of rights, lacking grassroots’ situation analysis, and statistics is never enough to measure injustice, rather, stories do.
It was my first time to hear about the generation of rights. One of the notable speakers talked about how do rights are categorized based on their origin and utility. Though, there are universal rights which will serve as individuals’ safety net from any form of abuse, it is never materialized especially in the context of those who lack the power to influence the legal landscape. We know that the poor and the marginalized are always the victims of these entrenched gap between their ability to defend themselves and the willingness of the existing system to defend them.
In the speaker’s speech he emphasized that there are rights crafted by the bourgeoisie to make sure that the exploited people will never prosper in going against by providing them an illusion that they can compete with the powerful elites but stops only at mere existence such as right to life, equality before the law, freedom of speech and so on. The second generation of rights is referred to as the Bismark solution which are said to protect the interests of the capitalist such as right to housing, health care benefits, social security and employment benefits while enduring positive image to the people. Lastly, is the most important one where people become at the center of its essence that goes beyond civil and social rights. These include the right to self-determination, right intergenerational equity and sustainability, right to communicate and so on. Despite the beauty that every single right possesses, the ugliness of the failure to actualize it still persists. They may say that it is always a matter of political will. But, let’s throw back that question to those who claim it: what kind of political will do we grant to the Lumad when they rally on the streets, or the farmers when they demand for land or the Bangsamoro when they demand their identity? Until now, answers are rare to find.
The second premise that I would like to raise is the problem with our lack of analysis of what is happening in the grassroots’ level. I just realized that for all these years, we have been dealing with abstract ideas such as justice, rights and freedoms without being critical on how are these concepts become a reality especially to those who have been deprived. If we bother ourselves to look closer to the current situation of the marginalized sectors and listen to their stories, we get frustrated of our prevailing mechanisms to aid and facilitate their needs. The incapability of the government and other pertinent sectors to provide a solution that aims not to put a band aid to the deeply-ingrained wounds of the social realities where we belong, rather, long-term and sustainable solutions to the problems, raises simple questions like, “Are we doing enough?” or “Are we doing the right thing?”.
Before I end these ruminations from the talks, I want you to picture yourself in the situation of the marginalized sectors. A situation where you aren’t allowed to speak and defend yourself. A situation where even expressing your own culture and identity is deemed irrelevant. A situation where you have to be dislocated over and over again from your own homes and lands because of your incapacity to fight back. A situation where the only institutions that give you hope such as the schools are being burned down just because of unproven speculations or educational standards that are forcibly enforced despite their unnecessariness. I want you to imagine to be at the epicenter of those conflicts, or to be that child who talked about her experience seeing their communal leaders in front of them being mercilessly killed.
It seems like we have never done enough, and if so, we have done the wrong thing. The current system breeds not just a cycle of unending injustice, but, also breeds future oppressors expressed through wars, apathy, blindness of reality, and injustice. Let us go back to what my friend told me about her grandfather’s experience. With pure innocence, her grandfather doesn’t deserve the cruelty of death from the cruelty of not knowing where to position himself in a war that he did not choose, a war that we are so insistent to happen.