For three years I put together year-enders on arts and culture and found that there is plenty to be thankful for. There is after all a great amount of productivity, the kind that is independent and persistent. There is also a lot of private money that fuels the arts and culture scene —which is of course to point out how government only comes in when it gets embroiled in questions of censorship and freedom of expression.
The latter is a cause we hold dear, even more so given the Internet and social media, and how we have so engaged with each other and the issues of the day in blogs, Facebook and Twitter. It seems important to do now a year ender that is about precisely this balance that we are forced to strike—or fail to strike—between absolute free speech that the Internet affords us, and the issue of responsibility. Too often in the past year our world was defined by what was happening online; sometimes we got carried away, it seemed like we were changing the world. But were we?
The Million People March. It was a series of Facebook statuses from Ito Rapadas, Monet Silvestre and Peachy Bretaña that led to the August 26 Scrap Pork rally in Luneta, which was able to get members of the middle and upper classes to step out of their homes and take a stand against the pork barrel system. This rally though missed the opportunity to educate people, and galvanize attendees against the pork barrel.
Without a stage and a prepared program, people near the stage wanted the microphone, and those far from it were just loitering around uncertain about what else to do other than be there. The organized Left would save the day, where Bayan’s Nato Reyes, who was part of the core team that helped organize the rally, took control and told us less experienced rally organizers that there is no way to deal with this crowd-turned-rowdy other than to give them a program. He then helped us put together the people who would take to the mic and speak about different aspects of the pork barrel system.
Without a stage those on the other side of Luneta (near Roxas Boulevard) had no way of knowing what was going on, and again, the organized Left would provide the entertainment on that side of the grounds. They arrived with sound system and performances at-the-ready, and with the masa who were otherwise excluded from the plans of this rally. Anyone on that side of the grounds would’ve gotten more than those who looked to the “command center” that truly had no command.
That the Left organizations saved the day is of course not something that anyone has heard about the August 26 Million People March, where the anti-Left sentiment was clear on social media from the beginning, given the calls to only wear white shirts and that there be no flags and placards. The presumptions about what the Left would do as it was presumed all over social media, were all proven untrue; yet there were no apologies in sight. Such is the irresponsibility of Pinoy social media.
It also became obvious who were wearing yellow beneath their white shirts. Many were quick to dismiss and discredit this rally the moment PNoy said that he was abolishing the pork barrel and was putting in place a new system of disbursing funds to members of the Senate and Congress. Too many revealed that they are not against the patronage system that the pork barrel lives off, a patronage system that PNoy does not seek to abolish. And yes, we know who these celebrities-turned-pretend-intellectuals are.
The Death of Kristel Tejada. In March 2013, social media was abuzz with the suicide of University of the Philippines Manila student Kristel Tejada. It was also quite surprisingly divided about it. The more rational—because more just—way of discussing this issue was to talk about the right to free education, and the State University’s role in precisely providing quality education for talented and intelligent but needy students. Yet, many chose to discuss this on the level of UP’s sink-or-swim challenge, forgetting that it is entirely valid that one might be overwhelmed by the waters. Worse, too many spoke about how this was about the lack of parental guidance, the failure of this student to work the University’s rules and offices.
Morality was the evil that Pinoy social media revealed to be its limitation in assessing the situation of Kristel, where instead of compassion and understanding, a finger was pointed at her and her parents for being such failures. Not at all Pinoy social media’s shining moment.
The Freedom of Ericson Acosta. In January 2013, activist and cultural worker Ericson Acosta, jailed on trumped up charges since February 2011, was brought to the National Kidney Institute and his release was finally underway. Illegally arrested while traveling within Samar, for 44 hours Ericson was tortured and interrogated, and would only be given the chance to call his family and lawyer after 72 hours. He would also only find out then that he was being charged with the illegal possession of a grenade.
Ericson spent 23 months in jail, during which he had undergone a hunger strike, had written essays and poems. During which the government did not care about this man whom National Artists Bienvenido Lumbera and F. Sionil Jose spoke for. During which government spokesperson Edwin Lacierda dared say that “To our <government’s> knowledge, we do not have political prisoners.” During which Ericson got so sick that he had to be taken out of jail and brought to a hospital.
During which we barely heard a peep from the usually opinionated Pinoys on social media, save for the usual suspects who are not bogged down by false and faulty anti-Left discourse.
As of November 2013, there are 449 political prisoners, 154 of them arrested under PNoy’s government. Ericson’s been free for most of the year. It’s time to free them all.
This piece was written for and previously published in the RADIKALCHICK column in The Manila Times, December 28 2013.