Home Commentary From the lens of power in the Philippines

From the lens of power in the Philippines

Now comes this anti-terrorism bill within our midst. The most enigmatic question one may ask in these uncertain times: While everybody else is so preoccupied with trying to survive through their quarantined lives, unable to move, unable to work, unable to earn, unable to obtain immediate medical attention, why and how can the immediate threat of terrorism be so real?

The Philippines appears to have the tightest quarantine cordon in the world — in all the bureaucratic mayhem, it takes me about two days to get a travel pass for me to go to the next town, 12 km away; about three weeks to go to the next province, less than a 100 km away.

If the threat was real, would not that make the government’s own lockdown measures ineffective? Why all this haste in having it passed so quickly? Have we all been so incompetent that no existing law is sufficient to thwart a terrorist plot? Are we all in a portentous fear that they will be exploiting our vulnerable conditions?

One can admit even with the least probability, that terrorists can severely disrupt the fragile order we are trying to recreate; it is true that they can potentially destroy everything we have thus far accomplished as a poor yet resilient nation.

But this mysterious agenda may be seen within the larger context of an orchestrated move by the government of President Rodrigo Duterte to stifle freedom, or to hide something. How many of us are knowledgeable in the arts of “national security”? Everybody knows that “national security” is the most convenient excuse for anybody to hide one’s dirty work.

This bill seems to be meant “to terrorize”: It started first with ABS-CBN, then it got to the case of Maria Ressa and so, where do you think all of this is going to lead to? In the days to come, “political enemies,” “terrorists,” and “criminals” will all just simply mean the same thing. And when that day comes, only fear will prevail upon our land.

Let us scrutinize our problem again from the lens of power. Terrorists have committed themselves to the fearless adventure of threatening innocent lives, just in order to make a point and to make themselves heard. They see something wrong with society, but their protests have fallen upon deaf ears; they think their only recourse is to sow terror.

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Social critics may be similar but are not the same. They always make sure that blind eyes are opened and deaf ears are listening. Social critics do not and have no need to sow terror.

The truth is “terror” itself.

Protesters wearing face masks and carrying anti-terror bill placards practice social distancing as they march at a university campus in Manila on June 4, a day after congress passed an anti-terror bill — which critics say will curtail civil liberties — and a U.N. report on the human rights situation in the country. (Photo by Ted Aljibe/AFP)

Whether or not these imaginary “terrorists” exist, there is only one inescapable conclusion — there is something wrong with our society, but the cries of a few in behalf of the sufferings of many, are not seen and never heard.

Something is wrong with our society, because someone has misused power; there are sufferings and cries, because someone has abused power; when sufferings are deliberately numbed, and cries are silenced, it is because someone believes and feels that power is being threatened.

Genuine people — unlike powerful politicians, powerful businesspeople and powerful celebrities — do not need power. For those who think the poor and the marginalized are “mere statistics,” “instruments,” or “resources,” or even “security threats” — aside from being branded as “stupid,” “irresponsible,” or “malicious” — then power is definitely their only shield and defense. They must have it, and they must keep it at all costs.

But genuine people are bestowed the power they never even sought. Power is really a gift that is never asked, always graciously received but freely relinquished. Power is adoringly given by all others whose lives these genuine people have touched. It is never even enjoyed, and not a few may not have been aware that they ever had such power.

Genuine people with power will always maintain living the same “powerless” life that ironically attracted it — a life of simplicity, poverty and humility.

Those who seek power are those who are strongly craving for it, either because they think they need it to give their lives some “purpose” or “meaning”; or because they think they are “destined” for it; or because they think they must have it before somebody else does.

In any case, power-hungry people are not genuine, and are actually dangerous people, for those who have had the experience of fighting for power, will most likely pervert it.

The way of “powerless power” lies in losing it, or in being conscious that one never had it at all.

The Christ of the margins is the kind of genuine person to whom we have given the power he never aspired for. He was given the power not seated on a throne of gold or jewels, but on an ignominious cross of suffering and death. He was given the power amidst his commonness and hardships. He was given the power because of his mercy and compassion, because of his love and sense of justice. He saw something wrong with the society of his time, he opened eyes and he cried to those who would listen. He spoke the truth. He is in fact, THE TRUTH.

If you covet for the very power he utterly rejected, then Jesus will be your “terror.”

Maybe politicians, businesspeople and celebrities must keep on reflecting deeply about the Lord of the voiceless and the forgotten. Though we are all professing the same faith, but if they are still not learning from his example, then let it be a stern reminder to us that we may not also be learning from it as well.

Brother Jess Matias is a professed brother of the Secular Franciscan Order. He serves as minister of the St. Pio of Pietrelcina Fraternity at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Mandaluyong City, coordinator of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups of the Capuchins in the Philippines and prison counselor and catechist for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.

The views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of LiCAS.news.

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