“The child or the youth who tries to be anything else is charged of being vain and presumptuous; the curate ridicules him with cruel sarcasm, his relatives look upon him with fear, and strangers pity him greatly. No going forward! Get in line and follow the crowd.” - Jose Rizal
I am of mind that most discussions on impunity and broad socio-cultural change in the Philippines have to begin with one of Jose Rizal’s most pointed yet complex quotes:
“So, while the Filipino has not the sufficient energy to proclaim, with head erect and bosom bared, its rights to social life, and to guarantee it with its sacrifices, with its own blood…while we see them wrap themselves up in their egotism and with a forced smile praise the more iniquitous actions, begging with their eyes a portion of the booty - why grant them liberty? With Spain or without Spain they would always be the same, and perhaps worst! Why independence, if the slaves of today will be the tyrants of tomorrow?” - Jose Rizal
The history of democracy is, in a very real sense, the story of abrogating and limiting the power of those in positions of authority. At its most fundamental, revolutionary thought, revolutionary events (and documents) have been about defining the limits of authority and entrenching the concept of individual and collective rights. Globally, the last few centuries have been focused on that very battle. Democracy, with all of its complexities and frailties was the driving force behind the twentieth century; and its power continues to be as inspiring and disconcerting in the twenty-first. But where the twentieth was about instilling the idea of democracy globally, the twenty-first appears to be set up as a battle to both preserve and invigorate democracy as an equitable structure of national governance.
Locally, the history of the Philippines, and the Filipino people, over the last two centuries has been about achieving the state that Rizal demanded of all Filipinos: The grace to stand firm in the face of iniquitous action, the strength to soldier on in the face of ideological and political obstacles, and the wit to define a coherent, inclusive political and cultural spectrum. However, the battle within is also the battle without: The continuous effort to ensure that we are not slipping into antiquated norms of power relations and feudal rule, that we continue to move forward in crafting a responsive representative democracy, where elected leaders see their positions as an opportunity to serve and not to rule.
“Yet to reach that condition it is necessary that there be no tyrannical and no enslaved peoples, it is necessary that man go about freely, that he know how to respect the rights of others in their own individuality and for this there is much blood to be shed…” - Jose Rizal
Whether we realize it or not, the increasing furor over the Binay-Dasmariñas Village incident touches on much of what has bedeviled the Philippines for the last two centuries: Since the end of the Spanish era, since of the end of the American era, since the end of the Marcos era. We still grapple with the issues that Rizal concisely touched upon: Tyranny as a matter of course, collaboration with authoritarian powers that be for personal gain, the inability to support the rule of law and men (not man). Whether it’s supporting Binay’s ability to move with impunity in his ‘domain’ (an idea that seems more at home in a feudal land, than in a modern representative democracy) or the dismissal of the entire issue on account of antiquated ideas of ‘classicism,’ the form that discourse has taken around the issue has provided insight into the various forms that tyranny continues to be extant in the land. More disheartening is the discovery that some ideologues and pseudo-advocates of social change seem to believe tyranny and impunity are acceptable; that limits on power and authority do not exist, so long as the victim is either wealthy, or tainted by association with money. The forced divisions of classism remain in full force among certain social advocates. Nay, they even gleefully embrace classism as an ideological fact; drawing Manichaeistic divisions of good and evil along class lines. Class warfare remains the norm, when it should have become apparent by now that collaboration and cooperation should be what we are all striving for.
Combating impunity and tyranny should be our collective focus; and when people dismiss it as irrelevant for no other reason than the victims are tainted by ‘class’, they are not only supporting tyranny, they are encouraging it to flourish.
“The people do not complain because they have no voice, do not move because they are lethargic, and you say that they do not suffer, because you have not seen their hearts bleed. But one day you will see and you will hear, and ah! Woe unto them that build their strength on ignorance or in fanaticism; woe unto them who are engaged in deception and work in darkness, believing that all are asleep!” - Jose Rizal
For me, the central issues surrounding the Binay-Dasma incident are manifold: Human rights (of the security guards), rights of private property owners (feudalism?), and the limits of mayoral power. Disconcertingly little has been remarked by way of how the intrinsic rights of the security guards were infringed upon by the mayor and his convoy. They were threatened, cajoled, and eventually (implicitly) arrested and detained (even if for four hours). Unlawful detention is unlawful detention, whether for four or forty hours. And yet, little has been remarked on this. More disappointingly, not much has come from the national government concerning the actions of police officers during and after the incident. And unsurprisingly, some social advocates and activists have chosen to ignore the infringing of human rights, in favor of adhering to an antiquated and played out concepts of classism. However, lost amidst restrictive militant ideology and classism, is that this incident is elevated in importance because it encompasses so many of the multifarious social and political extant today. And, in some sense most importantly, it is well-documented. We have visible proof of impunity in action.
“When the people fear the government, there is tyranny. When the government fears the people, there is liberty.” - Thomas Jefferson
From a socio-political perspective, one of the issues we have long combated in the country is the insidious idea that the authority of those in power has little limit; especially in areas that fall under their ‘jurisdiction.’ In point, this runs counter to the idea of individual and collective human rights. And in essence is counter to the very principles of democracy and representative governance. Any law that enshrines the authority of a mayor, or any government employee, to move wherever, whenever he or she chooses entrenches impunity. Which is why we do not have one. In a sense, legal regimes are concerned with defining the limits of power and authority, of structuring the relationship between a government and the governed. Hence, the overarching concept that power derives from the People, and can only be used for the betterment of the collective body politic. Power is granted and authority limited by the rights of individuals; else we run the danger of supporting tyranny in its various forms.
“Peoples and government are correlated and complimentary….Like people, like government, we will say…” - Jose Rizal
We can argue the minutiae of the various laws that enable Dasmariñas Village to control access to and from the village (reference the Magna Carta of Homeowner’s Associations of 2010 and prior failures by Makati to open Dasmariñas and Forbes to public access). We can get caught up in arguing why Mayor Binay and Senator Binay failed to heed a clearly displayed sign that directed residents and guests to use either the Palm or Pasay Road exit after 10PM. And we can wonder at why Mayor Binay and Senator Binay felt they did not have to follow the law and easily understandable rules, when so many others (diplomats, foreign dignitaries, congressmen, senators, ex-presidents, our current president, businessmen, and pretty much everyone - no VIP rules here) have been able to by and large abide by the gate schedule. And we can wonder at what possessed Mayor Binay and Senator Binay to push to exit Banyan gate, when Palm is less than two minutes away. Or, most worrisome, how Mayor Binay and Senator Binay continue to believe their actions were not only correct, but understandable. But, within that minutiae, and the feelings of anger likely to arise from a careful review of the incident and aftermath by the powers that be, we also run the risk of losing sight of some of the larger issues at hand: Impunity, tyranny, and the failure there-in to call its perpetrators to task, both by a supposedly empowered and active citizenry and a supposedly reform-minded government. This is not only about why Mayor Binay and Senator Binay chose to act the way they did, but, most importantly, about how we view and approach the manifold political and philosophical issues surrounding the incident.
“Patriotism can only be a crime in a tyrannical people, because then it is rapine under a beautiful name, but however perfect humanity may become, patriotism will always be a virtue among oppressed peoples, because it will at all times mean love of justice, of liberty, of personal dignity.” - Jose Rizal
Feudalism was defined by the king owning and controlling all within his jurisdiction. He exerted absolute control over his domain. We do not live in a feudal age anymore, despite coming close a few decades ago. A mayor (or senator and vice-president) is not a king, and his or her power is not absolute. We are still combating extant feudalesque concepts governing our relationship with those elected to positions of authority. Coupled with our cultural predilection for patrimonial leadership, this creates situations where the assertion of power seemingly lacks limitations and strictures. Even worse, we convince ourselves that power and authority should not be blunted for the betterment of all. At times, it seems we remain akin to slaves, worshiping at the altar of tyranny, yearning for a share of the tyrannical’s wealth and power. Or worse, some partaking of that illicit wealth, with a tacit promise to share in the power, in exchange for overt, or subtle, support. When balanced against that sort of hobbling and destructive partisanship, egotism, and over-wheening self-interest, the purity of Rizalian patriotism, ennobled by a shared national consciousness and dedicated to love of justice, of liberty, and of personal dignity for all, becomes all the more alluring. It is a dream that lingers and haunts with its promise. The journey towards achieving that Rizalian ideal requires collaboratively and cooperatively combating tyranny and impunity, in whatever multifarious and nefarious forms it may appear.
Special Note: On a personal note, I want to commend the security guards of Dasmariñas Village for performing their duty in implementing village policy in exemplary fashion. On a daily basis, they have to deal with numerous peculiar personalities, many of whom are used to getting their way. In my experience, the village security guards have been consistently courteous, respectful, and helpful. For this, and many reasons, I am disheartened by the callous treatment of their plight by certain self-professed advocates for social change. Their situation is no different from many others who are the victims of tyranny and impunity on a daily basis. What sets this incident apart, however, is the circumstances and the evidence we possess. While I have reservations concerning the reaction and current actions of the Dasmariñas Village Association and their officers, I whole-heartedly support their decision to support and defend the security guards involved in this altercation. I hope they continue to do so, and more people consider the personal and collective ramifications of what occurred.
The simplest thing would be to sweep it under the rug, to forget about the incident, brand it as rich-vs-rich or powerful-vs-powerful and dismiss out of hand. But the fact is this incident speaks to so many issues currently extant in our country, just because the powers involved deem it settled, or the hopeful powers waiting in the wings and hiding in the shadows deem it unimportant, does not make it so. This issue, like so many others, demand our attention precisely because it speaks to the heart of power relations in our country. There are lessons to be learned here, hard ones, both from the incident itself and our collective reactions, critiques, and even apologies.