Velez: A young Atenean speaks out

LAST Wednesday, Ateneo de Davao hosted an online "Pakighinabi" or conversation with the topic: "Freedom From Terror Bill," the title uniquely juxtaposes those words to make us think that this Anti-Terror Bill gives us freedom.

The online conversations was also a gathering of student government leaders from the five Ateneo universities from Davao, Cagayan de Oro, Zamboanga, Naga and Manila.

Aside from the good incisive analyses from the speakers, the great human rights lawyer Dean Attorney Chel Diokno, and my classmate Attorney Jet Pascua, what struck me was a conversation from the student leader of Ateneo de Manila.

JB Bejarin, the president of the Sanggunian ng Paaralan ng Loyola ng Ateneo de Manila, was able to describe how it feels from a student's view about this bill, about this protest, and about the people.

He started his talk about his own experience taking part of the students protesting the bill in their campus on Independence Day. He looked out at across the gates of Ateneo towards Katipunan Avenue and wondered: "Ano bang ibig sabihin nitong bill para sa kanila, sa mga motorists, sa nagtitinda ng yosi, sa mga security guard?"

This sharing perhaps led to another point from a professor, who asked that while this forum "preaches to the converted" among students and academe, the challenge remains on how to convince the citizens, and even the "diehards," of the administration on the dangers of this law.

Diokno responded that while people are concerned of their daily lives of surviving with a lockdown affecting their livelihood, it is important to reach out to them especially the apolitical ones. He noticed people may be tired of "preachy" messaging, but there are more effective means that can be done through artists and communicators who can present the issue through comics, visuals, and videos.

Pascua differs a bit on this point. "It's too much to say na hindi natin sila na reach. Those who are out on the streets are from the grassroots."

Bejarin drives another incisive point that the fight is not against the government but rather a fight for the people. "Di ito laban sa gobyerno, ito ay laban ng bansa."

He reflects why there's outcry against the bill and is also because of fear. "Imbes mawala ang takot, lumala pa. Higit po sa galit, importante na makita ang takot ng tao dahil sila ang maapektuhan. Gusto lang nila ipahayag na dapat tama ang ginawa."

This is how he sees the context of the outcry on the government's response to the pandemic. More arrests are made on citizens rather than giving them mass testing, financial aid and treatment on Covid-19 cases.

It's encouraging to hear young people and the Ateneo community speaking as one on this issue. Diokno reminds us that this issue does not end on a forum or on one protest. It continues with every action for right governance and right decisions. And we remain challenged to reach to the masa who need to have their rights protected.


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