PO1 Joselito Sevilla, I am sure, did not plan to cry amid the sea of men and women one afternoon in July 2013, when the President was delivering his State of the Nation Address. (For the full story on the ‘crying cop’, please visit this link.)
I had long wanted to write this blog but meilBOX had experienced technical issues recently. However, the story of PO1 Sevilla never left my mind; I think his story has something more to offer and should be remembered for all the lessons that it carries.
Many writers and analysts have already offered their own analyses and interpretations of what made PO1 Sevilla cry. I think what matters is how the story has moved us. Somehow, it struck a chord in me as I also think about how else can we, ordinary citizens, help the country move forward, even in our own small ways.
His story told me that there is just too much anger around us, too much negativity and bickering, too much selfishness. This episode tells us how helpless can one feel when faced with the reality that his own people cannot even find peace amongst themselves, or much less, a momentary respect for one another.
I have always considered myself as someone who is in the’ left of center’ in the political spectrum (with a note that I use such a term with extreme care because I do not want to “box” people into leftist or rightist or centrist). Therefore, I have strong belief for the exercise of freedom of expression. Everyone should be allowed that much space to voice out his sentiments and aspirations.
However, I also draw the line somewhere. I am not a supporter of P-Noy (I did not vote for him) but I respect his presidency. He is not the best that this country ever had but I also think that anyone who is seated at the top post of the land deserves everyone’s support and respect (unless, of course, when he has proven to be unworthy as in cases when presidents are impeached or overthrown because of abuse of power, human rights violations, and corruption). It’s the same thing as being in a household where you must regard the head of the family with utmost respect. We may have problems with our parents or they treat us with so much disdain or inconsideration, but at the very least, we need to show them respect if we opt to stay under their ‘jurisdiction’. Otherwise, why stay? As is often said, if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.
It may sound so simplistic and life is certainly more complicated than that but the thing is–we should respect the decision of the majority, support our Presidents, and just contribute, in the best ways that we can, to nation-building. In the process, I think it will be good for our personal growth if we can try to lessen the penchant for complaining and those rah-rah-rah anti-imperialism, anti-establishment sentiments when in reality, we cannot really back our complaints with substantial and positive action.
How can we even go out there and complain about how corrupt the government is when we are not even contributing to nation-building, much less, paying the right taxes? How can we even question the intelligence of our President when we haven’t really helped someone in need? It makes me sad that many can unabashedly attend rallies, exercise their freedom of expression, and shout the same things about how bad the government is but in their daily lives, they break the rules, disrespect policemen like PO1 Sevilla, push and shove, taunt and throw stones at the authorities, and make a ridicule of their Presidents. In this country, mob rule somehow muddles the issues.
Freedom of expression should be exercised with due regard to the rights of others and the law of order. If you had been given a permit to stage a rally at a particular spot, then stay on that designated spot. We have no concrete proof as to whether it were the rallyists or the policemen who threw the first stone or shouted the first invective but let’s admit it, I think that a peacefully-held rally is still possible if everyone knew his place in the sun. One can still be creative, passionate, and vigilant even if he needs to follow the rules. He can still get the attention of the media and the sympathy of the public without causing public disturbance (and horrendous traffic!).
Misguided and one-track minded (?) activists (bato bato sa langit, ang tamaan h’wag magagalit) cry “human rights violations” when their lines are disturbed but no matter what the truth is (e.g., they violated the terms of their permit to assemble*), they have a right to throw stones at, hurt and insult policemen. The policemen should not, in any case (even if they are bludgeoned or bloodied), defend themselves or try to restore order. After all, they are not human beings. They have no human rights. Such is the picture that we are showing to our children. In this country, we see on TV that only the activists and rallyists have human rights. The open letter of the Dutch activist, Thomas van Beersum, to PO1 Sevilla seems to follow the same line of thinking. (The letter may be read through this link.) While he praised PO1 Sevilla for restraining himself “unlike the other policemen”, it is as if by staying put and not doing anything, someone becomes a hero. I am not underestimating the deeds of PO1 Sevilla (I sincerely admire him and have the highest regard for him) but in the letter of Beersum, one begins to think that a police who takes a tough stance and puts order will always be “the bad guy.”
Certainly, there are really bad and crazy policemen and they must be made to pay for their sins. However, we also know that there are good ones like PO1 Sevilla. There are good ones who will continue to cry, even if silently, and in the dark, away from the media, because they are face to face with the reality that we have become each others’ enemies.
Have we become empty minds that howl at the slightest provocation? Mr. Beersum, do you honestly think that you are doing us a big favor by joining this rally and insulting our policemen? You may have good intentions (thank you!) but in case you are still living in the memories of Martial Law rule, educated and sensible Filipinos nowadays (some of them leftists and activists like you) prefer to do more of positive action like building small businesses to generate jobs, paying the correct taxes, planting trees, buying Philippine stocks to support the economy, bringing poor children to school, paying the medical expenses of their friends, following traffic rules, and doing small acts of kindness. In their own small ways, they contribute their time, talent, and resources to nation-building. They may complain sometimes (I still think the President can do better) but fortunately, they have grown up and evolved from the activism of the 60s, 70s, and the 80s, when it was really important to shout and fight the establishment that had become bastion of corruption, insensitivity, and mediocrity.
The 60s to the 80s are of a different reality and the kind of activism that was crucial back then is no longer the kind of activism that we need today. We needed to be angry back then. We needed to shout. We needed to push and shove. But nowadays, we need people who will truly care for one another; we need to embrace rather than push and shove; we need to build instead of destroy.
I told a friend who had lost in the last election (not in the exact words), “If you want to serve, then go where the people need you. Go in the grassroots; become a good mayor or a governor. There is where you can make a dent; an authentic difference in the lives of others. You do not need to create more laws. We need good leaders in the communities; leave legislation to the elected legislators (even if, unfortunately, many of them won their seats by sheer popularity). After all, we can always lobby for better and stronger laws. We have enough space for dialogue. However, we need strong governance in the local communities where true lives are at stake. Go there, make your own dent; be an inspiration. The higher office may come in later as a ‘bonus’ but it should not be your goal. Your goal should always be to sincerely serve others.”
It saddens me that he did not reply. I still hope that, one day, he will write to me to tell me that he has read my letter several times and have come to the decision that he will do as I had advised or even if he won’t take this path, he will try his best to become a ‘quieter’, better, and more positive leader. More than this letter, I also wait for the time that he and other activists of my generation will finally realize that the old rah-rah-rah ‘strategies’ will no longer work, will not win them an election, and contribute significantly to national development. Of course, we still need the ‘left.’ (But let’s not be intellectual snobs and act as if only the ‘leftists’ care more for their country!) We still need vigilance. We still need to fight corruption.
However, many will agree that we need less of those noisy, close-minded, and negative-thinking activists who never run out of complaints against the government and continue to refuse to accept the fact that actually, Filipinos nowadays are no longer the Filipinos of the 60s to the 80s. Times have changed. We may still have the same basic problems and, admittedly, many of the solutions remain the same. However, we need wiser, more grounded, and open-minded leaders who know when to change courses, pave new paths, retool themselves, learn from the past, develop new ways of thinking and doing, and…it will be better if they can smile more often, too, and become truly positive, grateful, and inspiring citizens.
Life is too short. Let’s not waste it on futile bickering and rah-rah-rah. Let us stop being angry. Let us stop the complaints and instead do more of positive action. Smile more often. Be more tolerant. Vote more wisely. There is so much to do and build…and this country needs you, the more positive you.
*There are rules to follow simply to ensure public peace and order. Period.
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