Saturday, March 18, 2006

Freedom and Responsibility

Since that letter got forwarded to the world, a number of sweeping and often reckless generalizations have been made by some people perhaps in their desire to put a convenient handle to the context and the issues engendered in that letter. In this post, I will simply focus on one generalization that rankles: that the middle class is a bunch of unpatriotic and callous Filipinos who are only concerned about not being stuck in heavy traffic caused by the rallies and demonstrations.

Although I never claimed in that letter (and in the rejoinders that I have written) to speak for the middle class, or for anyone else for that matter (I said "I" and "many among us" in that letter; if memory serves me right, that middle class assertion was made by the other letter -that anonymous letter written in Tagalog), but nevertheless, I do feel that this rush to make judgments and to categorize people - particularly those with a contrary opinion - is at the very least uncalled for and irresponsible.

Many of the vicious responses have unnecessarily portrayed the middle class in a somewhat unflattering and undeserved light. Such generalizations do not add anything to the debate other than throw aspersions on groups of people. I think we can do away with that. To begin with, I do not think that any cohort - moral, demographic, political or whatever - can lay claim to having a monopoly of the truth, or at the very least, homogeneity of opinions. The supposed members of the middle class (or other "classes" for that matter) do straddle the extremes, as well as other sides of the argument.

Thus, I think that the accusation made by a leader of a civic group that it is members of the middle class like me who are dividing the country is way off the mark. After all, I did not bring in the class issue into the discussion. He did.

As a member of the working class, yes, I do feel frustrated when I get stuck in a monstrous traffic jam caused by rallies and demonstrations. As someone who looks forward to getting home at the soonest possible time after a hard day's work, I do yearn for some conveniences. However, being stuck in traffic is an almost daily occurrence, so to be honest about it, I do feel that rallies and demonstrations per se aggravate, but can not be solely blamed for the traffic jams.

What I rant about is the irresponsibility and often reckless disregard for others that often (though not always!) characterize the way these public expressions of rights are conducted. We can quibble about the real intentions and their merits. However, I must draw the line at deliberate attempts at holding commuters hostage as a way of provoking policemen in order to gain more mileage in terms of media attention and public sympathy. What I rant about is not that these people exercise their right to express themselves and their causes because I truly do not begrudge them that. But how many times have we witnessed a rerun of the same drama unfurl before our very eyes over and over again: hapless policemen desperately asking rallyists not to block a main thoroughfare, to stay in the sidewalks, or to move to a side street, only to be met by stubborn opposition under the guise of freedom of expression?

It does not help of course that harassed policemen often engage them in this lose-lose contest; there certainly is a better and more proactive way to manage the fracas. But in this contest of wills, it is the commuters - the working class - that is being made to suffer the consequences of a war many among them did not elect to fight. This is one of those things I was referring to in that letter when I said that "your concept of democracy is limited to having your rights and freedoms respected at the expense of ours."

There are those who accuse me (who they say is representative of the middle class elitist orientation) of being callous to the cause of freedoms and rights simply because I do not grant them a few inconveniences. Again, since I do not claim to speak for any class, I will speak for myself although I know for a fact that this view is shared by many others, by my friends at least.

As an employee, I am aware that the Bill of Rights give me certain rights and freedoms. However, I am also aware that the exercise of my freedoms and my rights come with certain responsibilities; that, in fact, one without the other (freedom without responsibility) is untenable. If employees were to follow their lead, they should not be barred from holding rallies and demonstrations against CEOs they do not like or find immoral, even if these actions cripple the organization and affect the delivery of services to the public consumers. Even that TV network which vigorously protests the perceived threat to press freedom and seemingly advocate an absolutist and despotic view of freedom, has in the past appealed for the same restraint in the exercise of rights and freedoms and appealed for responsible ways of protesting from their employees in the course of its labor management problems.

The issue is not the expression of rights per se, but responsible ways of doing it. The operative concept is recognition of and respect for the rights and freedoms of others. These are issues that transcend all boundaries, political and economic included.

***

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I would like to reiterate that as much as I would like to, I can not possibly answer all responses and comments emailed to me directly or made in this blog. However, there are some comments that I feel I need to answer in the interest of being fair to people who are dragged into the fray in this blog.

1. Janine - I spent some time trying to accomodate your request, but I couldnt find the link. Please leave a comment (which I will not publish) giving more details. I tried to email you but it bounced.

2. To those who emailed me asking for interviews for whatever (school papers, newspaper articles, TV docus, etc), I am awfully sorry but I can not possibly accommodate everyone for the simple reason that my schedule until middle of April is hectic (8-5 job, 6-9:30 teaching job). My views are published in this blog, and I honestly think there is very little else I can add to the posts. But I will try to accommodate those I can fit into my sked.

3. To those who wrote me expressing their disgust at the way a columnist outed me and then trashed me, I would like to say thank you very much for the concern, I appreciate it; but it is her column, and she did publish my response in full. I will continue to respect other people even if their views are contrary to mine.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Once again, you hit it right on the head.

I come from an upper middle-class family and I've resented being insulted and my patriotism disparaged purely because I happened to have been born in relative comfort. I wish I could tell them: I'm sorry, okay, that I don't come from Tondo and that my English is better than my Tagalog (the same goes for a lot of Cebuanos, BTW) but that doesn't mean I don't have just as much right to help the country.

This was one of the reasons I went abroad, where I've become, by most standards, fairly successful. I still have my Philippine passport and would love to come home to help develop the nation. But in the back of my mind, I know that inggit and resentment still await me, and I wonder, since the dominant political discourse resents the middle class so much, whether middle-class people like me should indeed just emigrate. I feel a lot of middle-class Filipinos have already made this calculation.

cvj said...

Don't you think it's being a little short-sighted to complain about freedom from the inconveniences of traffic jams when it's democracy itself that is being extinguished? Where's your sense of proportion?

Anonymous said...

Hi Bong,

I just received mail from a classmate in Canada regarding your opene letter. The verdict: well said.

Whatever the antagonists say, the important thing is that your mail has delivered. That's why they hate your mail.

You're right again on your focus. Much of what turns me off about them is their smugness.

Carlos said...

"Don't you think it's being a little short-sighted to complain about freedom from the inconveniences of traffic jams when it's democracy itself that is being extinguished? Where's your sense of proportion?"

Right...

Democracy being extinguished? The irony is, you just exercised your right to say something. The author did the same thing. The militant groups, the media, still do. Even "$#&^ traffic-inducing rallies" is an opinion, so even the "elitist" working class exercises their right to speak up.

Hey, if you think the working class is elitist, they can't do anything about that. If they ARE being elitist, there's nothing you can do about it, either. It's a two way street, democracy, yes.

Anonymous said...

cvj seriously you didnt comment about just a part of that post and talk about sense of proportion. naka suot ka ba ng tapa oho pag nagbabasa ng blog na kontra sa gusto mo?

johnatan pimentel said...

isn't it convenient for you not to answer the valid points raised by those outraged by your letter and instead focus on non sequiturs like "the middle class is a bunch of unpatriotic and callous Filipinos who are only concerned about not being stuck in heavy traffic caused by the rallies and demonstrations"? Are you so desperate to rally ( oops, wrong choice of word ata) the middle class to your side?
At least tanggap mo na you're not speaking for the middle class of which,fortunately or unfortunately, i am part of. Mas mainam sana na puro "I" na lang at walang mga "we'. Let the others speak for themselves.

Nga pala, maybe the others missed it but for me the most dangerous assertion you made is this:
"Because quite frankly, we are prepared to lose our freedoms and our rights just to move this country forward"

But then, ano nga ba ikakatakot mo eh sang-ayon naman si gloria sa views mo.
PS: andami mo friends, ang mahal ng paid ad sa inquirer ha!

Joey said...

you know what's so pleasant about reading your blog is not just the letter, but the aftermath of writing that letter. keep it up! and forward the Remedios Aids Foundation ;)

cvj said...

carlos, you're beating a straw man, i wasn't questioning bong's right to speak up.

anonymous, if you were less fixated about other people's attire, you would notice that there is a world outside weblog postings where real things are happening.

carlos said...

cvj: I never said you were questioning bong's right to speak up. You did say democracy itself is being estinguished, yet we're still talking here, right?

cvj said...

carlos, i'm not so much interested as 'democracy' in web logs because over here, we are rightfully at the mercy of the weblog owner. i'm talking of the real world outside where it really matters. that's what i mean by having a sense of proportion.

Anonymous said...

Palagay ko, eto ang major difference ng pro at anti arroyo camps: THE ANTI ARROYO CAMP FEELS THAT WE ARE LOSING OUR DEMOCRACY.

Sa tingin ko naman, sa ngayon, kelangan nating patatagin ang mga institusyon, di lamang ng gobyerno, kungdi pati ng lipunan, para hindi mawala ang ating demokrasya. Pero sa tingin ko, hindi pa ito nanganganib na mawala....unless, lumakas ang Kaliwa. Rebolusyon ang gusto nila at yun ang hinding hindi ko papayagang mangyari sa ating bayan.

Sa tingin nyo, ako ba ay Pro o Anti Arroyo?

carlos said...

Blogs are private ownership, fair enough. However, whether or not the government is trying to actively squish democracy or not, it's a long way from dying (or at least until they start shooting people at random). Reports of media outlets being raided? Government takes a lot of flak, ironically, from the media. Dinky getting arrested? Dinky getting LOTS of attention. People think their rights are being estinguished? People going out into the streets protesting their "rights" being trampled on (never mind that they're also indirectly denying people of their right to go to school and work, which I think is what Bong is going on about when he mentioned traffic).

cvj said...

Carlos, are you suggesting that the time to act is when the government starts shooting people at random?