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Speech: Senator Salvador Laurel

January 25, 2010

Published on the Senate Congressional Record, Vol. 1, No. 2, p. 26, with minor editing like deletion of the usual, “Mr. President” in reference to the presiding officer.

I rise to speak on the challenge of January 26, 1970.

Yesterday afternoon as we gathered at the House Session Hall to listen to the President’s State of the Nation message, I was touched by the stirring words of the eminent Jesuit, Fr. Pacifico Ortiz, as he delivered the Invocation. I was touched as he asked the Almighty to preserve us as a people, as he prayed for unity with justice and freedom for all.

He was praying, indeed, as a Filipino minister of God. We are a people, he said, with “growing fears” and “dying hopes” and “perished longings,” “a people who have lost their political innocence,” a people standing “on the trembling edge of revolution,” a point of no return.

The moment of thruth has come, he said, and so he asked that in the forthcoming Constitutional Convention, we be given the humility to understand the signs of the times, the light to know the true state of the nation, the courage of wisdom, the willingness to pay the price for the rebirth of this nation, the vision that reaches far into an uncertain future.

And he adverted to the youth of the land clamoring in massive thousands outside this building for a chance to shape the future that belongs to them, pleading for a non-partisan Constitutional Convention.

President Marcos who spoke thereafter, voiced the same sentiment in his State of the Nation message.

“The coming Constitutional Convention will play a singular role in the task of reformation,” he said.

“We must see to it, that the 1971 Convention is truly the expression of a free and sovereign people and will embody the ideals of Philippine nationalism, social justice, and economic progress. The 1971 Constitution must not seek to perpetuate the inequities of the status quo.”

“There is ferment and a desire for change,” he acknowledged. And he would respond by breaking the barriers of centuries, be offering reforms in the electoral system, by abolishing social inequity, by reorganizing the government, by making government credible, by giving the people genuine participation in the conduct of its affairs.

Hardly had the echo of these words died down when the unfortunate happened. Massed right at our doorstep were teeming thousands of our youth. They came from the high schools and colleges and universities all over Manila, and they called themselves the January 26th Movement. They came to demand that we keep the Constitutional Convent ion free from partisan politics.

Specially, they asked.

1. That the non-partisan election of delegates to the Constitutional Convention be assured;

2. That the non-partisan composition of poll inspectors and the provincial board of canvassers by guaranteed;

3. That public officials who will run as candidates be made to resign or forfeit their seats upon filing the certificate of candidacy;

4. That the Comelec should regulate the election propaganda and expenses of candidates;

5. That delegates to the Constitutional Convention be made ineligible to run for any public office in the elections immediately after the convention.

These were the demands they were presenting to the national conscience as the President prepared to leave Congress after delivering his State of the Nation message.

As the President was about to board his car, several persons from the ranks of the demonstrators threw a paper replica of a crocodile towards his way, which the security policemen threw back to the demonstrators. The students began throwing their placards and the riot police charged each side hitting indiscriminately at the other.

Without wishing to prejudge the policemen nor exculpate the students, I must invite attention to the fact that the riot police made unnecessary use of force. Helpless women fell prey to their truncheons. I saw with my own eyes four students who were standing fast, holding the streamer of their organization, and without any provocation on their part, being attacked and beaten up by the police.

The overzealousness of the riot police was not exactly spontaneous. I noticed that almost all of them did not have their nameplates on.

Over at the City Jail afterwards, the inquest Fiscal was not around to conduct an investigation of the 24 demonstrators arrested. It was only after the intercession of Executive Secretary Maceda that two Fiscals–Fiscal Chavez and Fiscal Asis–were called upon to pitch in.

The City Jail authorities were not conversant with the pertinent law, R.A. 6036, which we enacted last year. This law dispenses with the requirement of bail in minor offenses.

Although the Investigating Fiscal ordered the release of 22 of the 24 demonstrators as early as 11:00 p.m., it was not until 3:30 a.m. today when they were finally released–all because the City Jail authorities could not find ink for finger-printing. These circumstances are not flattering to the speed and the quality of law enforcement. Neither do they inspire us to think well of the officials involved.

As I said, I do not wish to prejudge the policemen nor exculpate the students. I deplore the disrespect shown upon the person of the Chief Magistrate of the land. I lament the opprobrious epithets, the namecalling, the violence. But we must go slow before blaming the students for all that.

We do not also know whether the violence was begun or induced by professional agitators. Two of the 24 arrested last night were not even students. Nor would I pass judgment on the entire police force which tried to maintain law and order in the way they know how–although I did witness with other colleagues of ours from this Chamber the reported brutalities perpetrated by a number of them upon unarmed students, some of them helpless women.

Yesterday’s incident brought to the fore two very important and urgent problems: the problem of responsible riot-control, and the problem of keeping pace with the thinking of the youth.

In solving these twin problems, we have one constant reminder–that social order rests on our own balanced thinking, and on our own sobriety when under stress and strain. We must investigate and legislate on this matter. It is both urgent and crucial that we act now. Let Congress hold an inquiry and hear all the parties. Let the youth speak. Let the police authorities speak. And then let us make the law that will draw the line — how far demonstrators can go in the exercise of their liberty of free speech and free assembly, and when the police authorities may legally step in.

The law must seek to accommodate change within the framework of continuity. It must try to bring heresy and heritage into useful fruition. It must resolve the basic dilemma of passion and pattern, of frenzy and form, of convention and revolt, of order and spontaneity.

And this does not mean that one is right and the other is wrong. This is perhaps a clash of right against right. The great constitutional issues have not always been clashes of right versus wrong, but more of clashes of right against right — law enforcement against the integrity of the citizen, public order against free speech and free assembly.

In saying this, I do not wish to pamper the youth just as I do not wish to break their spirit. Let us guide them without breaking their spirit. Let us encourage them without pampering them. For the youth have a tremendous capacity for good, and it is a question of guiding and counselling them and channeling their energies in the right direction — to the direction of the national good. After all, do they not constitute 55 per cent of our entire population? And should they not be concerned with their own tomorrow?

In the words of my late father which I quote from his book “Bread and Freedom,” he described the youth as possessing —

xxxx“the velocity of the wind, the energy of the sun, the unconquerable spirit of the sea and the waves, and the fecundity of this good old earth. Full of fire and promise, exuberant, and not yet a prey to cynical thoughts, you possess ideals that will stand the test of solidity and purity amidst the present political dissensions and turmoil in our country.”

Yes,  their spirit must not be broken, but we have to temper and restrain their passions. Let them demonstrate. Let them perorate. Let them assemble peacefully in the exercise of their civil liberties. They can even be allowed to be impatient, but impatient without being reckless. Aggressive without being destructive. Passionate about their causes without being bigoted about their beliefs. Let them be assertive without being insolent. Emphatic without being arrogant. Bold but not rash. Constant but not obstinate. Disciplined but not docile. Humble but not servile. Patient but not insensible. Sensitive but not petty. Idealistic but not unrealistic, and realistic but not ruthless.

We must not allow this incident to degenerate into an issue of civil liberties versus fascism, nor of anarchy versus order. We must recognize and protect the legitimate aspirations of the youth who, as I said, represent 55 per cent, a clear majority of our people, a great portion of our people, seeking to shape their own tomorrow.

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