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Speech: Senator Salvador Laurel

January 29, 2010

Published on the Senate Congressional Record, Vol. 1, No. 6, p. 128, with minor changes like deletion of the usual, “Mr. President” in reference to the presiding officer. Delivered on February 2, 1970 in the Senate.

At the outset, I should like to state that I am glad that the Chamber has finally approved House Ct. Res. No. 2, so that the joint committee can get started with its very vital inquiry under the able chairmanship of the distinguished gentleman from Quezon, Senator Tañada, and I am sure that all the members of that joint committee from the Senate and the House will address themselves to this very important question not as Liberals, not as Nacionalistas, but as representatives of the people, a people that is composed of 55 per cent young people.

Last Tuesday, I stood at this lectern to voice the misgivings that then troubled the national conscience. Tonight, I would like to speak for the youth of the land, their hopes and fears and frustrations, and the alarming escalation of this national problem.

There is  a discernible escalation of shuddering proportions in the two successive demonstrations that occurred on January 26 and January 30.

First, there was an escalation of the number of demonstrators. The January 26 demonstration involved only from 30,000 to 50,000 students. On January 30, the number of demonstrators was estimated at 50,000 to 80,000.

Second, there was an escalation of the duration of the demonstrators. The January 26 event lasted only six hours — from about 3 p.m., when the students started gathering before Congress, to about 9 p.m., when the police were stopping jeepneys and buses in search of student stragglers from the riot scene. The January 30 event started from early in the morning of Friday and lasted up to the wee hours of Saturday or a period covering 18 hours.

Third, there was an escalation of the geography of the demonstrations. The demonstration of January 26 was confined to the vicinity of the legislative building and the adjacent areas of the Sunken Gardens. The January 30 event covered a much broader area: in its peaceful phase, it covered the vicinities of Malacañang and Congress and all points in between as the students marched from one place to the other; in its violent phase, it covered the immediate vicinity of Malacañang and the surrounding areas up to the Sta. Mesa Rotunda, all along Mendiola and Recto Streets up to Rizal Avenue, and spilled over to the Quiapo area up to Carriedo and Plaza Lawton.

Fourth, there was an escalation of violence. The January 26 event started with the hurling of epithets, insults, placards, and sticks to the President. The January 30 event saw the use of “Molotov cocktails” which set fire to cars and trucks. Lamps were busted along the Palace fence. A firetruck was commandeered and used to ram the Palace gate. Some demonstrators came better prepared with crash helmets and stones.

Fifth, there was an escalation in the response of the law enforcers. The police, during the January 26 riot, used only wooden truncheons. During the January 30 riot, while some riot control units were armed with the usual wicker shields and wooden truncheons, sizeable contingents of the armed forces were deployed with powered guns, some of which were actually used.

It was not surprising, therefore, that there was an escalation, too, of the casualties. On January 26, only a few policemen and scores of students were hurt. On January 30, several law enforcers and hundreds of demonstrators were injured. On January 26, only 24 were arrested. On January 30 more than 200 were brought to Camp Crame. No one was killed on January 26. Four were confirmed killed on January 30, victims of gunshot wounds, and nine remain missing, their exact fate unknown.

And now, with these deaths — of four young men, ages 21, 19, 19 and 18, respectively, the last having been only in high school, the other three in college — the full impact of the poignant tragedy of January 30 sears the heart and the conscience of the nation.

None of these four students, by any stretch of the wildest imagination, could possibly be dissidents seeking to overthrow the government. None was even a leader of the demonstration. Only two actually went to participate in the rally out of sympathy with friends. One was an athlete who had just come out from a basketball game and was on his way home with a younger brother, who was also shot in the arm while dragging his fallen brother to safety. The high school boy was out on an errand to buy medicine for his ailing father.

They were not rebels. They were not dissidents. They did not seek to overthrow the government. But they are dead. Because the government felt it must protect itself, must control dissidence, must resist subversion, four innocent young men are now dead. This is the tragedy and the irony of January 30.

Let me speak now for the youth of the land. Let me articulate their thoughts and their grievances. Many of us have been asking: What is it that our youth really want?

They want change and they want a number of them. Some of these changes are valid, some are not. Some are serious and well-thought out, others are childish and even impracticable.

But I would not go into a discussion of those changes. I would rather go into the root-cause of their grievances.

All they want  is to be assured that those changes — the changes that they want — will be made possible.

They say that they have tried to work for such changes, but that their efforts have fallen on deaf ears. They say that they have appealed to us in Congress, and to the Executive — but to no avail.

Now they are pinning their last hope for change on the forthcoming constitutional convention. But they fear even that — that last hope — is becoming remote because powerful politicians might interfere and dominate the convention, and prevent any real change. And so they want politicians to stay out of the constitutional convention.

Perhaps they are not entirely justified in condemning all of us. But that is what they feel. That is what they believe, whether justified or unjustified. And it is up to us to correct that impression or misimpression.

And that is why they are massing in tens of thousands in our streets, abandoning their classes, enduring the heat and the fatigue, willing to walk long hours in the sun and the rain, shouting till they are hoarse, willing to be bludgeoned, willing to be shot, willing even to be killed.

They may have overly reacted. They may have become emotional. But that is because they have been ignored and they are now suspicious, distrustful, and angry.

We do not know whether communist provocateurs have actually infiltrated the ranks of the demonstrators. That is for the joint Senate-House committee to determine.

But I cannot believe that our students have turned communists. I cannot believe that they have become subversive.

Last Saturday, I went to the city jail and to Camp Crame to secure the release of 211 students who had been indiscriminately picked up by the Metrocom in the vicinity of the melee. My good friend and colleague, Senator Diokno, was there too, and I saw them—211 of them, mostly in their teens, and I could not believe that they were hardened subversives.

We should go slow in branding them subversives, or communists, or even tools of communists. Some overzealous votaries of democracy might be induced to do this and commence on an infamous witchhunt which will not only confuse the issue but will add fuel to fire.

My own children — four of them two boys from La Salle, age 15 and 16 and two girls from U.P.—age 17 and 18—participated in those two demonstrations and I know my children are not communists. They participated with their friends because they believed that it would help precipitate needed reforms, because they also love their country. Yes, they also love their country, and they also want to help our ailing society and they have their own ideas as to how to go about it.

Nationalism, love of country, is to them the only true ism and I know they will never subordinate it to any other ism. Their love of their country makes them impatient. They fear, that time is running out and that unless changes take place now, there might be nothing left to change.

It may be that some of them may have gone beyond the bounds of the law by resorting to violence. Those who violated the law should be tried and punished accordingly. And if, as announced by the President last Saturday afternoon during his TV address to the nation, the violence was mainly the work of subversive elements who mingled with the students to overthrow the government, and he has evidence to prove their participation, then those persons should also be tried and punished without delay.

We have created a joint Senate-House committee to investigate these demonstrations but we should not dissipate our energies by trying to find out who started the riot, or how it began, or who threw the first stone, or who shouted the first insult, or who fired the first shot. We should leave that to the police and army investigators.

Instead, let the leaders of today listen to the leaders of tomorrow. Let the joint Senate-House committee investigating this matter call upon all bona-fide student leaders to testify, and let us listen to them. Let us find out what they really want so we can respond and act. In saying this, I am not conceding that all their demands are valid. I leave that to the joint committee to decide. But this is the only way we can meet this crisis.

Let us strike at the root of the problem. Let us find out the cause of the demonstrations rather than the cause of the riot. For there would be no riots if there had been no demonstrations, and there would be no demonstrations if there were no impelling grievances to galvanize so many thousands of our youth into action. Certainly, no one would listen to the blandishments of subversion or even the proddings of provocateurs, if the people are convinced that they have a government that they can trust, a government whose sole concern is their betterment and well-being.

This, to my mind,  is the inexorable cause of it all. It is, in the ultimate analysis, traceable to a crisis of confidence that we have allowed to worsen.

You will recall that two years ago on this same lectern, I adverted to this same crisis of confidence. I said then that we are living in a time of peril — that the common people everywhere is pushing relentlessly to assert his dignity and to claim his rightful place in God Almighty’s earth—that we must change or be changed. I said that we cannot continue to misread or ignore the situation — that the portents are clear and unmistakable, and that we cannot be complacent in the face of this crisis.

This, I said, was no time for hesitation, but the time for decision; not the time for self-justification, but the time for self-immolation; not for the aggravation of our future strength.

I pleaded that we act immediately, for our margin of time for substantive and effective reforms, for an amendment of our lives, is narrowing with every strike of History’s pauseless clock, with every tick of each unforgiving minute. I warned that the hour is late and that we must make haste, lest we reap from our own indifference the gathering whirlwind of a nation’s wrath.

But we allowed the crisis to worsen and now the wrath of the youth is upon us, the youth who constitute 55% of our population.

National problems, economic, political, sociological, aggravated by the alarming press of a population explosion, are upon us, hankering for solutions. I repeat, 55% of our population consist of young people. The median is 16. And they are impatient. They demand reform, not subversion.

As I said last Tuesday, I abhor violence and I deplore the disrespect shown upon the person of our Chief Magistrate during the January 26 demonstration. But we must distinguish between dissent and dissidence, between reform and subversion.

Both would seek change. But while one would seek it through peaceful and licit means, the other would achieve it through violence. The first would seek change to preserve the existing way of life; the second would seek to overthrow it and supplant it with a completely new and alien system.

Dissidence and subversion, we must resist. But dissent and reform we must safeguard — even encourage. For if we condemn every dissenter as a dissident, every reformer as a subversive, we shall be pushing them into the ranks of the real enemy — those who truly seek to destroy our way of life. If in the name of the right to preserve the state, we maim and kill people with grievances, we shall become victims of the supreme irony of bringing about the obliteration of that which we have sworn to preserve.

It is for this reason, that I have filed Senate Bill 131, which seeks to safeguard the constitutional right to free speech and free assembly of bona fide students and student organizations by increasing the penalty for the obstruction and interference with such rights.

Finally, in speaking for the youth, I must say that I am moved by no less than two purposes: first, to give them a voice in this chamber so that, paraphrasing John Stuart Mill, they may have one who may speak their mind and thereby help prevent the further deterioration of an already deplorable situation; and second, to reiterate the necessity of pin-pointing the causes of discontent, rather than quelling its manifestations, as the only alternative to disaster.

Let us heed their demands for change instead of suppressing it. Let us recognize that the young are as concerned as we are, that they too love their country, and that nationalism, not subversion, is the force that is impelling them to take to the streets. But above all, let us not be so bigoted as to think there is nothing we can learn from them in terms of the solutions to this nation’s problems. Then and only then shall we earn their respect and their affection.

We want the youth to have faith in us, but we cannot earn that with the truncheons of the riot police or the Armalites of the armed forces. This can only be done with sincerity and hard work, with understanding that comes from constant dialogue between citizen and official.

Only when we bridge this widening communications gap will there be no war between youth and age, no hostility between the state and citizen, no public mistrust of public men in this beloved but troubled land of ours.

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