MANILA, Philippines – "Defending democracy is our biggest fight today."
This was Vice President Leni Robredo's message as she called on Filipinos to strengthen the country's "weakening" democratic institutions.
"We are already seeing our institutions being eroded. They are already weakening. We must move swiftly and effectively to ensure that they are strong enough for our children's children," Robredo said in a speech during the Defend Democracy Summit (DDS) on Monday, June 12.
The summit, timed for the 119th Independence Day of the Philippines, aimed to boost support for the fight against threats to democracy. It came in the wake of the declaration of martial law in Mindanao, the spread of fake news and online propaganda, and the thousands of deaths linked to the war on drugs.
In fighting for democracy, Robredo said Filipinos should be able to rise above disagreements and "build bridges of understanding."
"These are extraordinary times and if we are not able to lay aside our differences and talk to each other, we will be fighting enemies within as well as outside. We will not stand a chance," said the Vice President.
"Let us build bridges of understanding, not walls. Let us bury our egos and our pride and let empathy rise. Let us not just think of a democracy as a concept but as a means to lessen the suffering of the poor," she added.
The summit was attended by various civil society organizations and members of the Liberal Party (LP) and other personalities allied with them. These include Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and other minority senators Francis Pangilinan, Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, Risa Hontiveros, and Antonio Trillanes IV.
Pangilinan said they gathered on Independence Day to emphasize that problems such as poverty and security threats keep Filipinos from enjoying complete freedom.
"We are here precisely because we believe democracy is still the correct path. We just need to strengthen it and expand it when there's a threat against it like martial law," Pangilinan said in a mix of English and Filipino during a chance interview.
Meanwhile, Bart Guingona, the main convenor of the event, said they are not trying to destabilize the government.
Robredo, the LP, and their allies have long been accused of undermining the Duterte administration – an allegation they have repeatedly denied.
"That's a very defensive way of looking at it. We are not destabilizing. All we are asking for is for the conversation to change. Drugs are not the only problem of our country," said Guingona.
"We are trying to register our disappointment with the way the government has been run, especially in relation to several issues – one of them being human rights," he added. (READ: Robredo to Duterte: 'Remain faithful' to Constitution, democracy) – Rappler.com