[OPINION] Defiance as a moral obligation

Ted Tuvera
'Jesus, in the Gospel, said that if a hand causes you to sin, it has to be cut off. This means that things that enable immorality have to be fought and abolished.'

As someone in training to become a priest, obedience is a must for me. And I do not see it as something that denies my God-given freedom. In fact, I see obedience as a virtue that allows me to be truly free.

In my reading of St. Thomas Aquinas, freedom is not simply the capacity to do anything I want. Rather, freedom is more of doing what is good and just, which, in the end, leads to the fullness of goodness and justice that is God.

This explains why laws are created to regulate freedom. Laws are meant to secure our individual and collective liberties so that goodness and justice may actually reign. And as citizens who aspire for a good and just society, we are morally obliged to submit to them.

But as part of a community aspiring for goodness and justice, I am of the opinion that we are morally obliged to condemn, defy, and (though this may now be punishable) revolt against the Anti-Terrorism Law of 2020 signed by President Rodrigo Duterte.

Behind the trappings of a terrorist crackdown is an apparent move to silence dissent, dissent against a government in desperate need of checks and balances. 

This anti-terror bill, long hoped for by Duterte’s men – who are mostly retired military and police bosses – was meant to purge the 51-year-old communist insurgency, which kept on surviving despite Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law and repeated pronouncements that Maoist rebels would be quashed at the end of every year. (READ: ‘Terror law’: The pet bill of the generals)

But as with our previous bout with martial law, it is likely that the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) will not be the only ones enduring deadly blows, but all Filipino people, whose democratic rights and civil liberties are under threat.

Among the definitions of terrorism spelled in the soon-to-be implemented law is  to “provoke or influence by intimidation the government.” This makes it easy for the likes of Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, or Senator Bato Dela Rosa, or Communications Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy – or Rigoberto Tiglao, for that matter – to red-tag or finger anyone as a “terrorist” for sharing thoughts synonymous with those pushed by the Reds, from land reform to Duterte being a terrorist himself. 

The anti-terror law, while packaged as something that secures the public against real terrorists, has the potential of violating human rights and political and civil liberties. After all, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana once argued that national security is more important than human rights. (By the way, national security is not an end in itself. It is meant to serve and protect the well-being of the people, as enshrined in our Bill of Rights. Perhaps the good secretary has to be reminded of this fundamental principle.)

Along with press freedom, critical thinking or the exercise of academic freedom might soon be acts of terrorism, too. Remember the so-called Red October plot back in 2018, when a number of universities were assailed as communist recruitment hubs? Or when then-Police Chief Oscar Albayalde said that professors “instigating” “rebellious” ideas could be “charged for contempt?” And yes, we have a senator who fails to distinguish the difference between a student activist and an NPA combatant. (READ: Albayalde asks: Why do state university students ‘go against’ government?)

Beyond the anti-terror law and threats to free expression are other issues that have haunted the Filipino people in the last 4 years under Duterte, and all these undermine what laws are supposedly for: a just and good society expressed through democracy, human rights, and self-determination.

Some of these other issues are:

1. The killings due to the war on drugs and the killings of activists and farmers alleged to have links with the NPA, which have seemingly numbed our collective conscience when it comes to murder;

2. The economic trends that keeps on marginalizing the marginalized. For instance, the unemployment boom which has recently reached an all-time high due to the global pandemic, as well as the phasing out of traditional jeepneys, which affects thousands of drivers and operators who cannot afford the demands of modernization;

3. The absence of mass testing measures against the spread of the coronavirus disease, which does not seem to be a priority despite mounting cases, and;

4. The failure to protect our waters and our fishermen from Chinese intrusions despite our internationally-held sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea. (READ: PH Coast Guard files criminal cases vs HK ship crew)

As I’ve mentioned, it is because of freedom that justice and goodness are possible and, thus, have to be pursued. To make this so, laws are in order to realize these aspirations.

But Aquinas cautioned that “the force of a law depends on the extent of its justice” and that if it goes against such purpose “it is no longer a law but a perversion of law.”

And such is the case with the anti-terror law, as the motives behind it are meant to silence dissent. Even our freedom and constitutional right to have our own political beliefs, which allow us to hope for a more moral society, might color us as terrorists! 

Jesus, in the Gospel, said that if a hand causes you to sin, it has to be cut off. This means that things that enable immorality have to be fought and abolished. This could probably apply to a system, to a regime, that enables immorality and insults freedom. After all, enablers of such a system must be the real terrorists all along.

Obedience to laws or rules mean well. But if reason proves that a given law is perverted, defiance becomes a form of obedience to God, the just lawgiver. – Rappler.com

Ted Tuvera earned his journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas. He worked as a journalist, covering a major beat for a national daily for 3 years, and is currently a seminarian in the Archdiocese of Capiz.