Manila, August 21, 2003 (STAR) By Alex Magno - There are things far more important to reflect on today than Panfilo Lacson’s ill intentioned, badly crafted speech. The carnival he launched is nothing more than a messy ploy to salvage his ambitious but floundering bid for the presidency.

There is an anniversary we must commemorate today with solemnity and insight. We desperately need the insight from this commemoration to guide us through yet another perilous crossroad for the nation.

This day twenty years ago one patriotic Filipino, on his own, by himself, abandoned the safety and comfort of exile to rejoin his people in their quest for a just and free society. He did not make it past the tarmac.

A dictatorship under siege from its own people did not wish Benigno Aquino Jr. to be a catalyst for the democratic forces resisting a regime of repression. But by plotting his assassination, the dictatorship inadvertently transformed the lonely patriot into a bloodied martyr, an even more powerful catalyst for freedom.

The assassination of Ninoy Aquino altered the course of our nation's history. Not by blood. Not by the force of arms.

The nation’s course was altered by our own people’s unremitting devotion to the means dictated by civility: we followed the path marked out by reason, used the weapons of peace and argued by democratic number.

Events that followed the assassination brought out what was best in our people and what was worst in the dictatorship.

The dictatorship deployed an inexhaustible armory of lies to deceive and confuse the people. The democratic forces insisted on the truth and invested on its power the liberation of a plundered people.

The dictatorship thought the people will be cowed by intimidation and by money. The democratic forces rested their case on the devout belief that our people will be animated by conviction and by courage.

The dictatorship presumed the inherent stupidity of the masses and, on that premise, tried to manipulate them using the best-endowed propaganda apparatus any regime could wish for. The leaders of the democratic opposition put their lives on the line hoping that our people will choose right over wrong.

In the end, what was good in our people, what was best in our culture, triumphed.

The course of events since the assassination has not been clear-cut, however. At every twist and every turn, the struggle between what was good and what was evil was not always self-evident.

Denied a free press that could thresh out the finer points of contending political positions, the democratic forces relied on street protest and pamphleteering. The limited means to conduct debate inevitably reduced the great issues of the day to uncomfortable degrees of simplification.

The dictatorship corrupted every institution vital to the conduct of democratic life. The military was politicized. The integrity of a professional bureaucracy was undermined. The electoral process was kept primitive.

This produced problems we continue to deal with today.

To be sure, the overthrow of the dictatorship was not the outcome of one solitary act alone – even if that involved the supreme act of self-sacrifice. It was the outcome of millions of acts of conviction and courage by common citizens convinced democracy was the way to a better future.

To be sure, the overthrow of the dictatorship did not, by itself, relieve all the problems that beset us with the instantaneousness we wished.

Ninoy’s martyrdom galvanized our people and paved the way for a peaceful rising to rid the nation of a tyrant who just would not go away. In the newfound democracy we have, however, there will continue to be numerous policy issues that will continue to divide us, many options to the desirable future that will remain contentious.

But in all the points of division we must resolve and all the contending positions we must work to reconcile, the martyred hero stands large in the background, reminding us of the value of civilized and democratic means for settling our disputes.

Democracy is a truly exasperating way of life. Too many voices seem to want to be heard. Too many schools of thought contend. Too many unseemly players want to get their hands on power.

Democracy, observed Winston Churchill is indeed a horrible way to be governed. But every other method is worse.

A silenced people cannot demand accountability form those who govern them. A terrified people cannot effectively demand protection of their rights. An intimidated people cannot innovate, cannot reinvent and cannot re-imagine the society we find in order to make it better.

Let us not forget what Ninoy Aquino so willingly sacrificed his own life for: a society responsibly governed by people who demand respect and work hard to deserve it. He imagined a society of freedom secured by rules as well as by a culture of responsibility.

That remains an ideal, of course. But it is an ideal vastly less distant than it was on the day his life was so unceremoniously ended by men fearful of freedom.

It is an ideal that continues to be threatened by false messiahs who want to take the nation’s destiny by force, impose their will by the force of arms and enforce their version of truth by every method of coercion.

It is true, some of us are terribly dismayed by the quality of men who manage to get themselves elected to posts of power. The idea of a benevolent dictatorship continues to seduce those of us who would rather not exercise responsibility for the course of our common destiny.

Those so easily seduced to abdicate the grave responsibilities of freedom are easily exploited by ambitious and unscrupulous power-seekers.

There are those more comfortable with the ways of a military dictatorship, the romantic delusion that society will be better power is exclusively controlled by disciplined and virtuous supermen. This is a delusion personified by Gringo Honasan.

There are those more comfortable with the methods of a police state. Those who do not hesitate to use intimidation to get their way, are hooked on wiretapping citizens, rudely violating the bounds of privacy in order to induce fear, smearing reputations recklessly as a method for settling disagreement or simply making them disappear without trace. It is a disposition that seems to be personified by the likes of Panfilo Lacson.

The democratic option must be vigilantly protected from dangerous men of autocratic inspiration. Spare our future from the need for more martyrs.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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