MANILA, October 17, 2005
 (STAR) INSIDE CEBU By Bobit S. Avila - I still can’t get it with the people in Manila, including many news outlets, for their continued, non-stop spreading or ringing the "Martial Law" alarm for the past two weeks now. Let me say it here very clearly… that I personally do not believe that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) or any other Philippine President (if we’ll still have a presidential system after her term) for that matter would ever call for Martial Law again… unless there is a clear and present danger that the country is about to be invaded by foreign aggressors or that civil war in this country has already begun.

The President, more than anyone else, knows that declaring Martial Law so she can stay in power (I’m not even saying that she would do so to perpetuate herself in power) would mean the death knell of her administration. The Filipino people were fooled once by the conjugal Marcos Dictatorship into believing that the entire nation was in turmoil, hence he had to declare Martial Law in order to prevent the nation from plunging into anarchy.

If there was any turmoil then, it was only happening on the streets of Mendiola, while the rest of the country was relatively peaceful. Well, years later, the Filipino people belatedly realized the whole truth about the declaration of Martial Law by President Ferdinand Marcos… and that was to perpetuate himself in power, which he did quite brutally, until the 1986 People Power!

Few people back then had an inkling of what was going on inside the mind of President Marcos… people like the late Sen. Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino, Jr., Monching Mitra, Alejandro Roces, Nap Rama and Sir Max Soliven, that is why they were honored by a "no one can refuse invitation" to visit Camp Crame in the wee hours of the declaration of Martial Law.

Well, last Friday, Mendiola was once again in turmoil (and just like in the past, it is not happening throughout the rest of the Philippines). This time, no less than former Vice President Teofisto "Tito" Guingona and certain bishops and all the other rallyists were drenched by anti-riot troops. Those who got drenched declared that this incident was "reminiscent of the Marcos and the Cory Aquino years when Malacañang was besieged by militant rallyists." Looking at the news reports on this incident, you will see public figures arguing with uniformed anti-riot cops… that our freedom of speech guarantees them to hold a rally anywhere. Truth to tell, they sounded more like a learned lawyer arguing with a traffic cop on the constitutionality of his arrest.

But is our right to free speech absolute? No sir! I have always believed that the freedom of speech has its responsibilities. For instance, we have anti-noise pollution laws… where no one can "up the volume" of his boom-boom stereo sound and disturb the peace of his neighbors. Indeed, you may have your right to free speech for as long as you learn to respect my right to sleep in peace or pass the main road with ease.

So if you want to hold a prayer rally and you have thousands of people who attend, then do it in a huge park where you do not cause a massive traffic jam, otherwise you should do it inside a church. If Tito Guingona got soaked in that rally, he got more than just a soaking… he got his comeuppance! He should have expected that this would happen. Surely, he was smart enough to know that holding a rally without a permit in Mendiola is an invitation to get "canonized" and by the way, that’s the closest ever that those wet bishops would ever get to sainthood!

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The Philippine STAR editorial on Oct. 9 entitled "Designate Freedom Parks" was a good one. It was something that we in Cebu City already had a long time ago, which we also called "Freedom Park," just beside the Carbon Market and across my Alma Mater, the University of San Jose-Recoletos. Whenever we had some free time, the Freedom Park was a place I used to go to hear the political and religious debates from both sides of the coin.

Alas, today, thanks to the too much freedom we enjoy in this country, illegal sidewalk vendors have occupied almost every square inch of what used to be the Freedom Park. Hence, there really is a need to designate freedom parks, where people can go into public debate without getting a mayor’s permit. If I had my way, I’d declare this a "libel-free zone." You can shout out what you want to say within this zone for as long as this is not broadcast over a loudspeaker and it is not recorded or televised… or printed in the newspapers.

Let me point out once again that I have always maintained that street marches shouldn’t be allowed simply because they also trample on the rights of other people. After all, there should be some kind of equality among the various freedoms we all enjoy… which include the right to go where we want with the least disturbance from other people.

This means that in the pursuit of our freedom of speech, it shouldn’t be said that we have the right to block the middle of the road to express our thoughts… because if that happens, our main roads would be clogged by ideologues or those idiots shouting to the world to repent as the end of the world is coming.

But then again, would militant marches really use the freedom parks? I doubt if they would. I believe that even if they know it is illegal, the militant groups would use the middle of the road rather than the freedom parks because by their breaking our road laws, that would be a good reason for the anti-riot cops to disperse them… and any dispersal would end up on the front pages of our local and national newspapers.

It is for this same reason why the militant groups in Cebu also bring children with them during their rallies because when their rallies are violently dispersed, the children are used as "human shields" and when a child gets caught in the crossfire, it becomes a perfect front page photo for the newspapers. Funny, these militant groups demand so much from the government to respect their "human rights" yet they don’t care for the human rights of children!

Our message to those street marchers is crystal clear. When you learn to respect the rights of other people, then perhaps, we would also consider listening to your demands, for as long as we all start respecting the laws of this land… which is the obligation and responsibility of each citizen of this country!

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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