By Joemar Yubokmee

Cartoon by Brandon Jon Delos Santos

Barely a month after the 2022 national election, the Philippines celebrates its 124th Independence Day anniversary, but instead of commemorating its liberty from the more than three centuries of Spanish rule and abuse, it faces new challenges to its independence and democracy when its most democratic practice–the election–was rigged and unfree.

Elections enable us to involve ourselves in the government by means of democratic representation where we put into the office an ambassador of all our aspirations and values as citizens who want a better country but as a caveat, certain civil liberties, such as the freedoms of speech, association, and assembly, are required for an election to be free and fair. 

All these three prerequisites were clearly not met. There is no freedom of speech when the Commission of Elections (COMELEC) and a news channel that are expected to be bastions of impartiality are strong-armed to modify their debate formats and bare the topics in advance just to entice the late dictator’s son into joining a discussion required to be attended by the candidates. There is no freedom of association when the opposition bets, Bayan Muna, other members of the progressive MAKABAYAN Bloc, and even the kakampinks are subjected to endless red-tagging and a plethora of disinformation which resulted in a disappointing result for them. There could be no freedom of assembly when in almost every Leni-Kiko rally either rented buses cancel at the last minute or surprising road closures are sanctioned to vital entry points to the event. 

In a young democracy like that of the Philippines, we often forget how democracy swings in a pendulum. The 31 million Marcos voters cannot cry for respect about their opinions and choice when they cannot accept and respect the opposing, yet valid and critical viewpoints raised by social activists they red tag as terrorists. 

Moreover, Darryl Yap and comedian Ai-Ai Delas Alas, who have been declared persona non grata in Quezon City for defacing the city’s seal in a BBM-Sara video propaganda, cannot invoke freedom of expression when the legit journalists–ethical and trained–are being silenced by dubious libel cases. There is no democracy when the institutions and instruments created to safeguard it are neglected and only brought up when it is convenient to the ruling class’s cause. Nevertheless, one of the many perils of democracy will still triumph: the majority  wins. But sometimes, the majority is and can be awfully wrong. 

True to this year’s Independence Day theme, we must remain steadfast and head-on to the challenge of a new beginning for the Philippines; or is it really a new beginning for us or are we foreseeing history repeating itself? If we want a country that is truly democratic and independent, we must hold on to our aspiration of a clean and honest government.

In a dark time where all hope seems to be lost, it is up to us to fight hard, more than ever, to never let anyone change our democratic system—one that’s truly for the people, by the people, and of the people. We must collectively work as one nation to never again lose our freedom. To never be slaves again to a few people in power. And to never be silenced and abused, again.