Diary of Augusto Caesar Espiritu

Sunday, November 5, 1972

At the lobby of the Sulo Hotel, I met Jess Reyes and Cesar Sevilla. Jess Reyes said that he had voted “Yes” because he can still speak out as an oppositionist in the Assembly.

Cesar Sevilla was a bit more critical. He is a very conscientious delegate. He deplored the transitory provision and the work being done by the Steering Council. He and Jess, likewise, deplored the fact that the Steering Council has been given absolute powers and that we have only so little time to put our imprimatur into the Constitution being prepared for us by the Council. There was some tinge of frustration on their part although the more dominant note seemed to be one of resignation.

At lunch, Froilan Bacungan (UP Law Center director) was perorating. Perhaps it will be for the good of the country if we forget personalities and personal interests, he said.

His good wife, Monina, was with us. She decried the fact that a tremendous number of government employees have been laid off. I suggested that for many of them, their services were not really needed so that they should not have been given their jobs in the first place.

Froilan agreed with me. He said that the problem was that in the old society, many employees became parasites of other people. I added, in a light vein, that since these employees who were laid off were consuming without adding to the productivity of the nation, we should find a way to compel them to contribute to the gross national product; as it is, they are only contributing to the gross national poverty.

In seriousness, I was thinking that perhaps some mobilization of all unemployed should be undertaken. I suggested to Froilan that this is one of the strategies we might adopt—the strategy of capital formation through excess labor. As a matter of fact, I have for some time now thought that we should build up infrastructures through extensive labor, considering the fact that capital is deficient and manpower is abundant in our economy. I do not see any reason why this should not be done now, where it could not be done before. This can partake of a massive unemployment program—to build up our crumbling infrastructures.

Froilan interrupted me, saying that he knows for a fact now that Titong Mendoza and our former professor, Justice Sec. Vicente Abad Santos, have actually helped persuade President Marcos to institute a constitutional martial law instead of a revolutionary (military) government that the President had originally planned on setting up.

I was pleased to hear this contribution. Would not a constitutional dictatorship, on balance, be more protective of individual rights than a military government?

It is not enough for the government to keep on talking about the private sector being asked to invest in industries, I started lecturing to Froilan. Actually, the government incentives can come in this manner: The government itself should take initiatives. It should, for instance, commission feasibility studies of projects that it feels should be undertaken by the private sector as first-line projects and then the government can tell the private sector that these are the projects that entrepreneurs should put up. It can then invite the private sector to come in and invest in the priority projects, whose conceptual, pre-feasibility studies have already been done and which show viability. The government can say, we are giving you all the incentives in terms of credit and financing and fiscal incentives if you go to these specific projects that we have pre-studied and which we feel are necessary for the country.

In other words, the concept of balanced growth may now be made by the country—under the present state of emergency. Having decided—regrettably and doubtless unwisely—to proclaim a state of emergency, Marcos might as well try to push through our economic development in this way.

Many delegates, including those who were against martial law, concede that a good deal of the reforms so far achieved, such as land reform, hold the promise of being landmarks in the struggle of our people for social amelioration—assuming there is sincerity in both its conception and implementation. This could not be done since the American occupation of the Philippines when the ilustrados were allowed to share political power in the colonial regime.

The big issue, of course, is that many people are living in a climate of fear. Can there be human dignity without freedom in people’s lives?

Froilan countered that we can look at the loss of our individual freedoms in terms of the need for societal progress, with individual interests being subordinated to the general welfare. The important thing, he urged, is the welfare of society.

“Besides,” Froilan argued, “we are only substituting one fear for another. For example, while we may fear the possibility of going to the stockade now—he looked at me in the eye—we were fearing being robbed before; we were fearing gunmen in the streets. But society can now go forward.”

“But what about our human rights, Froilan?” I protested. “Is it not of the very essence of human rights that a hard core of autonomy, integrity and dignity of the individual should not be sacrificed even to the national interest and the welfare of the group?”

Froilan’s response was simply that it is more patriotic to join the government now.

But would we not then only be legitimizing a dictatorial government?

“Given the fact that martial law is here to stay, the constructive thing to do is to join so that one may help in the reconstruction of society,” Froilan insisted. “There is a greater amount of sacrifice involved here actually than if one thinks only in terms of civil liberties, because then, one is thinking not of himself but of the social goal.”

“Your theory implies that we should give up everything for the good of society. But because we are human, we have dignity. And human dignity cannot be given up,” I rejoined. “You imply that ‘collective rights’ are generally superior to individual rights and must be given priority. You think that the concept of human rights reflected in international documents ignores the ‘collective rights’ to economic security of the poor in the Third World. You believe that in periods of fundamental change such as we are now experiencing, leading to what is perceived or claimed to be a more just society, there is a need to emphasize those rights which are essential, to promoting such change and correlatively to deemphasize the other rights, don’t you?”

“Why not? We should all be ready to sacrifice for the country.” Froilan’s voice was firm.

“But should not collective rights and individual rights be promoted simultaneously? Is not a trade-off between them dangerous or even immoral? Is this not the excuse made by dictatorial governments in many developing societies—look at the rationale for Marcos’ declaration of martial law—to repudiate implicitly the political side of the human rights agenda as formal Western liberalism that is a dispensable luxury for a developing society? Is this not what our friend, O.D. Corpuz, has said in his treatise—rationalizing the need for martial law—that individual freedom was enjoyed only by the elites in the early development of present-day industrialized societies—which developing societies can do without?”

Our debate was inconclusive. It was midnight when I went home.

But could Froilan be right? Tossing in bed, I remembered what I once read as a student:

A messenger arrives at the door of a noble Spartan mother during the war with the Persians. “What news, Sir?” she cries. “Bad news, my lady,” he replied. “What then, is the battle lost?” The messenger could not conceal his sorrow. “No, but your sons have fallen.” “And the battle, what of the battle?”

“The battle, my lady, is won.” Beaming, the Spartan mother responds, “Why then, Sir, the news you bring is not bad but good.”

I was getting confused. Froilan had said we should look at the loss of our individual freedoms in terms of the need for societal progress.

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