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How to remain Filipino in the age of online trolls 

June 13, 2017

Digital Reporter

Cover art Samantha Gonzales

Even before the elections, the political climate was already a hotbed of emotions. You probably heard people say, “If so and so candidate wins, I’m moving to America/Canada/Europe/Mars” and these people do not always mean the same candidate. Things only got more heated when President Duterte won the elections. Perhaps the years of marginalization is taking its toll—as the political elite have almost always resided in cosmopolitan and progressive Manila, miles away from Mindanao with its war‑torn and provincial image perpetuated by popular media—which coupled with Mr. Duterte’s rhetoric makes it easy to pit Luzon versus Mindanao, the Tagalog versus the Bisaya, a seeming disservice to the Philippines' multicultural and multilingual population.

Trolls and passionate people alike took these arguments to a new level in social media. Attacks and prejudices based on which region you came from became justifications to declare the other “un‑Filipino”.

“If you don’t support this program of the President, who understands Mindanao, then you&rquo;re not a Filipino,” one side will argue.

“If you don’t see how that program could lead to this disastrous result, you’re not a Filipino,” the other shouts back, though often without declaring which region they came from.

People take sides, yelling at each other over a sea of memes, viral videos, and actual important conversations on what does and does not constitute being a Filipino.

But what does it mean to be a Filipino? On what should we hold on to as anchors to our identity when the political climate accelerated by the prevalence of social media can easily rip it away from us?

“Let’s hold on to the inspirations and reasons why we continue to live in our country, and why we continue to take risks on things that we believe will make everyone’s lives better,” said Senator Risa Hontiveros during the Gathering of Hope Forum on Civil Liberties and Democracy at the De La Salle University (DLSU) on June 8, proof that the universities along the Quezon City University Belt do not have the monopoly in student activism.

Inspiration can take many forms—there’s love of family, religion, art, nature—but the inspiration need not be complicated or lofty. “If your crush is your inspiration, then that’s alright,” Ms. Hontiveros said. “Let as hold on to all inspiration that give us energy to engage society.”

Art Samantha Gonzales

For former Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Chairperson Etta Rosales, who was a school teacher before the time of martial law, it is important that we are aware of our history. “People have to get sense of their past, their history, so that they can be proud as Filipinos,” said Ms. Rosales. “You have to get people to feel like they were a part of it.”

And it turns out that respect for human rights and civil liberties might not be so “Western” after all. DLSU Associate Professor in History Leloy Claudio points out that the United Nations (UN) Commission on Human Rights (now UN Council on Human Rights) chairperson who led the campaign to give the commission the power to take a stance on human rights violations happening across the world was a Filipino—former University of the Philippines President Salvador Lopez (1911‑1993).

“John Humphrey, one of the drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights said that this Salvador Lopez, this Filipino, was the best chairman of the Commission on Human Rights we’ve ever seen,” said Mr. Claudio. “One of the things that Salvador Lopez did was he helped set up a system for the Commission where anyone from any country where there’s human rights violations can petition the UN to look into those particular violations.” That same system is the basis for the investigation that could be conducted by UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard on the alleged human rights violations conducted during the administration’s anti‑drug campaign.

He also mentioned former National University President Camilo Osias (1889‑1976), who said that one can not be a true nationalist without the ability to compare one’s country with the rest of the world. “He said that when you look at the whole world, that challenges you to be better,” Mr. Claudio said.

Still, the DLSU professor sees a bright spot in the millennial generation in the midst of all the political debate and feelings of unsettlement. “The youth now are more attuned to liberal democracy... the youth are more attuned to the need for deliberation.”

“This generation will be challenged in ways that we have yet to discover,” said Mr. Claudio. “I think what we need right now is slowness. Millennials are used to things being instant.... This is the generation of disruption. There’s a temptation to succumb to populism, but what we need is critical thinking, a slow and transformative process that can be achieved through education, talking to your co‑citizens and making sure that every day you call yourself a Filipino.”