RIVERMAN’S VISTA: Interregnum, Calling and Resurrection: What is at stake today for young Mindanawon lawyers?

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Part 3
The Second Word: Calling

(This is the third part of  “Interregnum, Calling, and Resurrection: What is at stake today for young Mindanawon Lawyers,” the commencement address delivered by Professor Antonio Gabriel M. La Viña at the Cor Jesus College Law School in Digos City, Davao del Sur on 24 April 2018) 

The second word, dear graduates, that I offer to you on this day of your graduation. Calling.In these times, during this interregnum, with the morbid symptoms staring straight at us, what are we called to do? What is the mission of the young Mindanawon lawyer today?

I propose that we are called to do four tasks: First, to speak truth to power no matter the costs. Second, to imagine the possible and invent options that would allow our society to solve age-old challenges. Third, to be workers of justice and human rights and especially for the poor. Fourth, to be enablers of peace in our island and country.

We must speak truth to power. But we must do so gently and with mercy. Enough of the hatred. Enough of the division. As young lawyers, be instruments of the truth, be problem and dispute solvers. Reach out to those who have different views. Have conversations with those whose politics are different from yours.

According to Pope Francis, “The most radical antidote to the virus of falsehood is purification by the truth . . . To discern the truth, we need to discern everything that encourages communion and promotes goodness from whatever instead tends to isolate, divide, and oppose . . . An impeccable argument can indeed rest on undeniable facts, but if it is used to hurt another and to discredit that person in the eyes of others, however correct it may appear, it is not truthful. We can recognize the truth of statements from their fruits: whether they provoke quarrels, foment division, encourage resignation; or, on the other hand, they promote informed and mature reflection leading to constructive dialogue and fruitful results . . . The best antidotes to falsehoods are not strategies, but people: people who are not greedy but ready to listen, people who make the effort to engage in sincere dialogue so that the truth can emerge; people who are attracted by goodness and take responsibility for how they use language.”’

In this spirit, I would call on the Duterte administration to abandon its plan to award the reconstruction of Marawi to a Chinese-led consortium of companies. That is a disaster in the making. Everyone I know in Marawi is appalled, in fact angry at the proposal. I have nothing against the Chinese. I collaborate with them on many global and regional issues but they are not the right fit here. Imagine what it would look like when hundreds of Chinese engineers and works arrive in Marawi. Imagine the resentments of many Maranaos who are shunted aside in their own beloved city, not allowed to rebuild it and bring it back to life. Imagine if those who were angry would take matters on their hands and join terrorist groups. Imagine a state where our soldiers would have to defend foreign workers against our own people.

In Marawi, you have a ticking time bomb there now, a powder keg – the wrong decisions on reconstruction could cause a conflagration that would be worse than the Marawi siege of 2017.

Don’t think that you here in Digos and the Davao region will not be affected when Marawi blows us. All of us in Mindanao will be affected, madamay, malakip, as we were with the martial law declaration that is now going to last a year and a half by the end of the year.

Even as we must speak truth to power, we must imagine the possible, find ways to solve decisively our deeply rooted problems.

As far as I can remember, Mindanao has always been called a land of promise. Now that we have a Mindanawon President, can we now expect to see that promise realized?

As someone who travels regularly in many parts of Mindanao and who have been doing so for forty years, I see many good physical changes happening. We are less isolated from each other. To the credit of successive administrations, roads, bridges, ports, and airports have been built and we are increasingly connected to each other now. With the infrastructure plans of the Duterte government, this will improve further and our island will become more integrated, including particularly our economies. Imagine the railway that is going to be built connecting Digos, Davao City, and Tagum – imagine the possibilities that will open up for you as lawyers imagine the possibilities for other professionals too, imagine the housing boom that will create.

My support for Build Build Build is unequivocal. It is necessary to defeat poverty and to spur development. It must be of course done corruption-free and in a financially cost-effective way. It’s important that we choose properly the financing for the Duterte infrastructure program. We do not want to be stuck with unsustainable foreign debt and particularly from China who can demand an enormous chunk of flesh, our sovereignty, if we cannot repay.

The good thing is that we have trustworthy and veteran economic managers – Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez, Budget Secretary Ben Diokno, NEDA Director General Ernesto Pernia, and Central Bank Governor Nestor Espenilla. In fairness, all the economic managers we have had from the Marcos to the Duterte era, including the last two administrations of Arroyo and Noynoy Aquino, have had good reputations as technocrats; they have done well with our fundamentals even as they have essentially been following what others criticize as neoliberal policies.

While excited about the economic possibilities of our island and our country, there is still no assurance that inclusive development will be achieved in the near future. That is the essential flaw of a neoliberal economic strategy – it might create prosperity; it might enable development but it does not automatically translate to benefits for the poor and the marginalized. Worst, neoliberal policies frequently have the perverse effect of excluding the poor more from development.

In our island, the roads that we are building are good but not if those roads are going to be used by rich, powerful, and connected individuals and companies to open more areas to mining, palm tree plantations, commercial and industrial tourism, and other development aggression that will destroy our environment and displace indigenous peoples, farmer, and local communities. That is not an acceptable consequence of development.

I encourage you always to be lawyers for the poor, for the Lumad, for farmers, workers, women, children, and people with disabilities. I encourage you to be lawyers for the planet.

TOMORROW: Peace and Charter Change

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Antonio “Tony” La Viña of Cagayan de Oro City is former Dean and currently professor at Ateneo School of Government, as well as Constitutional Law professor of Xavier University, University of the Philippines College of Law, Polytechnic University of the Philippines College of Law, De La Salle University College of Law, San Beda Graduate School of Law, Lyceum College of Law and Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila Graduate School of Law. He was also a member of the government peace panel negotiating with the MILF from January to June 2010 following the aborted signing of the already initialed Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain in 2008). 

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