Gaspar to student activists: ‘just make sure you’re always secure”

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 26 August) – When an 18-year old student activist meets in a forum on Democracy and Disinformation, a 72-year old speaker who was detained twice under Marcos’ martial law, what is to be expected of such an encounter?

The young seeking the advice of the old — and that is what the 18-year old student did: ask the 72-year old Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar on what he should do to avoid being red-tagged.

“As someone who’s really active in student protests, I live in constant fear na I might be red-tagged so what do you think I could do to avoid being red-tagged?,” the young male activist asked at the open forum that followed Gaspar’s speech on “Martial Law in Mindanao and the Challenges to Truth-telling” and Dr. Gail Ilagan’s “Psychology of Disinformation” in the morning session of ‘Civil Society Conversations on Democracy and Disinformation’ on August 23 at the Ateneo de Davao University

Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar answers questions during the open forum of the ‘Civil Society Conversations on Democracy and Information” on August 23, 2019 at the Ateneo de Davao University. MindaNews photo by GREGORIO BUENO

Gaspar told the crowd of mostly students — activists and non-activists – that if they are participating in activities where the threat and risk of being red-tagged is “quite possible, you have no other choice but to accept the inevitable and just be at peace with that.”

“So you really have only two choices: to drop out from getting involved or to commit yourself to what you believe in and be ready for whatever are the consequences. But if you’re making the second choice, which I hope all of you and most of you should take in this room today, there are many ways by which you can cope with the stress and the pressure and the fear. Take it from us,” said Gaspar, who was detained twice under Marcos’ martial law – three months of house arrest in 1972 and 22 months at what is now Camp Domingo Leonor, from 1983 to 1985.

The multi-awarded Gaspar, Mindanao’s most prolific book author, a professor at the Redemptorists’ St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute in Davao City and professor of Anthropology at the ADDU, said there were moments in his youth when the threat was so much more intense.

“Just be ready for it”

“One only hopes within the next three years with the same President, it’s not going to further become much more intense. But just be ready for it because when you are a truth seeker like so many of your ancestors in the past across the world, there are always consequences that can threaten your life,” said Gaspar, Valedictorian of the high school batch in Cor Jesu College in Digos City that included Rodrigo Duterte and Jesus Dureza.

Gaspar then shared some practical tips.

“There are many ways by which you can tap into resources that can help you deal with it. Number one, just make sure you’re always secure, you try your best to make sure that your security is guaranteed. In other words, don’t be careless. Just don’t go to anywhere else without other people knowing where you’re going,” he advised.

He also urged them to develop a circle of “good friends, reliable friends” who know about their whereabouts.

“Secondly, try to be confident that there is a higher force out there that will protect you,” he said.

Red-tagging is “only a label”

But getting red-tagged, Gaspar said, is “the least of your worry.”

“That’s only a label. The problem is, as has been experienced by others, you get arrested and unfortunate for others, you disappear from the planet. But if it is just red-tagging, it’s easy enough to deal with that,” he said.

“You just continue to do what you are doing and be consistent with it but in the end, one only hopes and please take it from your elder who was there before, who continues to try to be in the same space, red-tagging doesn’t really hurt you at all because in the end, it’s really you. If you’re convinced that what you’re doing is good for yourself and for other people, that’s enough reward itself.”

Ilagan, chair of the ADDU’s Department of Psychology, said, “that’s what exactly it’s all about. When people push you to what they think is your drive, na-disinformation ka, na red-tag ka, the natural tendency really is to defend yourself but sticks and stones won’t hurt your bones. Carry on. When you check where your motivation is coming from, it’s coming from the universals: truth, justice, and if you sincerely believe that, go for it hijo uy, mabuhay ang lahi mo.”

Power of the People

In his speech, Gaspar said that under the Marcos dictatorship from 1972 until his ouster in February 1986, the people’s bodies and minds were held captive by a “corrupt, power-hungry dictatorship which used all its weapons and instrumentalities at its disposal to impose a reign of terror” but “it could not hold our hearts and spirit captive for we claimed our right to resist and thus be freed from fear and hopelessness.”

Despite the challenges and the risks then, Gaspar said they believed they had “the power to dismantle this evil dictatorship” but knew it would take a long time “and many of us may perish before we see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

“So we did all we can to conscientize our ranks and reach out to the masses. We learned how to KUKANG (Kinsa, Unsa, Kanus-a, Asa, Ngano, Giunsa or the 5Ws and 1H) so we can produce documentations, come up with rural mimeo press and blackboard bulletins. We painted the walls or hung signs made of sako. We sang songs of protest, recited poems of rage and mounted theatrical productions in all spaces available. And we marched the streets, organized Lakbayans and protested with farmers, workers, and the urban poor and Lumad communities, were harassed, truncheoned, sprayed even with red-colored water.”

“All these to speak the truth! To witness to the truth,” Gaspar said, adding they made headways, building up a movement which peaked eventually between 1983 to 1986 “and 33 years ago, the world watched as we finally toppled down an authoritarian regime which sent Marcos, Imelda, their children including Imee who is now a senator, and their minions fleeing like criminals to escape the people’s wrath.”

Youth Power

When a female student asked what the youth can do to prevent the rampant spread of disinformation and if at all they have the power to do so, Gaspar replied he was “a little surprised why a young person would give very little value to the possibility of power” in their hands.

He said that since the 1960s, young people, by their numbers alone, have made such a huge difference in the way the world has unfolded.

He pointed to the protests in Hongkong as a “very good example of what is happening in the world today regarding what young people can do.”

In the Philippines, he said, “it may take a little while (as) the conjunctural realities of our country (are) not exactly like the 70s and 80s when the youth …of that period managed somehow to break through the silence and the apathy.”

He said the youth today is “in a liminal stage where things are just sort of beginning again to perk up and I think if you can again actually reflect on the possibilities of power in your hands, then your own generation would continue the long history of youth resistance through centuries and that is again where truth can play a very importrnt role. To speak our truth and to embrace it and to not be afraid to shout it from wherever, the highest point here in Davao City” or from the highest floor of the ADDU.

He also asked them to refect on St. Ignatius’ “to give and not to count the cost” which “should be appropriated to speak the truth and not to worry about the consequences.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)