Senator Leila De Lima on Saturday heaped praises on Shibby De Guzman, the 14-year-old student hailed as one of Time Magazine’s “most influential” teens of the year.
The senator, who is currently detained over drug-related charges which she had repeatedly denied, congratulated De Guzman for choosing to act for “a good and unselfish cause, despite the peril that becoming a ‘dissenter’ presented.”
De Lima once again took a dig at her “persecutors” in the government when she wrote in the latest of her handwritten dispatches from her detention cell inside Camp Crame: “That is a level of maturity, patriotism and humanity that not even some geriatric members of the Philippine government have been able to demonstrate.”
The embattled senator, a dissenter against the current administration herself, did not fare as well as the young student. While De Guzman was honored for her dissent, the lawmaker remains imprisoned for her alleged involvement in the illegal drug trade in the New Bilibid Prison.
The senator, however, also recently received the highest human rights award from an international liberal organization.
“To say that we, as Filipinos, ought to be proud of her accomplishment is an understatement,” she wrote in her dispatch.
“Better yet, we should be inspired by this extraordinary achievement because she is, first and foremost, an ordinary school girl who became “influential”, not just because of her awareness of social issues, but, most of all, because of her desire to be an instrument of change – not just for herself, but for others,” she said.
De Guzman is one of the youngest people to receive the magazine’s distinction this year. She was cited for her participation in the #YouthResist rallies against the administration's controversial war on drugs, something the teen credited to “youthful idealism.”
The senator noted that De Guzman was not just “well-informed” amid the highly prevailing internet culture of clickbait and fake news, but also chose to actively stand up to “change the unfortunate status quo for the better.”
The war on drugs might have taken a shift in approach when its enforcement was taken away from the police and given back to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, but lawyers and law student groups are staying vigilant and seeking accountability for alleged extrajudicial killings linked to the campaign.
De Lima added that the student’s achievements belonged not just to her and her family, but also to the Filipino people, “because this single girl, with just a pen, paper and her courage as her tools, managed to show the world that we are not defined by the bad things that some of our officials do, but, most tellingly, by the brave choices that seemingly ordinary and powerless people make on a daily basis.”
“You can simultaneously be both a famous and influential person on one hand, and a decent human being on the other. It’s not binary,” she also wrote.
‘Good to be woke’
On the subject of social awareness and action, as has been exemplified by De Guzman, a youth leader on Saturday said a keen awareness of social issues — such as the repercussions of the government’s war on drugs — was well and good, but that tangible protest action, the more challenging part of the equation, was just as important.
“It’s good to be woke,” said Shamah Bulangis of activist group #YouthResist in the sidelines of a press briefing on advocacy work against extrajudicial killings.
“It’s really good to be woke but there’s a different step from being woke to actually doing something,” she added.
“Woke” is a term increasingly being used to describe social awareness.
But the apparent hesitation of many young people to stay confined to online protest — Shibby De Guzman excluded — is understandable, she said, given that the load of information people receive at any given day may be daunting to process.
That is why youth groups need insight from their counterparts who have protest experience, particularly in the EDSA People Power Revolution, she said.
Bulangis is part of the organizing committee of the cultural program that will follow Sunday’s Mass at the EDSA Shrine, which will mark the beginning of a 33-day period of religious activities calling for the start of the “nation’s healing.”
The 22-year-old fulltime activist is also the Secretary-General of Akbayan Youth, one of the groups that filed an administrative complaint against Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, De Lima's successor in the Department of Justice and her political nemesis, for allegedly using his position to spread “fake news,” or misinformation.
Bulangis said warm bodies gathering on the streets to advocate for certain causes showed “vulnerability and courage,” setting them apart from vicious internet trolls.
“What will be the difference between you and the troll if you just stay online and not go out? As much as possible, we want to separate ourselves from the trolls that are just online. They can’t even mobilize outside of Facebook,” she said.
Young activists have faced massive backlash on social media for speaking out against current issues they find objectionable, with most of them being threatened or hurled with hurtful comments.
De Guzman herself was bashed for her participation in one of the protests that erupted quickly after the unannounced burial of former president and dictator Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.
Detractors had accused her of being “brainwashed” by the leaders of her school, St. Scholastica’s College in Manila, to which she had responded: "We completely know and understand the injustice we are protesting against.” — MDM, GMA News