Activism among the youth seems to be alive and kicking across Asia. And except for the Philippines, most of the movements are pro-democracy. In Hong Kong, for instance, students and many others, mostly young residents, are demanding full democracy, plus autonomy from Beijing. When Hong Kong was returned in 1997 to China, it guaranteed certain rights, including free speech, under a “one country, two systems” arrangement.
Thailand offers another example of protests with a pro-democracy bent. Students and other young Thais question the legitimacy of their government, led by Prayuth Chan-o-cha, who serves as both prime minister and defense minister. He headed the military junta that ruled that country before running as a civilian in 2019.
Thai protesters are also pushing to reform their monarchy, partly for more democratic rights. Such political action was unheard of during the reign of its beloved previous king, Bhumibol Adulyadej. While the protestors vent their ire against his successor, there are calls to repeal Thailand’s lèse majesté law, which criminalizes criticisms of the monarch and his royal family. That prohibition trumps Thailand’s Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech.
Meanwhile in the Philippines, local activists adhere to outdated ideas of the Left, which are predominantly Maoist. We suspect that even its champions realize that their ideology is out of step with the times, which is why they make a big deal about red-tagging.
Of course, red-tagging is wrong and unacceptable. But what is correct and legal should apply to all, even to communists and others in the Left. When they and their sympathizers attach political tags to their rivals, no one seems to object.
There is no public pressure on lawmakers to conduct public inquiries into Leftists groups tagging their opponents as puppets of the government or the military with Filipino labels like “tuta.” That tag was used to deride the League of Parents of the Philippines when it attempted to hold prayer vigils and symposia at the University of the Philippines Diliman in Quezon City, the epicenter of political activism in the country.
That incident was brought up by our columnist, former ambassador Rigoberto Tiglao, who described the league as a group of parents whose children were recruited into the CPP-NPA. Some of them were killed in skirmishes with the military. The CPP is the Communist Party of the Philippines, and the NPA, New People’s Army, its armed wing, which the government blames for killing some 10,000 soldiers, policemen and civilians. That is why the government wants it to be declared a terrorist organization.
Outdated and discredited
Activism, per se, is not bad. In fact, it is part of the liberties guaranteed in a democracy. People, if they choose, even have the right to be wrong or unpopular under our political system. Our neighbors in Asia are now fighting for similar privileges, even as some continue to peddle Maoist teachings.
That romantic attachment to the Left is admittedly difficult to grasp, given modern history and realities at present. Communism collapsed in 1989. By then, it was evident that communist governments could be as oppressive and autocratic as the regimes that they replaced.
Even Karl Marx, later in his life, distanced himself from Marxism, according to his friend Friedrich Engels. Referring to hardline labor leaders in France who preferred revolution to compromising with their government, Marx said in French, “What is certain is that if they are Marxist, I am not a Marxist.”
Even if some dispute that quote or question its context, the local disciples of Leftist ideologies ought to reflect on why they are marching to a drumbeat different from those calling instead for democracy. Of course, democracy is also imperfect, but at least it offers room to disagree and compromise.
The type of activism we would like to see features vigorous debates, even protests whenever necessary, that should be respectful and must be peaceful. We also prefer them to be intelligent and meaningful, which may be asking for too much. But even as we aspire for that ideal, there are “progressives” who prefer bombastic rhetoric that is founded on discredited ideas and anathema to democratic principles.