Photo by Xtian Lozañes

Less of a Filipino: Confessions of an Ilonggo (Ex) Activist

By Harren Fegarido

I am a Filipino.

I was born and raised in the Philippines, in the most loyal city of the Spanish regime: Iloilo. Like every Filipino who firmly believes that the Philippines is a great country, I always hunger for freedom: freedom from poverty, from lack of education, from crime, from lack of health care facilities, from fear of what the uncertain future holds.

Just like any regular citizen, I’m always hoping for a better country.

So, it should come as no surprise to anyone I talked to that I was considered one of the “rebellious” kind nine years ago. I joined rallies against the government; I had too much love for my country that I hated the rotten system and the people it spawned. I joined protests and pushed for positive changes.

So yes, you could say I was an activist.

However, I always thought there could be more “positive” forms of protest; for one, I became active through volunteerism. Many of the different projects I was involved in included book drives, fund-raising activities, art classes, music—anything that could raise awareness for the people to let them know that the country is in deep crap.

I remember this one time where we invited local bands to play inside the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology at Ungka; we also screened short films containing subjects that dealt with the troubled justice system of the country. During that event, I had my chance to speak my purpose and advocacy in front of prisoners, their children, teachers, radical minds, lovers, and dreamers. And during those times, it felt truly good to be a Filipino who’s genuinely in love with his country. I was doing something out of passion for my nation—never mind that I still despised the government while doing so.

Fast forward to today: I am working at an 8-hour job under a government corporation that supposedly looks out for the welfare of the Filipino people. Ironic, I know, but that is my reality. Indeed, I would not begrudge one’s choice to direct oneself to a certain path which gives prosperity, belongingness, security and satisfaction in exchange for freedoms of expression, political principles and beliefs. Did I swallow my pride? Have I given up my principles in exchange for a steady job in the government?

More importantly, did the choices I pursue made me less of a Filipino?

Working for the government took away my infinite freedom of speech and expression; in place of it are limitations, rules, laws, policies. I have a family to feed, so I have to keep my mouth shut—in particular, to try to be silent about social issues plaguing our sick system. I cannot just go out with a megaphone on my hand and my principles on my lips to tell society why there are so many things wrong with this country. I cannot comment on political issues or social concerns; doing so means I could lose my career.

I am not that brave. But did it make me less of a Filipino?

Later on after getting a job in the government, a friend invited me to take part in a local rally protesting the massive misuse of government funds. I was supposed to perform a set of songs and voice out my thoughts. I said yes. I told myself, “I will not speak as a government worker, but as a citizen. I will speak because I am affected by the issue and I want to be part of a solution.” Sure, it’s a radical solution where it involved people marching on streets, going up a platform, and expressing their sentiments. But still, I believed we’re doing something.

I remembered wearing a white shirt in support of the cause. More than three hundred people—students, nuns, employees, activists—were present. I waited for my turn at the mic to speak my piece. I waited, but then I eventually surrendered; I simply couldn’t do it.

I made an alibi just to get out of the venue. I could not be against the entity that feeds me. A servant cannot declare war against his master. I have to give up my idealism to my master, the system. To do otherwise made me feel like I was lying to myself.

I don’t want to be a cynic, but I am nearing to a point where I feel hopeless. I want to tell the people that we need to heal this ailing land. We need—and could do—better. But I have to keep mum on the things I see happening. It sickens me to see my country fall down and, yet, pretend to not care.

Personally, I do not take everything against the government, or even against the place where I work. On the other hand, I’m also not taking it against them that I have been made to follow rules and limitations. It’s, after all, my job, and my job is to serve the government and its people. Part of the conditions for my job is to keep silent; not to take sides, and not to criticize. There’s a thin line between serving the government and its people. Crossing the line for the latter, no matter if it’s the right thing to do, is equivalent to being a fugitive.

However, I really believe my dream for a better Philippines is still there. The passion and love for my motherland did not, and will not, fade away; the fire is still there, lurking deep inside, probably having coffee and reading the news, and waiting to be outraged again.

So, I ask you again: am I still less of a Filipino?

Harren Fegarido is a wanderer


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