Rats in a cage

By: Reyshimar Arguelles

DISSENT is healthy if its purpose is to uphold justice and demand an accounting from oppressors. Behind this rationale is an acknowledgment of the risks that make dissenting more like a death sentence to the dissenter. There’s a price to pay for having ideals. But a true revolutionary would risk everything to enact justice and bring the oppressors to the gallows. However, there has always been a thin line between idealism and madness, between triumph and futility.

The history of rebellion is one that’s mired in contradictions. Rebels find themselves doing what they think as the noblest of virtues. But at the same time, they find themselves caught up by the romanticism of their rebellion that they tend to forget the very foundation of their mission. Philippine history is rich with narratives of rebellions that were, more or less, absurd.

The Revolution and the subsequent establishment of the First Philippine Republic were based on the premise that Filipinos are ready for a post-Spain future. And yet, in the wake of its founding, the Philippine Republic had to address internal struggles among those responsible for its conception. Murder was necessary at the behest of the new government.

The purges within President Emilio Aguinaldo’s were evidence of how far the Republic would go to sustain itself as a legitimate government for the Filipino people. But its desire for emancipation is clouded by the agendas of its own leaders. And deaths that it was responsible for were all for naught when the Americans came along and brought their own brand of colonialism to our shores.

Although we were able to win our independence from this global power, we still couldn’t detach ourselves from our subjugation to the United States. Since 1946, democracy has only worked to the advantage to the countries who have been calling the shots. Presidents have kowtowed to the whims of these power players, still insisting that we’ve never been freer. But the military and economic treaties we sign have only nurtured this illusion further. We’re still rats in a cage, being played around by our captors who want to see us wallow in our own filth.

It’s at this point that dissent is necessary. The current government has outlined its desire to lead a more independent foreign policy. The intent is clear: We need to chart our own way as a sovereign entity. Achieving that takes too much effort, but eventually, we settle with subjugating ourselves to a different power. This is the vilest of treacheries, but it only proves the futility of our situation.

Rats in a cage. That is what we are unless we make the effort to go against the established order and never submit to the social and political forces that are taking control of our lives. And at the same time, transcendent values are needed to guide us as we seek to break free from the cage.

It may seem farfetched, but dissent is still an important element in the transformation of entire societies. It is more than just an act of saying “no.” It allows us to assert ourselves against the mechanisms that are working towards our subjugation.

The anti-extradition protests in Hong Kong is one such example of citizen resistance. It is a form of rebellion that’s aware of its own mission and, at the same time, is consistent with the ideals that many of Hong Kong’s citizens possess. Underneath the thick blankets of tear gas, battling with police batons, the protesters came in droves to tell China that they won’t submit themselves to an abominable police state.

This would explain why, for weeks, Hong Kong has been restless with wave upon wave protest actions that send a clear message to Beijing, which has been working towards strengthening its hold of the city.

Still, the protests also prove how we can’t always be the rats in cages our oppressors want us to believe. When the time comes to lead a rational form of rebellion, let us take it.