Personal manifesto for our times

06 July 2020

The passage of the Anti-Terrorism Law compels me to write down my core beliefs, the principles that guide me in my personal and public life, and my principal engagements. If ever I am red-tagged, accused of being a terrorist or worst arrested or even killed because of such tagging and accusation, this manifesto which I will publish in my Eagle Eyes column and in the personal website I launch today speaks for itself: who I am, what I believe in, and the work that I do.

My worldview is Catholic, Christian, Humanist, Filipino, and Mindanawon.

I believe in the tenets of the Catholic Church and the Christian faith, as summarized best by the Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Beatitudes, the Sermon of the Mount, and the catechism of the Catholic Church. I acknowledge that I am a sinner and that Jesus Christ has saved me and that work of salvation is continuing. I believe in the forgiveness of sins and that we must love our enemies.

I might have differences in how the Catholic Church approach some moral issues or how it has behaved in the centuries of its existence, but by and large those differences are insignificant compared to the gifts the Church has given me: a faith formation and community through the Neocatechumenal Way, the sacraments that nourishes me, a Christian marriage and family imperfect as I have been as a father and husband, a solid set of pro-life ethics that equally sides with the unborn, death penalty convicts, and the poor, and teachers and collaborators like the Jesuits.  

While hoping and working for the Church to be better in safeguarding minors and vulnerable adults from sexual abuse and violence and in being more friendly to women and LGBTQ people, expect me always to defend the Catholic Church, the Pope, its bishops, priests, religious, and lay leaders from external attacks and internal division.

My Christian faith calls me to be a person-for-others, to be always in solidarity with the poor (concretely indigenous peoples, farmers, workers, the urban poor, people with disabilities), to promote social, environmental, and climate justice, to advocate human rights for all without derogation, and to defend the planet. The encyclical Laudato Si, issued by Pope Francis in 2015, summarizes how I see human engagement with the world and with each other. We are called to love and care for all creatures without exception. We are stewards and not masters of the universe. We must respect nature and acknowledge it has rights.

I am a teacher, thinker, lawyer and advocate, leader, social entrepreneur, and change-maker. To be able to love fully God and neighbor, I have been gifted by the Lord with the education and experience to take on these multiple roles. I hope to use my accumulated knowledge, wisdom, and reputation, limited as they may be, to make a difference and build a better world.

I am a teacher. I have been doing this for 39 years, starting in June 1981 when I was a Jesuit volunteer teaching philosophy in Xavier University in my hometown Cagayan de Oro. Since then, I have taught in around twenty universities and learning institutions all over the world – teaching philosophy, constitutional and political law, public international law, the art and science of negotiations, environmental law and policy, climate justice, and disaster management, social innovation and entrepreneurship, public management and leadership, and governance. Today, I teach undergraduate students, JD law students, MPM, LLM, JSD, and PHD students in a dozen schools in Manila and Mindanao. I also deliver several lectures a week as requested by diverse audiences.

I have scaled up my teaching because I realize that is the surest way to make a difference. I realized through the years that the issues I cared about – defeating poverty, overcoming the challenges of climate change, and good governance in nation building for example – demand intergenerational work. The best contribution I can make to this work is to teach and mentor future generations. This I have done and continue to do – teaching and mentoring hundreds of human rights and environmental lawyers, politicians and civil servants, and social activists and entrepreneurs. I have also taught and continue to teach many overseas Filipinos in Europe, Middle East, and East Asia and yes many military and police officials, both high level and rank and file.

As a teacher, I am an enabler of both knowledge and wisdom, to be creative in how I teach, to be a model professional for my students, to be always good and kind to them. I make sure to encourage open debate in my class and collaboration among my students. As long as students do their part, I give high grades because it is important to reward students for their work and efforts.

I am a happy teacher.

I am a thinker. Working with others all over the world, I like to do research, develop and apply academic tools and frameworks to understand problems, and generate ideas and solutions. To disseminate the latter, I write columns, scholarly papers and articles, and books.

Most of my current research is on climate change and energy. I do this in the Manila Observatory where I work with the most brilliant climate scientists in the Philippines and in the region. I collaborate also with colleagues all over the world, especially young Filipino academics that work in related fields. 

I love being a scholar.

I am a lawyer and an advocate. My main legal practice is environmental law which I have practiced here and abroad. Early in my career, I specialized on climate change and I still do a lot of work in that area today. But from the beginning, I have also been a human rights lawyer, having joined the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) immediately after I passed the bar. As an advocate, I always side with the poor and marginalized, aware that our legal system is frequently an instrument of oppression.

I believe in the rule of law, but I am not naïve about how the law is often weaponized against people to perpetuate injustice. A lawyer that is faithful to the attorney’s oath must fight back against such an evil way of using the law.  We see this today in the case of Senator Leila De Lima the Maria Ressa case, the ABSCBN controversy, and the newly enacted anti-terrorism law.

Today, I am a convenor of Manananggol Laban sa Extrajudicial Killings (Manlaban) and Concerned Lawyers for Civil Liberties (CLCL). I work closely with the National Union of People’s Lawyers whose lawyers are the most courageous, competent, and imaginative I have worked with. I lawyer, among others, for Kabataan Party List whose leaders and members are the best of their generation. I also lawyer for Aetas that are being driven away by their ancestral domain in Clark.

I am a happy warrior, wielding words and not swords, to make this country and world a better place. This time of the pandemic provides a unique opportunity to do this. I have never felt as hopeful about the world and humanity than I feel today.

As a Filipino, I would defend. our national sovereignty and territory. The current government has betrayed us on this – yielding to China, as previous government did the same to the United States – and we must push back this before it is too late.

As a Mindanawon, I am committed to genuine peace based on justice, supports fully the Bangsamoro, and in solidarity with the Lumad as I am with all our indigenous peoples.

I believe in peace processes and negotiations. I have been appointed to government peace panels with the NPA, MNLF, and MILF several times in the last thirty years. I have also played supportive roles in other times in all these conflicts, always presenting solutions to the protagonists. 

I am not dilawan nor am I anti-Duterte. But I am anti-authoritarian and anti-corruption. I have criticized the two Aquino presidencies for their failings and have done the same for the Arroyo and Estrada administrations.  The US-Marcos dictatorship was of course an abomination. I have also acknowledged that the Ramos administration, with whom I served, had  its inadequacies but I credit it for its overall approach which was to unify the country, among others to enter into political settlement with military, communist, and Moro rebels, as that’s the only way we can move forward and confidently as a nation into the future.  That for me is the reason for failed governance and reforms in the last 20 years – our presidents from Estrada, Arroyo, Aquino, and now Duterte divided us into opposite camps. That continues with the pandemic as the Duterte administration implement a militaristic, blame the people approach to a public health problem.

While I have strong positions on issues and government actions, none of that is personal. I try to avoid being judgmental of individuals. I have relatives and friends who work for the Duterte administration and for previous governments which I have criticized them. I still love them regardless of their politics.

Going back to the need for a unified citizenry, I support Filipino and Mindanao artists – those who write, compose and perform music, direct and act in theater and film, create images, etc. Art and culture expresses our humanity; art and culture makes us better humans. Art and culture can unite us as a people.

As a humanist and global citizen, I fight all forms of discrimination – whether based on ethnic, religious, sexual, gender orientation and identity, nationality, and other grounds. I truly believe we can learn from each other. I believe in peaceful coexistence of nations and the imperative for rich countries to support the less and least developed ones.

I am a leader and social entrepreneur. Whenever necessary, I have accepted positions in government, academic institutions, and citizen groups to help these organizations achieve their missions. As a leader, I am a change-maker and innovator following the approach of Ashoka: Innovators of the Public which is an organization I am affiliated with. I am committed to innovation when demanded by the times while making sure the core of institutions is strengthened. This is what I bring to organizations like Rappler and Samdhana where I serve as a board member. I also try to be a servant-leader, knowing that. empathy and personal integrity are good qualities to have and for others to emulate.

I believe that working with a team is best way of doing things, whether it is teaching, research, lawyering, advocacy, or running organizations. I acknowledge the assistance of my current collaborators Yla Paras, Joy Reyes, Jayvy Gamboa, Denise Galias, and Dinah Faye Balleco. I also thank Dixi Mengote for the first version of this website. And before my current team, there were others that I worked with in Manila Observatory, Ateneo School of Government, World Resources Institute, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center. Without them, I would not have done or be able to do anything,  but of course all the mistakes and failures are mine.

Finally, I believe in non-violence and the peaceful resolution of all personal and social disputes. I believe in reason and dialogue. I believe in the family and community.  I believe in the young of this country and the world.

The work for a kinder and happier world will not be done in our lifetime and it is not ultimately our work but God’s. But we are called to do our part. For a Christian, and for me therefore, hope is always the last word.

An excerpt of this manifesto is published in this website.

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