Note: I wrote this commentary for Philippine Online Chronicles.
Last Monday, police forces armed with shields and truncheons brutally attacked protesters who were peacefully marching towards the Batasang Pambansa Complex where President Noynoy Aquino was set to deliver his fourth State of the Nation Address.
Among the images that stood out amidst the violent dispersal of protesters was the peculiar scene of a “crying cop” PO1 Joselito Sevilla being confronted by Thomas Van Beersum, a Dutch activist who denounced a teary-eyed Sevilla for the brutal dispersal of the protesters.
That day, tens of thousands of workers, peasants, urban poor, students, and other sectors marched in the streets of major cities and towns all over the country to demand for land reform, higher wages, and more jobs and to call for an end to budget cuts, price hikes, privatization, impunity, among others.
But these causes were sidelined in social media as the photo of a weeping Sevilla took on life as an object of sympathy while Van Beersum became an object of hatred.
Apparently, those sharing President Aquino’s yellow brand of “tunay na pagbabago” and triumphant rhetoric of “matuwid na daan” also possess a hardening contempt against “others” who carry dissenting views that are contrary to their own.
Van Beersum was declared “persona non grata” on social media. He was chastised for not being “a good guest” and warned to “fly out of the country” if all he did was join protests.
An online petition was started against his alleged “meddling in Filipino affairs.” Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda even joined the chorus and called Van Beersum a “flying dutchman.”
Who is this “Flying Dutchman”?
Van Beersum is a Dutch activist who came to the Philippines as a delegate to the International Conference on Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines in Manila from July 19-21, 2013.
He attended the SONA protest because, in his own words, he had been outraged by the human rights abuses committed by the administration of Noynoy Aquino.
In particular, Van Beersum said he personally knew Wilhem Geertman, a Dutch social worker based in the Philippines who became a victim of extrajudicial killing by alleged government forces July 3 of last year because of his work against mining in Central Luzon.
Van Beersum was part of the front line of the protesters who were beaten with truncheons and shields by the rampaging policemen.
The scenes of fellow protesters being clubbed by the police and getting seriously injured aroused the emotion of Van Beersum. “After that initial confrontation I got angry and started shouting at the police officer standing in front of me,” he said.
In the next round of dispersals, that policeman stayed put in his place while crying behind his shield. Van Beersum’s fellow activists would hug the policeman and console him as he wept. He was PO1 Joselito Sevilla.
At least 41 protesters were injured during the repeated dispersal attempts by the police. Ten were illegally arrested and jailed for a night but were eventually released for lack of charges.
Revisiting our Concept of “Patriotism”
Anyone who personally experiences the same senseless violence inflicted by the police, no matter what the nationality, cannot but rise up in just indignation. After all, the protesters were only asserting the expression of their rights to assembly and freedom of expression.
To ride the bandwagon against Van Beersum for allegedly meddling in Philippine affairs and offending Filipino dignity is therefore to subscribe to a shallow concept of patriotism that equates the love of the country with zealous devotion to the government.
Nationalism is reduced to blind obedience to government officials and an uncritical acceptance of their policies and programs, a narrow framework that pushes for the most rabid discrimination and xenophobia just to further the interests of the ruling classes.
Unsurprisingly, this “patriotism” is silent on the automatic appropriation of the national budget for foreign debt servicing at the expense of social services, the plunder of the environment by foreign mining companies, and the increasing US military presence in the country, etc.
This is lamentable because in truth, the same problems afflicting the Filipino people are the same problems affecting the rest of the peoples of the World.
For it is the same neoliberal policies that have been imposed by the most powerful capitalist countries on the rest of the world through institutions like the IMF-World Bank that have led to tighter control by profit-driven private corporations over all aspects of life.
Consequently, rising prices of oil, food and other basic goods, water, electricity, education, health, public transportation, telecommunication, and other services have been the norm wherever such neoliberal policies are implemented by those in power.
The Spirit of Internationalism
It is for the very same reasons that the peoples of the world have been rising up against the crisis and human rights violations brought about by the pursuit of the profit-interests of the 1 percent at the expense of the 99 percent.
In Egypt, the lack of a real social revolution two years after the removal of the dictator Mubarak from power are pushing the people back to the streets.
In Turkey, attempts to cut the trees of Gezi Park in Istanbul to make way for a mall has sparked widespread protests against the government’s neoliberal development framework.
In Brazil, looming transportation fare hikes and luxurious World Cup preparations by the government amidst budget cuts on health, education, and other social services have also caused massive unrest.
In India, the indigenous peoples continue their resistance to the violent land grabbing of their ancestral lands to give way for large-scale mining, plantations, and special economic zones.
In this age of neoliberal globalization, backward countries like the Philippines languish under a global system that assigns it the role as a mere source of cheap resources and cheap labor and the dumping ground of surplus capital and goods for advanced industrial powers like the US.
That a man like Van Beersum, a foreigner coming from one of the richest countries in the world, would come to the Philippines and take the cause of the Filipino people for national liberation and genuine democracy as his own is hence worthy of praise.
For only through the firm unity of all the peoples of the world can we ultimately achieve genuine liberation from all forms of exploitation and oppression. In the end, we need more people who are imbued with the same spirit of internationalism as Van Beersum.