Dean, De La Salle University-College of Law
Keynote address, AIESEC YouthSpeak Forum, 17 June 2018, Manila
OUR WORLD is flooded with information. From the time we get up until we go to bed, we are inundated with information from Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, online newspapers, blogs, TV, radio, regular newspapers, friends, relatives, teachers, and people we meet on the street.
But not all of the information out there is true. There are forces competing for our attention, pushing us to believe in thing or another. There is, in fact, a hidden war going on beneath the surface of our lives. It’s a war between “living within the truth” and “living within the lies.”
This hidden war is not so much between different groups of people as it is between the government and the people.
Our government tells us, for example, “there’s no such thing as EJKs”, when we see poor people being killed left and right in the name of the War on Drugs.
Our government tells us, “no one is invading our territory”, when we see China taking over our seas and appropriating our fishermen’s catch as their own.
Our government tells us, “our legal system is working”, when we see a different kind of justice supplanting it, blasting from the barrels of guns.
Our government tells us, “we have a right to speak freely”, when we see those who criticize the administration attacked by trolls, shut down, or put in jail.
Our government tell us, “it’s all right to slut-shame women and put them down”, when we know in our hearts that it isn’t right to do that.
Our government is not only telling us these lies, it’s forcing us to pretend along with them, “to live within their lies.” Even if we don’t believe their lies, it’s enough that we accept our life under their regime. Because by doing so, we not only confirm that regime, we fulfill it. And in so doing, we embrace the “world of appearances” that our government is foisting on us.
The biggest challenge we face today is to pierce that veil of lies and see our world as it is. For it is only when we can see reality as it is that we can truly change it for the better. Because our government is “(a) captive of its own lies,” it must falsify everything:
“It falsifies the past. It falsifies the present. It falsifies the future. It falsifies statistics. It pretends not to possess an omnipotent and unprincipled police apparatus. It pretends to respect human rights. It pretends to persecute no one. It pretends to fear nothing. It pretends to pretend nothing.”
“Reality,” to borrow the words of Vaclac Havel, “no longer shapes governance.” Instead, it is “governance [that] shapes reality.”
The challenge we face today is like no challenge you have faced before. It is a challenge to our humanity itself.
When government wields power not so we may realize ourselves as human beings but to make us “surrender our human identity in favor of the identity of the system,” we are faced with a fundamental choice: to succumb to the system or stand up to it.
That is the challenge we face today.
When government forces its people to live within their lies, the only way to effectively oppose it is to live within the truth:
“So long as living within the lie is not confronted with living within the truth, it will never be exposed.”
“Living within the truth” is a concept inspired by a rock and roll band–by you, the youth.
It was first articulated by Ivan Jirous, a poet and artistic director of the “Plastic People of the Universe”, a rock band formed in communist Czechoslovakia in the 1970’s.
Jirous wrote about the emergence of a “second culture” outside the regime’s sphere of influence and described those who lived in it as “living in truth.”
In 1976, Jirous was arrested together with members of the Plastic Universe and others who were active in the musical underground. Their trial as enemies of the State galvanized the people and led to the rise of a civil rights movement that became a major contributor to the collapse of the regime.
That is the power of living within the truth.
When we live within the truth, we break through the façade of the system and unmask the real nature of its power.
When we live within the truth, we expose the real problems that plague our society—problems that the regime has “hidden beneath a thick crust of lies”.
When we live within the truth, we reveal reality as it is, and allow others to see it as well.
When we live within the truth, we reclaim our inherent human dignity and self-worth.
That is the “singular, explosive and incalculable power”of living within the truth.
Some of us, despite the prevailing threats, fear, and violence, are already living within the truth:
• The young woman who stood, alone, in protest against the burial of a dictator in the Libingan ng mga Bayani.
• The fisherfolk who, despite the pressure, revealed what is really happening in the West Philippine Sea.
• The bloggers who, despite of the vicious attacks by trolls, continue to tell it like it is.
• The journalists, who, despite the fear and the threats, continue to publish real stories about real people.
• The teachers, scientists, historians, social scientists and students who, despite popular demand, practice independent scholarship and refuse to toe the government’s line.
• The human rights defenders and relatives of victims who, at the risk of being victims of EJK’s themselves, continue to expose the arbitrary executions being done in the name of the War on Drugs.
Living within the truth under the harshest conditions is what made national heroes of Jose Rizal, Apolinario Mabini and other courageous Filipinos.
When we live within the truth, we cast a powerful light that illuminates our surroundings and allows others to see the regime for what it really is.
This kind of illumination has “profound and incalculable consequences”– which explains why our government and others like it “suppress the truth more severely than anything else.”
To live within the truth is to say, with conviction –
I do not believe in a political system that requires that I sacrifice my human identity in its name.
I do not believe in a political system that has no respect for human life and no regard for human dignity.
I do not believe in a political system that stifles free expression and prevents human beings from developing to their full potential.
I do not believe in a political system that suppresses the truth and forces me to live within its lies.
All of us, at this very moment, can choose to live within the truth.
“Every free expression of life”– in literature, film, music, science, sports, education, photography, dance, or whatever it is you do – is an act of living within the truth.
Every assertion of our inherent human dignity, our longing for peace and harmony, and our desire for solidarity with others, is an act of living within the truth.
Every action that springs from our “authentic inner conviction,”our innermost being, and our self-worth, is an act of living within the truth.
Every time we affirm our unique human identity, make use of our unique talents for others, and act “in the spirit of our own hierarchy of values,”we live within the truth.
Every time we lend a helping hand to those in need, to the weak, the vulnerable, and the oppressed, we live within the truth.
Every time we demand that justice be done and that the Constitution be respected, we live within the truth.
Living within the truth may not be easy. Living within the lies peddled by the government is much easier.
But which path will provide a lasting solution to our problems?
Which path will allow us to “live freely in dignity and partnership”?
Which path will give us the space we need to bring our unique talents and abilities to full flower?
What is the truth about the society we live in? What do our people really need?
While we may disagree about many things, there is one thing we all agree on, and long for: a just society run by a just government whose officials are accountable to the people.
A society whose government officials are not corrupt and whose only interest is in serving the people.
A society whose government is capable of putting criminals behind bars and punishing them.
A society whose government respects human life and our inherent dignity as human beings, and which allows our people to bring their talents to full flower.
A society we can all be proud of.
That is a matter of vital importance that our government is trying desperately to suppress by ramming its lies down our throats.
That is a matter of crucial significance that our government is trying to conceal by using the barrel of the gun to dispense its version of “justice”.
That is a matter of paramount concern that we must embrace if we truly want to see freedom and justice reign in our land.
Maraming salamat po.
* Atty. Jose Manuel I. Diokno is also the national chairman of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) and a member of the Board of Trustees of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ).
”Living within the truth” and “living within the lie” are concepts articulated by the writer and statesman Vaclac Havel in his seminal essay entitled “The Power of the Powerless” (October 1987. Many of the ideas, words and phrases of Havel’s essay have been incorporated here. The full text of the essay is available at http://www.vaclavhavel.cz/showtrans.php?cat=eseje&val=2_aj_eseje.html&typ=HTML.
— PCIJ, June 2018
Id. All the phrases in quotation marks in this and succeeding paragraphs are from Havel’s essay.
Vaclav Havel, The Power of the Powerless, accessible at http://www.vaclavhavel.cz/showtrans.php?cat=eseje&val=2_aj_eseje.html&typ=HTML
 Ivan Jirous obituary by Paul Wilson, at https://www.theguardian.com/music/2011/nov/29/ivan-jirous
Vaclav Havel, The Power of the Powerless, http://www.vaclavhavel.cz/showtrans.php?cat=eseje&val=2_aj_eseje.html&typ=HTML