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REFLECTIONS by Mr. Magbual

REFLECTIONS
Damaso G. Magbual
ANFREL

Democracy is a way of life that must be nurtured, developed and lived. As a way of life, it embodies the values that make man human. Among these values are respect for others and their rights, respect for the laws of the land that provide order and harmony in society and respect for diversity. Mankind is one but it is at the same time diverse. Hence, despite our differences in faith, language, origin and other distinguishing factors, when we live by the tenets of democracy we become one. Democracy then provides a unifying element among diverse people of diverse backgrounds and cultures.

As a value, it must not only be lived but must be treasured. It must be protected even at a heavy price as demonstrated by the Korean people, the Gwangju populace in particular. Believers in democracy, while they enjoy its blessings, have a responsibility to protect it whenever it is endangered. As they say, “eternal vigilance is the price of democracy.” This is so because democracy too often stands in the way of man’s greed and ambition. History is replete with lessons when a people become complacent in its vigilance – the coups in Thailand, the martial rule under Marcos in the Philippines, the fifty years of repressive rule in Taiwan and let us not forget the years of military dictatorships in South Korea. Tyrants and despots will cling on to power for as long as they can even as it takes a heavy toll on their people. The Burmese know this too well as they continue to suffer under a ruthless military regime.

To nurture and to develop democracy, let us reflect on the events that transpired in Gwangju and the spirit behind these events. The people of Gwangju felt they have suffered enough under military rule and took it upon themselves to resist the oppressor. They decided to free themselves from oppression and regain their lost freedoms even if it meant their sweat and blood. They succeeded and paid a heavy price for it but gave the whole world a lesson to learn from their sacrifice.



Today, years after the supreme sacrifice made by the people of Gwangju, they continue to inspire and teach us lessons, which is why we are here. The Gwangju Uprising reminds us to experience the spirit of democracy in our day to day life. And the democracy groups in Korea; the Folk School in particular has shown us how to make democracy a part of our daily lives. The Folk School by constantly revisiting events of the May 18 Uprising, invites us to re-live the events, the ordeals and the sacrifices of the victims that we may never again be the victims of oppression. By organizing activities such as those we saw at the Liberty Park where young students were immersed in serious discussions on the merits of democracy; the various fora organized to raise awareness of the significance of the May 18 events; the educational tours we had at the Busan Democracy Park and the visit to the Human rights Commission in Seoul, are but a few activities meant to nurture and develop the spirit of democracy in our daily life.

A Filipino saying goes “ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan ay hindi makakarating sa pinaroroonan.” (Literally, “one who does look at his past will never reach his desired destination). This is one reason why democracy is failing in the Philippines. The Filipinos are too preoccupied with the ‘here and now’ that they do not reflect on their past. They have very short memories. For instance, in February 1986, the Filipino people much like their brothers in Gwanju, deposed an unwanted dictator. They became for a moment the darling of the freedom loving world. Today, the spirit of EDSA (where the people’s revolt took place) has been confined in the dustbins of history. How easily the Filipinos forget; how easily they will in time lose their cherished liberties.

Contrast this to the numerous activities constantly made to perpetuate and commemorate the spirit of the Gwangju Uprising, to make it as vivid and as real in the lives of every Korean national as they honor their fallen heroes; as they relive each year the spirit of the event to inspire the citizenry, then we know democracy will live and flourish in the Korean Peninsula.

When one brings the spirit of the democratic movement in his life, he remains ever vigilant. Hence, when transgressions are committed, he raises his voice in protest over the wrongdoing. This is shown in the case of the two young school girls who were killed by an armored car of the US Military a few years back. Again the Korean people, united in mind and spirit, expressed their indignation for the violation of their rights. When a people refuse to be enslaved, no power on earth can enslave them. As they say, there are no tyrants where there are no slaves.”

Again, it is well to be reminded that there are no shortcuts to meaningful change – that democracy can only be attained through faithful, persistent and unselfish action. This is the lesson I have learned from the events that took place in Gwangju.


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518 Gwangju Asian Human Rights Folk School

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