Academia Filipina, which seeks to become an academy or council of statesmen, thinkers and writers as well as experts on Philippine arts and sciences, was off to a fiery start Feb. 24, with former Senate President Edgardo Angara openly deploring the arrest of Sen. Leila de Lima on drug charges by the administration of President Duterte.
Opening the inaugural congress of Academia Filipino at Ramon Magsaysay Center, Angara, questioned why De Lima was brought to Camp Crame.
“And what is Camp Crame?” Angara said. “It is where the PNP brought a Korean businessman they arrested on false drug charges and killed in utter disregard of all civility and in brazen violation of human rights!”
He was referring to Korean executive Jee Ick-joo who was killed in Camp Crame, “the national headquarters of the [Philippine] National Police.”
“The businessman was strangled to death, even after his kidnappers and assailants—all policemen—received ransom,” Angara said.
“Here was utter depravity, clear proof that the rule of law right in the center of law enforcement is brazenly broken.”
Angara was coconvenor of Academia Filipina with National Artist for Literature F. Sionil José.
He said it was propitious that the arrest of De Lima took place during the national observance of the Edsa People Power Revolt of 1986.
“Some 31 years after People Power overthrew the dictatorship, our liberties are in jeopardy once again,” said Angara. “The institutions that serve as its bulwark are suddenly quiet. Men and women of intelligence and passion for country stand silent and remain passive.
“There are 24 senators and one has stood up to say, ‘The emperor has no clothes!’”
French, Spanish academies
José said Academia Filipina was patterned after the French and Spanish Academies and the US Council of Foreign Relations.
In a less august way, it is also patterned after the British clubs (“whose membership included officers of the Royal Navy, the Royalty, businessmen, Oxford and Cambridge scholars and journalists from Fleet Street”), and the Century Club in New York.
José, whose fiction in English has been published in over 20 languages, said Academia Filipina gathered “our National Artists and National Scientists, plus some young and old Filipinos who have distinguished themselves in their particular professions.
“The major purpose of the Academia Filipina is to promote and protect Filipino culture as the bedrock of the Filipino nation,” he added.
The founding congress was a gathering of the country’s intellectual elite.
Taking part in the discussions were former senator Ramon “Jun” Magsaysay Jr., as well as Senators Loren Legarda, Richard Gordon and Sonny Angara; prime minister Cesar E.A. Virata, former Education Secretary Edilberto de Jesus, former Rep. Michael Mastura, former Foreign Secretary Delia Albert, former national security adviser José Almonte, former National Historical Commission of the Philippines chair Ambeth Ocampo.
In the audience were National Artists Benedicto “BenCab” Cabrera, Virgilio Almario and Alice Reyes; heritage architect Augusto Villalon; scholars Resil Mojares, Fernando Zialcita, Saul Hofileña; performing artists Raul Sunico and Chris Millado; writers Rody Vera, Ricky Soler, Charlson Ong and Lourd de Veyra.
Angara said there was “rising populism and tendency to demagoguery” in the Philippines and around the world.
He wondered whether the nation was descending to “illiberal democracy,” as Time Magazine columnist Fareed Zakaria put it. (Mastura said the country was suffering more from “deficit democracy,” as Muslims like him had been marginalized from public policy planning.)
Angara said populism and demagoguery might indicate a slide to fascism and totalitarianism, but he also agreed with another thinker who said populism could become “a mirrror in which democracy can contemplate itself, warts and all, and find out what it is about and what it is lacking.”
He said Philippine democracy was failing because of political turncoatism and the “lack of a true party system,” and a “largely disconnected—if not entirely indifferent—elite.”
“That’s the reason why we need Academia Filipina—to put our minds and expertise together toward finding our own solutions to the country’s biggest challenges and arresting the decline of democracy and freedom,” Angara declared. “Toward supporting and strengthening key institutions—media, civic organizations, the courts and universities. And toward fostering an intellectual climate conducive to reform and change.”