The need for an advocacy coalition

Opinion & Analysis Jul 1, 2004 at 1:51 pm

SINCE the fatal shooting of Jeffrey Reodica on May 21, 2004 and the subsequent campaign to seek justice in the case, we have witnessed the emergence of a movement to build an alliance of groups to take on this cause.

An organizing committee for what was conceived as a coalition was informally set up. It gathered the support of a broad spectrum of organized groups and individuals. For a start, the leaderships of what are considered “umbrella” organi-zations and community centres like the Philippine Independence Day Council, Kalayaan Cultural Com-munity Centre, Kalayaan 2004, Federation of Filipino Canadians in Brampton, Markham Federation of Filipino Canadians, Kababayan Filipino Community Centre, Silayan Filipino Community Centre, and National Congress of Filipino Canadians, either gave their written or verbal support or took actions in support of the campaign for justice for Jeffrey.

Other associations and groups, namely, Zambalenos Association of Ontario, Ang Bisaya of Ontario, Philippine Heritage Band, Philippine Youth Council, Order of the Knights of Rizal-Toronto Chapter, Knights of Columbus-Maharlika Council, Parents and Youth, Families and Friends in Action, United People of Colour, Philippine Barangay Association of Toronto, Lucena City Association of Toronto, Leyteno Association of Ontario and others indicated their support for the barely-started Justice for Jeffrey Reodica Coalition.

A strong statement condemning police brutality and supporting the Coalition was issued by 17 organizations from Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Montreal and Ottawa. (See page 12, June 16-30, 2004 issue.) A demonstration (June 10) in support of the family and the Coalition was held at Queen’s Park and in front of the police headquarters in downtown Toronto by the Coalition Against War and Racism, Young Left, Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, Pueblo Unido and Philippine Network for Justice and Peace. Prominent Black leader Dudley Laws was a main speaker at this rally. The day before, on June 9, a Prayer Vigil for Jeffrey Reodica attended by about 300 people was held by the Coalition and supported by groups from other communities.

Thousands of signatures in support of the petitions were gathered either through a website or personally by volunteers for the campaign. Thousands of dollars so far have been donated to the Reodica family-initiated Memorial Trust Fund for Jeffrey. Politicians and candidates for the June 28 federal elections signed the petitions. One of them donated money.

I’ve never seen a campaign gather so much support in a very short time. This phenomenon has led many community leaders to observe that this is the time to unite the various organizations and build a strong advocacy group that will tackle similar issues that concern the community as a whole. So far what we have are either community centers, independence day-related commit-tees or councils, media, business, student-youth, cultural or dance groups, regional, provincial or even town-oriented associations that are concerned with sectoral or professional interests. What we don’t have is a broad-based community-wide federation-like coalition or alliance that encompasses all these groups, one that would stand up in times like these and fight tooth and nail for the rights and interests of the community.
It is not enough to express indignation at the injustice done to Jeffrey Reodica. It is not enough to sign petitions and donate some money. We need our leaders to come forward now and lead this campaign. We need old and new leaders to exercise leadership in this campaign and in the building up of a truly strong advocacy coalition.
And the urgent need is not just to limit ourselves to the singular issue of justice for Jeffrey. That is the leading issue and the Coalition should not stop until that is achieved. But the Coalition should have a broad perspective, that is, to serve and champion the underlying interests of the community as a whole. For the Coalition to limit itself to a single issue, no matter how strong and appealing, is to run the risk of being sectarian. Can a broad-based alliance of groups be realistically sustained unless those groups find their common and specific interests served by their united efforts? How long and how far can unity be sustained by an issue that came out of a single incident?

Leaders and concerned individuals who had readily supported the justice campaign did so because they were outraged by the brutal shooting of Jeffrey. Many of them expressed anxiety over the possibility it could also happen to their children. It’s no longer a case of “It’s unfortunate and sad” but one of “This can happen to my kids. Let’s do something to prevent this from happening again.” It has become a community concern. It’s not only about a single act that took Jeffrey’s life. It’s about the flaws in the police system that put our children’s lives at risk.

To emphasize this, I can draw a similarity between the issue of Jeffrey and that of Ninoy Aquino. Aquino’s assassination produced the slogan “Justice for Aquino, Justice for All” and triggered a wave of mass actions that led to the EDSA uprising that toppled the Marcos dictatorship. Until now, the masterminds of the Aquino assassination have not been identified in a legal court but that incident led to changes that went far beyond seeking justice in the Aquino murder. And the whole nation benefited from the political changes that came after. What about the execution of Jose Rizal? Were the colonial rulers of the Philippines in 1896 who ordered his execution ever been prosecuted? But didn’t the Luneta martyrdom serve as a turning point for the Philippine Revolution that swept away the more than three decades-old Spanish colonial regime?

I may be stretching the similarities too far here. But my point is that the significance and potential of the Jeffrey campaign for justice go far beyond legal justice. If our leaders in the community don’t realize this, then maybe we don’t really deserve to advance politically as a community.

A good example of our political immaturity is the fact that right here in Toronto in the run up to the federal elections of June 28, a good number of Filipinos were seen feverishly campaigning for opposing candidates in various ridings. Couldn’t we even talk and decide which party best supports our community interests? Are we even aware that we have community interests?

Maybe we need more punishment, insult and humiliation before we realize that we are politically marginalized because of our naivete. Was it Nick Joaquin who said that our people are hopeless gluttons for punishment? Sad to say, but is there really truth to the saying that you shouldn’t throw pearls to hogs?