This piece appeared on Rappler today. I’m posting the unedited (colorful) version here, for those of you who don’t follow Philippine news. This is really just a love letter dedicated to a feisty group of ladies (and their sole male companion) whose one friend set a date to protest–if you know them, hug them for me. They proved me wrong about people’s apathy for politics.
Finding the path toward writing this was difficult but I’m happy to have written it as it proves Joan Didion’s point:
Something about a situation will bother me, so I will write a piece to find out what it is that bothers me.
Not quite sure of outcomes yet–we can never speak of revolutions and protests immediately after they occur but my hope is that these words help remind me of a responsibility to remember and act. That’s all I hope for at this moment.
It’s difficult to discuss what Monday means immediately after the fact. I feel like a traveler does upon arriving home with dirt on her boots, notebooks full of thoughts and a mind stirring with questions. Where have I been? What have I seen? What perspectives have changed? And where would I like to go next? Nevertheless, I cannot deny the journey its impressions so here it goes:
First, I cannot begin to understand how quickly events took place leading up to the 26th. I remember it being Sunday when we broke bread with a few friends and sat to discuss a scandal. The agreement we had, after having aired out our disgust and helplessness in the face of Corruption was just to meet. We hadn’t even set a date for when we would regroup.
I was asked then if I would join the Luneta move and I said no, vehemently. “Why protest? What for? We already know that systems screw us over and yet our history with protests has always been a set of attempts geared at rendering specific leaders impotent. Yadayada.” I was also wary of who orchestrated the march. It seemed too easy, bereft of real meaning, and therefore empty in the quest for societal transformation.
But then, the sincerity of the lady who initiated the move appealed to me. She just wanted to have a picnic in Luneta and discuss issues with her nearest and dearest—Facebook be damned for inviting everyone else to the party. It was a small move, one I recognized immediately to have great impact because essentially, big things happen through small acts.
My head was reeling. I thought of the basic building blocks that formed political ideologies: thought and action. Something happens, therefore we think and conversely, we think and things happen. Something was happening all right, therefore, wasn’t this a moment worth dwelling on? My musings made me write a long, late-night note to colleagues and former teachers in Ateneo. I just asked them if they would consider joining the Luneta march—not immediately as lobbyists, but just as teachers who could use this moment to expose students and engage them in a discussion. Simple. No frills. It was just a picnic after all. I slept mildly embarrassed by this crude suggestion that completely betrayed all the sophisticated Political Science jargon I had mastered as an undergrad.
The next day my devices didn’t stop beeping. We were making plans to meet and I thought, “Okay, that’s all we can really hope for right now. People won’t want to conduct teach-ins, others won’t reply. It’s okay. Just agree to meet and see what happens.”
Things changed shortly after. There were countless discussions on structures and the systemic nature of corruption that immediately appealed to me—it convinced others, too, of the importance of joining the Monday march against Pork Barrel. The issue had clearly become a springboard for understanding the mechanisms of corruption and everyone seemed engaged in fighting for this cause. Fantastic, I thought.
This was more than I hoped for, honestly.
Without casting a doubt over the significance of Monday’s proceedings, I have to say that, for me, it was only an event—one that I enjoyed being a part of, definitely, but as in humor, my sense was that the punch line came much earlier. The fire that ought to have been kindled by this assembly of people at Luneta was already burning by the time I got to the field. I was already moved without having to attend the movement. It was truly a buzz-kill.
Monday, Monday, Monday, what were you really about?
I watched protesters arrive in waves while shy individuals awkwardly stood around, avoiding my gaze. I had never attended demonstrations where individuals were encouraged to come alone. It’s so uncharacteristic of us as a people to not travel in packs, to not think as a collective. Yet, here it was. People were thinking for themselves and acting independently of others. They marched with a firm hold on their ideals, dressing in their own version of protest-chic. They each contributed a personality to the demonstration revealing that no single face would launch the proverbial thousand ships.
Reading their jokes (written on placards or performed), I no longer felt so bad about having to be the butt of one of life’s own pranks. I laughed heartily instead at the subtle yet in-your-face subversion that Filipinos are so good at staging. It’s so much fun until it hurts in your gut—how Pinoy, isn’t it? We disguise profound heartaches in witticisms we can all enjoy now and muse on later.
Over the past week, I have noted that change is afoot. This protest has been a great point of convergence, linking different perspectives in pursuit of common goals. I am convinced now that things can be done to remedy society’s ills for as long as we dare to DO and are not paralyzed by the fear of our own capacity to alter the course of history.
Last Monday, before all of you trooped to Luneta, I stood over the muddy terrain resembling a sty. It was dark and damp, altogether unpleasant. Yet, as dawn broke and Rizal’s likeness emerged from a distance, I understood that inasmuch as this day was meant to celebrate his legacy, it was also intended for us to create our own.