I’VE HAD TROUBLE sleeping since November 18 when Marcos was surreptitiously interred, but when I got home after the November 30 protest rally at the People Power Monument, I slept like a baby.
Not only because I was tired, having stood and shaken my fist and shouted my throat hoarse from 4 till 10 pm, but mainly because for the first time since Duterte was elected president, I felt hope rise again.
I admit that I’ve had a low view of millennials for a while. Being a Gen X-er, I put it down to the inevitable process of aging. I’ve noticed that generation gap we used to complain about open between my contemporaries and the millennials in a widening yawn. I’m nearly 50 now, and it’s been about a decade since I’ve ceased to understand these kids. Though I’ve tried to appreciate their ways, I’ve found myself saying “In my day, we didn’t…” or “In my day, we did…” by default, always implying, of course, that “in my day” we handled things better.
These millennials appeared to me too self-absorbed – narcissistic, apathetic, emotionally distant, mentally lethargic, withdrawn, socio-politically numb. For us martial law babies who grew up in the crucible of the fight for freedom, justice, truth, and the right to our own future, the millennials seemed to be spoiled children with an exaggerated sense of entitlement. We admitted that this was partially our fault, for they are our children. But even so, we were frustrated by their postmodernity.
On November 30, however, I had an epiphany. I went there expecting to join a gaggle of EDSA I graduates who hauled themselves there, as I did, to make a second stand (or at least begin to, and shocked that we had to!). And indeed, there they were in jeans and t-shirts and sensible shoes fit for running, in case things got tense. But also there were these young people in fashionista gear (that I suppose was their “rally OOTD”) which included little sling bags and crazy footwear that would not take them six feet from a cop with a truncheon if things got bad. And they wore make up.
But never mind. They were there, and they brought placards that told everyone what was on their mind. They brought their curiosity and their outrage; they brought their snide humor and sarcasm. They brought their vivacity. But more than that, what warmed this old fogey’s heart was the humility they bore as well.
As evening fell, Jim Paredes led the crowd in singing “Handog ng Pilipino sa Mundo.” Before he began, he called a bunch of “old warriors” – EDSA I veterans – onstage and with them, he addressed the millennials, saying, “We are passing the torch to you.” Then the music played. Many of us who had fought the Marcos dictatorship wept as we sang along. As we opened the third stanza, Paredes asked us to switch on our cellphone flashlights, and as the darkness lit up with a myriad points of brightness, he shouted over the din, “WE ARE PASSING THE TORCH TO YOU!” I was shooting footage and as I turned to record the lights, I saw a young lady behind me break down in tears. It struck me that she was overwhelmed by the realization of what we had done in 1986. She gave me pause; I looked at the other millennials – many were not singing, they did not know the lyrics, but they were watching us belt out the song like a school anthem and I think I recognize now what was in their eyes. It was respect.
I was tired by 7:30 but for some reason I didn’t feel like leaving. I was waiting for something, I didn’t know what. It was around 8 pm when a group of student leaders from leading colleges and universities and some high schools took the stage. They commanded our attention. What a bunch of bright young kids they were, some stumbling over their Filipino (“Isang masigasig na gabi sa inyong lahat!” “Tutol kami sa pagburol kay Marcos!”), but communicating without effort their fervent commitment to carry that torch.
Then there was PJ, a senior high school student from UST. Merely 17, he spoke like a warrior, promising to carry on the fight against the past dictator and wage a fierce campaign against any future ones. What capped the night for me was PJ’s touching encomium to us who stood against Marcos before and during EDSA. My memory is not what it used to be and I cannot recall his speech verbatim. But I know PJ said this: “Maraming salamat po sa inyo, na dahil sa inyong pagmamalasakit ay nagkaroon kami ng kalayaan. ‘Wag po kayong mag-alala, papangalagaan po namin ang inyong pinaglaban, at ipagpapatuloy po namin ang laban para sa hustisya at tunay na demokrasya.”
I was standing right in front of the stage, and as PJ descended, I called him and shook his hand. I had to. I told him, “Thank you. I was 16 when I started fighting the dictatorship. I was 19 when I went to EDSA. Please, carry on the fight. May edad na kami. Kayo naman ang lumaban, hijo.” To which he replied, “Salamat po sa lahat ng ginawa ninyo. Makakaasa po kayo, itutuloy namin ito.”
I’ve been sleeping well for days.
Then Moses went out and spoke these words to all Israel: “I am now a hundred and twenty years old and I am no longer able to lead you. 7 Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the presence of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the Lord swore to their ancestors to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance. 8 The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”
– Deuteronomy 31:1-2, 7-8