WHEN I WAS in high school, Ninoy Aquino was killed. That was a turning point for the nation, but I did not realize it very well then. I was 15 when it happened, and like any teenager I was immersed in my own angst and self-understanding. The only action I wanted was in my love life. I barely knew who Ninoy was.
Everyone else around me seemed disturbed, however, and that bothered me. I began to understand that if I did not find out what the trouble was, I would be caught up in it regardless. I had the ominous sense that if I played deaf and blind, I would live to regret it. There are certain things we simply cannot avoid, no matter how we try. There are matters that are inescapable. Duty to country is one of them.
So, at 15, I woke up.
In my family, which is more politically aware than most, it was hard to keep dozing under those circumstances. I walked 5 kilometers to Sales Bridge near Nichols Air Base from my house to watch Ninoy’s bier pass by; I walked along with it until I could see it no more; I walked home tired but changed. The bloodied corpse atop that truck imprinted on me an image I would never unsee. At that moment I grasped the concreteness of it all. This was a real person; his blood – it was real; that family behind the truck, real; the grief was real; the possibility that it might be my Father, his blood, my family next – real. Action was inevitable.
I watched my elders join protest actions, and I saw in horror how senior citizens like Chino Roces and Lorenzo Tañada Sr. were assaulted with tear gas and water cannons. Yet they held the line. They marched forward. They led.
I was inspired. I did what I could. I joined village noise barrages. I threw confetti from my Dad’s 8th floor Ayala Avenue office window. In 1984, as a freshman in UP, I joined mass actions. Unknown to my parents, I marched to Mendiola and faced tear bombs and water cannons also. I learned how to douse a bandanna in calamansi juice and water and tie it around my mouth and nose to diffuse the gas. I learned how to dodge a blast of sewer water. I had to do what I had to do because we had to trounce a dictator. My future was at stake.
Eventually, at EDSA, we made a final stand. We succeeded. Now, 32 years later, I’m having to do it all over again.
It’s harder this time. There’s social media, and people get to rant safely. When folks get frustrated, they can cuss out someone they don’t like online and chill on Netflix afterwards. When they’re outraged, they post an angry message with a proper visual to make people read it. Otherwise, netizens won’t even check it out. Such are the rules of socmed engagement. Folks are snide, snarky, smart-alecky, sarcastic – the more, the better, the larger a following they get. One loses touch with the real world, though it is in the real world that the more grievous injustices occur. There is a lot of online activism, but there is also a great deal of hesitation about taking the “fight” outside.
Yet it must be taken outside. Sitting it out is not an option. Our institutions are being systematically dismantled. The checks provided by the Constitution are being eroded by the very branches of government that should conduct them. The Legislature and now the Judiciary are being gradually co-opted by the Executive with their full cooperation and in full public view. If we do not object, we will soon find that we have lost our territory, our rights, our freedoms, and our sovereignty.
Those of us who give a hoot have been raising heck about this for two years. Many remain asleep. Among those who understand, several are reluctant to speak out. Less are willing to act. Someone told me, “Toka mo na kami dyan sa rally ha,” as if protesting in the heat were my day job. As if it were possible to eject a tyrant by proxy. I don’t get it. I really don’t.
Those of us who have been in the streets week in and week out for the past several months are doing it for us all, but you must join us. We are not your stand-ins. Our jobs and bank accounts are no less expendable than yours; our families no less precious. Someone told me, “I will give you the documents and you write about them because, you know, I have kids and you don’t. You have nothing to lose.” I am not worthless because I have no children. You are not indispensable because you do.
We are all in this together. If you do not stand with us now, you will lose what we do. You cannot preserve what you did not defend; you cannot enjoy what you did not protect. It is now or never. If you grieve the thousands killed; if you value the rule of law; if judicial independence means something to you; if you feel the Constitution should not be massacred; if you do not want another Marcos in power; if you care about the integrity of our institutions, if you prefer democracy to warlordism; if you don’t want us to become a province of China; if you are worried about the plunging economy…WAKE UP. TAKE RESPONSIBILITY. DO YOUR PATRIOTIC DUTY. STAND IN THE STREETS WITH US. INDIFFERENCE IS NOT AN OPTION.
For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” – Esther 4:14