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Dec 22, 2003 06:51 # 18246
I got this accepted for publication by a group publishing an anthology of different perspectives on the 2001 people power revolution here in the philippines where we overthrew our president, Erap Estrada.
kind of cheesy and my girlfriend and soon-to-be-wife complains that i made her sound like a bimbo. oh well. it's not a masterpiece, but my publisher says it's not bad for political propaganda purposes.
Love in the Time of Erap
I owe to Erap my entire love life.
I was a twenty-one year old instructor at the UP teaching communication and humanities courses and I never had a girlfriend. My entire academic life from elementary school to university was a jagged narrative of one rejection to another. In retrospect, I really don’t know why. Perhaps I was ugly. Perhaps I was a loser. Perhaps I was cursed. But the magic of the night of all EDSA II nights broke the curse, and now I drink my happiness to Erap the Corrupt, Erap the Fool, Erap the representation of all that was sick in Philippine society.
The night Erap was finally gone from Malacańang, my friends and I decided to celebrate. We met at Trellis and ordered our dinner—sisig and other pork meals to symbolize the disempowerment of Erap the Pig. With me were two very good friends—Sandra Roldan and Baryon Posadas, both also young faculty members of the English Department as I was. Vegetarian Sandra ordered her own meal to avoid eating the meat. She was a fellow believer in national democracy and member of the Congress of Teachers/Educators for Nationalism and Democracy (CONTEND). She was more than happy to see the fall of Erap, oppressor of the poor in benefactor’s clothing. Agnostic Baryon’s politics was vague to me, but he cared enough about the country to want the blatantly corrupt number one man to go.
“What’s taking Lorie so long?” asked Sandra.
“She’ll be here soon,” Baryon nonchalantly answered. Tonight we were happy, and so we kept the conversation going with me sipping my Pale Pilsen, Baryon his San Mig Light, and Sandra her wine.
And then she came, Maria Lorena Santos in her brown spaghetti-strapped shirt and long, brown skirt. Under the moonlight, her flowing, waist-long hair seemed to me as alive and vibrant as the night. Maybe the magic of the night was beginning to take its effect on me. Maybe I was starting to get drunk.
“Hi, Lorie,” greeted Sandra.
“Your hair,” I started dreamily, “there’s something about it, I don’t know. It’s beautiful.”
“Okay,” Lorie replied, flattered and confused at the same time.
“Are you hitting on Lorie?” Baryon asked.
I went back to my beer and smiled.
Lorie was also a colleague at the English Department. In fact, we went way back. Back in college, we were classmates in medieval lit, in early Philippine lit, and in the mandatory Rizal course. There might have been some attraction then, but aside from the occasional bantering over funny sexual themes in Chaucer, nothing ever came out of it. I was madly in love with a certain French-speaking, Catholic girl who would, like everybody else, break my heart, while Lorie was involved with someone else. At any rate, it would never have worked out then. She’d be blasted by my evangelical org mates for her anti-religion stance and I’d be blasted by her pseudo-cool, literary enthusiast friends for being so square. We graduated at the same time. In fact, she was a couple of seats away from me in our college graduation. I figured we’d never see each other again and that was that.
It was therefore a surprise when I discovered that she’d be teaching at the department, too. We hung around in the same barkada of young faculty members. Those were the days—with me, her, Baryon Posadas, Sandra Roldan, Massie Santos, Dante Gagelonia, and Yvette Tan. Within two years, only Lorie and Sandra would still be teaching—the rest would either be retrenched or would resign as a result of department politics. But two years would be a long time, and for the moment we were having fun. Ours were days of teaching, designing and preparing lessons, and checking tons of paper and nights of drinking at Big Sky, discussing religion, politics, and critical theory.
But as we reveled in our small world, trouble was brewing outside. President Erap, who won by a landslide in the previous election through pro-poor slogans, was now imposing anti-poor policies. Macho Man Erap felt popular support for him was so high that he could get away with anything. He brought the presence of the American military back by pushing for the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). He crushed any hope for peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) by attacking their camps—during a period of ceasefire! He was getting tough on mass demonstrations that only reflected the frustration of the awakened poor. And all the while, evidences of corruption and negligence in his government were leaking into popular awareness.
Some cold mornings before my 8:30 a.m. class, I would have breakfast with Lorie at the Faculty Center basement. Any chance for sending romantic signals would be crushed by my need to talk about national politics. If there was anything that Lorie wasn’t into, it was my politics and my religion.
“I’m really not into rallies,” she started once during breakfast. “I don’t see the point and they often just lead to violence. I don’t understand how a Christian like you could support mass actions like that. Weren’t you taught to just pray and ‘turn the other cheek’?”
“Nothing wrong with praying,” I replied. “But I don’t think the Church should just sit around while evil is growing. What did the Church do when Hitler was growing? Nothing. And what did American Christians do to stop their country from going to or sponsoring wars? Nothing. And what did some Filipino pastors do when Marcos declared martial law? They praised the Lord and said at last the communists would be eradicated! I mean, enough of this political neutrality! The kingdom of God is at war with sin, and sin is not just an individual condition but a sickness of our social orders that leads to oppression and suffering. To fight against the oppression of the poor is the church’s battle. Where others just see structure and superstructure, I see the prince of evil ruling over a fallen, cannibalistic world order.”
“Okay,” she smiled, freaked out by my preaching.
I sounded like a fanatic and I knew I turned her off. But what could I do? I was passionate about the topic. And perhaps, unconsciously, I wanted her to know that I was beginning to have a growing passion for someone, too.
That wasn’t the last time I’d encounter Lorie’s question. During the time when student and workers’ rallies were erupting all over, I would sometimes cancel class to encourage students to attend. The rallies were becoming more powerful. For some reason, we were getting a lot of media coverage.
To me, it was odd and surprising. Usually, the media wouldn’t touch rallies with a ten-foot pole. Governments like to create the myth that their country is okay and that dissent is only coming from an insignificant minority. Ignoring anti-government rallies is the media’s share in propagating this myth. As far as I remember, students and workers could scream their voices hoarse in front of Malacańang, but they wouldn’t get media coverage during the Ramos presidency.
But now, it was evident that something was up in the political and social atmosphere, something big. It was so big, in fact, that the media could no longer ignore the ever-increasing mass actions of students, workers, and even professionals like teachers. All over the country, the frustration of the angry masses was seeping more than ever into family living rooms. Images of unarmed students and even teachers being dragged, truncheoned, or sprayed with water from a fire truck hose were being broadcast nationwide almost every night where previously only a few streets could witness police brutality live.
Still, when I cancelled class, a student asked, “What’s the use?”
“What do you mean?” I asked back, a bit unnerved.
“I mean,” she began, “nothing ever comes out of it. You can scream all day, but those in power will still do what they want to do. The VFA still pushed through and MILF settlements will still be bombed.”
“The effects of mass actions may be unapparent in the beginning,” I replied, “but it will serve its purpose.”
“Which is to communicate to those in power their errors. We live supposedly in a democracy. We are accountable to our leaders because we put them there in positions of power, but who are they accountable to? They’re accountable to us. And it’s up to us to wake them up when what they’re doing no longer serves the interests of the very people who elected them and whom they are supposed to represent.”
“But it doesn’t work.”
“You don’t know that it doesn’t. And there’s another purpose.”
“Most people live blissfully unaware of the issues around them until it’s too late. Government policies are assumed to be good and those who beg to differ are assumed to be evil dissidents and potential terrorists. But when people hear legitimate grievances on TV-covered rallies, they may start to re-think their positions. And when people see thin, unarmed students getting banged up by truncheon-wielding policemen hiding behind shields, they may begin to empathize with the ‘evil dissidents’ and realize that true evil may lie after all in the power of the police state. I mean, they may start thinking, ‘Why is this unarmed student standing his ground despite his obvious disadvantage? There must be something in the principles he fights for to keep him going.’”
“I don’t know, sir,” my student shook her head. “When I saw that on TV, what I thought was, ‘Why don’t they ever learn? It’s useless and they’re getting hurt for no reason.’”
I shook my head helplessly. I had power in my classroom—power over ideas—but I wasn’t God. I had my limitations.
To my credit, I made sure my English class was interesting by connecting it to the real world out there even if I had to make wild connections. Like the time we were talking about synonyms and antonyms. I pointed out that antonyms could sometimes become fabricated lies. Antonyms divided the world into light and darkness, good and evil, order and chaos. And so when we become conditioned to think that communism is the antonym of democracy, we connect the former to evil, darkness, and chaos while democracy represents good, light, and order. But communists are very much concerned about democratic rights. From their point of view, they are fighting for a truer version of democracy. But popular education has led us to believe that democracy and communism are polar opposites.
Another time, I was reviewing denotation and connotation. I pointed out that connotations could justify murder. See, denotation was the dictionary meaning of a word while connotation was any concept that popular imagination has connected with it. So the denotation of darkness is the absence of light and its connotation is evil or despair. But what happens when the media keeps connecting two concepts so one becomes an inevitable connotation of the other? For example, Muslim and terrorist. The media was so full of stories concerning “Muslim terrorists.” Why specify Muslim? It’s not like they ever talked about “Christian terrorists.” During Erap’s time, the constant repetition in papers and on air of the term “Muslim terrorist” was messing with our collective psyche so that terrorism became a connotation of Islam. Muslim equals terrorist. And so when Erap launched his ill-advised war against the MILF, I was surprised by the number of people on the street who supported his massacre.
But this was all I could do. Weave ideas to teach what I believed to be true. And so when my student insisted that mass actions were useless, I didn’t argue anymore. I let the class go and no longer expected to see any of them at the rally. I had been a student, too, and I had done my best to resist know-it-all professors. Other students were already on the streets and I needed to join them. As for my students, I have done all I could. I have taught them that antonyms could lie and connotations could kill.
Erap’s offenses against the Filipino people kept coming, pushing us into a deeper and deeper state of despair and disillusion. On the night Erap’s cohorts in his impeachment trial at the Senate won the vote to keep “the envelope” closed, the country could take no more. The rest was EDSA II history.
The next few days were a blur. I was mostly with my barkada. They weren’t the type to attend rallies, but we stayed when we could. We joined the throng of people at the EDSA shrine and listened to anti-Erap speeches. We cheered whenever we heard new updates, like when Erap came on TV and said the envelope containing the Jose Velarde accounts would be opened once the Filipino people dispersed. His position was weakening and he knew it. The people did not disperse and screamed “Erap Resign!” Even Gavroche, Lorie’s cocker spaniel, was there. The dog was being walked with an “Erap Resign!” bandana tied around his neck
I even saw some of my students there. Months later, my student who told me rallies were useless would shift from biology to sociology. She was going to be a doctor, but something must have made her change her mind.
And so we sat when we could, as if in a national picnic, and stood when there was no space. When we got hungry, we went inside the mall just beside the shrine and got a bite. Then we would come out again and stay there till late in the evening. New people would be coming by the time we left. We would return the next day.
One evening, Lorie and I returned to the rally after dinner. We got uncomfortable with all the standing around. Instead of looking for seats inside the mall, we went inside the shrine. There weren’t too many people inside praying. In fact, the calm silence inside the shrine was a direct contrast to what was going on outside. We sat. Inspired by the house of God, I started to preach again about God and revolution to my single captive audience. But she wasn’t being turned off, and soon I shut up.
For a moment we sat in silence. Without even looking at each other we felt absolutely connected. Perhaps the all-consuming heat of the national fever drew us together. Perhaps the same, unmistakable sense of unity that removed barriers of class and background among the people removed personal barriers of insecurity between us. Perhaps it was the sense of power, the sense of creating something new as we stood on the brink of deposing a traitor, that made us see that we could create new possibilities for ourselves. It was the sort of mystical experience that would not have been possible in simple, day-to-day meetings among routine classes and drinks. We would have met every single day at the department, just on the verge of making that jump but not quite, and everything would be the same. But tonight, by the time I took her home and left, something was different between us.
And so on the night of our celebration, on the night Erap was gone from the palace, the four of us—Baryon, Sandra, Lorie, and I—went to the Adriatico Circle in Manila. We just found a spot and sat on the ground, sharing a bottle of wine to drink to the future of the Philippines. Under the stars, Lorie and I leaned against each other. Two years later, I would propose marriage to her on this very spot. But tonight, we were tentative and unsure.
We retired in Baryon’s house. We got drunk some more and then we all slept on bean bags in the living room. I slept beside Lorie and I held her hand. Earlier we all got sentimental because of too much alcohol and started talking about old flames. I cut off the conversation by screaming, “This is pathological! You guys are all in love with an absence!”
My words struck a chord in everyone, but especially in Lorie. She snuck towards the living room and curled on a bean bag. I lay myself beside her and held her hand. I told her it was going to be okay. I was there. And after all, we’ve already kicked out a president. We could do anything. I was so drunk I fell asleep holding her hand. I woke up for a moment in the middle of the night and, thinking she was asleep, kissed her hand, and then fell asleep again. When morning came, she was still holding my hand. Later on she would tell me that she was awake the whole time. She couldn’t sleep because I was snoring.
As I write this, it has been almost three years since the EDSA II people power revolution. I’m now working as a freelance writer while Lorie is still teaching at UP Diliman. Lorie and I are getting married in less than six months, and Gloria Arroyo, having betrayed the hopes of her people who catapulted her into power, will probably lose the upcoming elections. In this land, we will raise our family through many national administrations to come. Despite the discouraging state of affairs, we feel safe here. Lorie has her classroom and I have my word processor. We know from experience that this country has the guts and the spirit to rise up and defend the future of our children and our children’s children.
“To God, there is no zero. I still exist.” Scott Carey, The Incredible Shrinking Man
This post was edited by childeoftheblood on Dec 22, 2003.
It's kinda hard to believe that everything happened only 3 years ago! Seems more like a lifetime. I'm sooo glad to see that you're still writing and that it's even better than i remember. It's a bit funny that no one seems to remember my friend paul being there at trellis, at edsa and at remedios. Then again, the truths of our memories will always be different.
Mar 06, 2004 06:17 # 20146
Er...Hello, sandra. :-) I didn't realize any of my friends would find me in this site. I kinda liked not personally knowing anyone here and no one personally knowing me.
It's kinda weird how it does feel like so long ago, doesn't it?
As for paul, for the life of me i can't remember his face or what he said or did with us the entire time, but now that you've mentioned it, i do vaguely remember that there was supposed to be someone else there. Weird. A la matrix. Our reality could have been revised and now we just have some residual memory of that destroyed past. Maybe paul was an agent.
“To God, there is no zero. I still exist.” Scott Carey, The Incredible Shrinking Man