Mine was a generation mostly uncertain and finding its footing in the political landscape. Done with whatever EDSA euphoria we inherited from our elders, apathy was the word used to describe us teenagers, also called generation X, who were in the University in the late ‘90s. We knew of how Marcos had stopped Voltes V from showing on TV, we knew of classmates in grade school whose fathers and mothers were in jail because of Marcos. But much of it – at least to me – was stuff for elders.
Until Ninoy Aquino was murdered on that tarmac in 1983, and my eight-year old self realized that it was huge because my mother was sad and my grandfather was waving around a huge yellow Laban sign to every helicopter that would fly over their house in Mandaluyong. We lived in Quezon City at the time, a stone’s throw away from Sto. Domingo Church where Ninoy would be brought at some point; an Uncle was part of the August 21 Movement, and ATOM would become part of Sunday lunch conversations. In 1986, after the Snap Elections, my father and I took a walk to Sto. Domingo Church one evening during the counting of votes, and it looked to my young self like a street party, with food and music and camaraderie and laughter.
I realize now that this was the first time I saw what freedom is like.
By the time I was in college, Cory had already finished her six-year term and what I knew of current events was limited to the many attempted coups d’ etat that she had survived. In 1995, as a freshman in UP, what was a measure of good – and relevant – writing was that of Jessica Zafra. There was the music of the Eraserheads and FrancisM, there were the rom-coms of Regine Velasquez, there was Robin Padilla as the drool-worthy bad boy who would get jailed and come out a believer of Islam.
If pop culture was any indication, then we truly were in deep shit. There was not much going on as far as intelligent discourse was concerned, and while we pretended we were not apathetic, anyone who was in the State U would know it to be true. We were the batch that had to deal with one Argee Guevara independently running for Chairperson of the University Student Council (USC), banking on the fact that the studentry did not understand what was going on with the activists.
And I do mean seeing one Richard Gappi walking the hallways with a megaphone, screaming about some issue or other, his daring premised on his being alone. And lest I be censured by the younger angrier activists of these times, let it be made clear that this is a personal experience of ‘90s University activism. It was a time when it was unclear why the two parties running for USC had the same name save for an appendage: SAMASA versus SAMASA-TMMA, with the latter acronym standing for Tunay Militante Makabayang Alyansa. And contrary to the present’s reckoning of the ‘90s, as someone who was actually there, let me tell you that it was hella confusing.
It was a confusion that someone like Argee was taking advantage of. Later on, when he had lost that election, we would hear about how it was an experiment: had he won, he would’ve proven that the iskolars ng bayan were truly apathetic. That he lost was telling of how we still cared – at least enough to elect more credible candidates. The faulty experiment aside, one would be hard put to prove that apathy was not what reigned in the State U, or what ailed this generation of iskolars ng bayan. At some point I would find myself walking voluntarily into the League of Filipino Students (LFS) tambayan, and would keep one foot in for a good stretch of time.
I do not doubt that I would’ve understood better what was going on then had I gone in full throttle. But to me that time was about an urgent need I knew I wasn’t capable of filling. There were too few student activists and too many issues to grapple with. I joined in the rallies for issues I strongly believed in, like stopping the commercialization of UP (now happening as exemplified by the Ayala’s Technohub and Town Center among many other projects).
There was the call to boycott SM in support of the workers’ strike against inhumane labor conditions. In one discussion over lunch I said aloud that the boycott could work, because wasn’t there that huge boycott pre-EDSA 1986 that had us all eating Selecta instead of Magnolia? Drinking Pepsi instead of Coke? And no San Miguel Beer for our parents?
What I got were quizzical looks and silence. My uncertainty continued. ***