It would take me forever to get to the point where I stopped caring about the establishment. The first indication I had that I was coming into my own would ironically happen when I had both my feet in activism, and I was teaching in the Ateneo de Manila University as part of its Department of English.
It was February 2006. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had declared Proclamation 1017, purportedly because of intelligence reports that members of the military were planning to withdraw support from the president, and they would be participating in EDSA 1986 anniversary celebrations. It was the 20th Anniversary of EDSA, and rallies were being violently dispersed. Arrested were UP Professor Randy David and Atty. Argee Guevara (yes, that same Argee from my freshman year in college), but they were released soon after. The same was not true for the real militants.
Ka Crispin Beltran, then a member for Congress for Anakpawis Partylist, was arrested on a 21-year old warrant. Charges of rebellion were filed against Bayan Muna’s Satur Ocampo, Teddy Casiño and Joel Virador, Anakpawis’s Ka Crispin and Rafael Mariano, and Gabriela’s Liza Maza – Congress Representatives all. They were all kept under the protective custody of the House of Representatives, save for Ka Crispin who was detained in Camp Crame.
I was part of CONTEND, the Congress of Teachers and Educators for National Democracy. I was not deep enough in the organization – or hadn’t stayed long enough – to get to know any of those who were being arrested and detained, but I knew enough to realize that the dangers were real: without any above-ground proclamation activists were disappearing and falling victim to summary executions. Imagine what kind of dangers they were under with such a proclamation that was also disallowing rallies, “securing” news channels, arresting people on questionable notions of rebellion, imposing a curfew.
That this happened on the month of EDSA 1986’s anniversary was no coincidence of course. It could have in fact fueled GMA’s paranoia about destabilizers and coup plots. But also it was the first time in 20 years that we were being disallowed from gathering on EDSA to commemorate the four days that led to our freedom from a dictator.
My personal battle was one that came from left field, even as it was about a clearer sense of what freedom means, and what it demands of us, what it entails. It also reminded me that the battle was still that versus apathy, if not blindness.
It was February 26, right smack in the middle of GMA’s Proclamation 1017. I had just come face to face with members of the military brandishing their long firearms at our motley crew of nuns and teachers who dared light candles at the EDSA Shrine after mass in De La Salle Greenhills. I’m talking 10 of us versus about 70 policemen and 5 military men in fatigues. At some point police started shooing us aside and toppling the candles with their boots. Nuns asked: Bakit bawal? Nagsisindi lang naman ng kandila. Martial Law ba ito? The military responded: Bakit kayo nagsisindi ng kandila? Anong ipinagluluksa ninyo? Dapat nga nagsasaya kayo! The nuns started singing religious songs and praying the rosary, and refused to budge. Tonchi Tinio was standing face-to-face with a member of the military, asking him bakit? Bakit bawal? The police took their shields and panghampas. Some started to hit their shields, as if herding sheep. We were afraid. There was no media there, and anything could happen. I was constantly texting Angela, updating her about where I was, what was going on.
I came home that evening to a posting on an egroup I was part of – this was before Facebook killed the yahoogroup. It was the most recent column of a celebrated young writer who was talking about the anniversary of EDSA, celebrating her freedom to write, asserting democracy of the here and now. Quoting an elder writer, she would end by saying how EDSA is a source of pride.
I was aghast. And said as much in response to that posting, detailing what had just happened under GMA’s Martial Law to a group of teachers and nuns who wanted to light candles and pray at the EDSA Shrine. I question the unforgivably sophomoric assessment of what EDSA means, which decontextualizes it from a present where the same freedoms that were fought for were being repressed. It became clear to me then that it is precisely this kind of apolitical writing that had allowed GMA to declare Proclamation 1017 to begin with, this kind of writing that would keep those in power imagining that their versions of Martial Law, and repression, and silencing are valid.
GMA would lift the state of emergency on March 3, a week after she first declared it. A day before that, I would realize how un-free one can be in the midst of the academic and writing establishment, where one’s opinions on current events are enough to threaten your teaching career. ***