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Back in fighting form

I woke up with a jolt, feeling utterly strange. Unfamiliar room, unfamiliar people, unfamiliar language. A buzzer sounded twice, and a nurse entered. She checked my blood pressure and asked how I was. The television set in the room was showing the morning news: President Duterte was insisting on ending the ceasefire with the Communist Party of the Philippines.

A maelstrom of unfamiliarity again surged through me. It was all too much to take in.

“What date is it?” I remember asking the nurse.

“Feb. 22, Monday,” she replied.

February? I was supposed to take a flight back to Manila on Jan. 31. I touched my neck. There were sutures on both sides, just below my jaw.

I was in a hospital, I realized. Almost a month since my last memory — of me going to Lake Sebu in Mindanao to talk to campus journalists about the fight for free education. I turned to the people accompanying me in the hospital for a recounting of what had happened.

I was involved in a near-fatal accident on the way to the airport in General Santos City at dawn on Jan. 31, 2017. The driver of the vehicle that was taking me to the airport was speeding and missed a curve on the road in the town of Surallah in South Cotabato, crashing hard against a wall and flinging me head first at the dashboard.

My jaw was cracked, I had bleeding in the brain, and I was in a coma for a few days. I regained consciousness around the second week of February, but I was still in a very confused and unstable state, with only the faintest memory of that tragic event.

I was cleared to return to Manila in the first week of March 2017. I returned home — the first time in three years. I live with my aunt and uncle as both of my parents are dead. But I wasn’t able to come home for years as I went on to dedicate all of my days as a full-time activist.

What I loved most was mornings at home. My uncle, always the practical thinker, often advised me on financial matters. In between bites during breakfast, he advised me on financial prudence, just like in the good old days. Meanwhile, late at night, my aunt often checked on me in my room to see if I was asleep.
Other nights, my cousins peered in, too, to check if I was sleeping comfortably. These small gestures reminded and assured me that despite my long absence, I still have a family.

I lost part of the left side of my skull and could barely walk, but I was quick to return to my usual glib self. I suffered short-term memory loss until early April, and though I could remember everything before the accident, I could not make new memories.

Friends and family frequently visited, yet I could not really remember the details of their visit. Thanks to social media, I was able to keep records of their visits by posting photos. This was the time when the antimartial law call “Never Forget” assumed a lot more meaning for me.

My recovery was practically a result of collective action. From the doctors to all the people who cared for me, they devoted time and effort to help me survive my ordeal. My recovery
period proved to me that despite everything, yes, it is still a beautiful world.

As 2017 passed, I could not help but try to remain involved in the causes I fervently fought for. I wanted to fight the deafening silence associated with the convalescence period. When my doctors finally allowed me to travel again, I tried to do what I could to help. At first I was only able to do visits and short talks, but I maximized my time to offer advice to those who wanted and needed it.

In fact, before the beginning of the congressional deliberations on the national budget, I was able to advise — as I have done in the past years — the Makabayan bloc of legislators on the ills of the bloated appropriation for 2018.

I met with then Secretaries Judy Taguiwalo of the Department of Social Welfare and Development and Rafael Mariano of the Department of Agrarian Reform to criticize points in their budget proposals. To return to what I love the most — studying pages and pages of figures—was an essential part of my healing process. To drown in data again was an exhilarating experience, something that the strongest medicines I have taken were not able to achieve.

As I struggled through recovery last year, I also witnessed how the Duterte administration moved to consolidate power. I witnessed firsthand how the politically insane has now become politically possible.

I was there when the Commission on Appointments refused to confirm Mariano as agrarian reform secretary. I was there when the youth activists dubbed as “Kabataan 8” were jailed for conducting a lightning rally just as Congress gave its blessing to the declaration of martial law in Mindanao.

With Mr. Duterte’s tirades and bad policy decisions — from schemes seemingly meant to destroy political opponents to brash disregard for human rights — I often doubt the reality in which I am living. I often pinch myself to reassure myself that I am out of coma, that what’s in the news is actually happening. Mr. Duterte’s surreal acts made it difficult for me to believe that I am indeed alive, and not in some alternate universe.

The unfolding events may have been unprecedented, but to borrow words from a British TV series, it’s not much of a surprise but an inevitability.

Inevitably, too, I have been able to return, this time to help lead students walk out of their classes in protest of government policies. To march on the Palace with a crowd of new young faces may feel unfamiliar, but it is also awe-inspiring. Ultimately, this is what I am thankful for in surviving the accident—that I am alive to fight another day.

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Marjohara Tucay, 26, is the national president of Kabataan party-list.

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