Renato Corona materialized out of nowhere and ambled into the crowd before the Quirino Grandstand. Well, he actually materialized from the pit of the Manila Hotel where he had huddled with the usual suspects from the Arroyo camp, able to afford the luxuries of the place from the fat of the land they skimmed in their own time, and ambled into the crowd.
Maybe he thought he would be throwing himself into the welcoming embrace of that crowd. After all he had come to show solidarity with them, despite the fact that he had become the judicial face of the Arroyo camp. After all, he had come to thunder forth against the hated specter of pork, the thing the crowd had gathered there to exorcise. After all, he had been vindicated, as he vowed he would be when he made his tearful goodbye at the end of his impeachment.
Alas, whatever it was he thought would happen when the crowd caught sight of him, he was wrong. He was not cheered, he was not heralded, he was not patted on the back.
He was booed.
It showed quite dramatically how the officials of this country, past and present, missed the point of last Monday’s rally. It wasn’t something out of the past that lent itself to political straightjacketing, to partisan expressions of defense and diatribe, to formulaic expressions of being pro or against government. Corona didn’t get it. Neither did this government.
It was new. It was novel. It was phenomenal.
I got a whiff of it during the weekend when friends kept calling and texting to know how we might meet up at the Luneta that Monday. They did not bother to ask if I was going, they assumed it. They assumed right.
I got there a little late in the morning, Malate had already filled by 10:30. I ended up parking near Robinson’s, on the street beside St. Paul’s, and walking all the way to Luneta. I didn’t mind. It wasn’t just professional curiosity that drove me there, I wanted to be there. As did the people who texted/called me; the eagerness was in their voices, it was in their tones.
That was how I felt this was something new. This was the first time I’d gone to a rally with alacrity and lightness. Not out of duty, but out of wanting to be there. Enough to do a bit of trekking on gouty feet.
The sight of many people I hadn’t seen in quite a while lent a spring to my legs. Some were going in my direction, others were going against it having gone there early on but were already leaving. I hoped I wasn’t too late.
As it turned out, that would be an alien concept—late and early. In the course of the day, people would be coming and going like the ebb and flow of the tide, like the surge and fading of the seasons. On TV and radio, reporters were trying to gauge the size of the crowd, their estimates varying from 50,000 to a hundred thousand. Next day, the newspapers put it at a hundred thousand to a couple of hundred thousand.
It was in fact the hardest thing to do, gauge the size of the crowd. For the simple reason that that size turned out to be variable, turned out to have accordion-like properties. An overhead view of the crowd at one point showed a multitude gathered at the Luneta and the arteries leading to it, which was impressive enough for something that had spread only by word of mouth, by the virus of anger. It was impressive enough, a show of force in national life, a stamping of will on the nation’s destiny. But that wasn’t the wonder of it, that wasn’t the magnificence of it.
What was that the people kept coming and going, swelling and contracting throughout the day.
Almost with no one to lead them, except for the Left, which had planted themselves in a section of the Luneta, in front of Roxas Boulevard reviling government, they were streaming in and out, pitching and huddling in various corners, young and old, rich and poor, men and women and children—yes, children, some had come as whole families—unburdening themselves of the oppression of corruption. It was a fluid permanence, it was a wispy solidity, it was an ever-changing presence.
A musician who wasn’t into marches and political causes told me why she had gone there, which was probably in its myriad variations why a lot of people had gone there. It was the product of two things, she said. One was the capricious decision of the BIR to order all musicians, big time or small time, to do away with their old receipts and buy new booklets. The reason they still had the old receipts, which they had already paid for, was that they were just too many for them to use up. Suddenly, the BIR was ordering them to buy new receipts. What did the tax collectors think, they were rich people, or corrupt officials, who thought nothing of a few thousand bucks?
And then the pork barrel scam came to light. The scale of looting stunned and shocked her, wala nang tinira, the kababuyan was right in your face. Having just been made to pay through her teeth to play music, which was what P5,000 meant to her, it could have paid for her kid’s tuition or school bus, seeing the money going to people who treated it like paper to light a cigar with, something exploded in her mind. The nakawan was no longer something in the distance she could be unconcerned with. It had gotten close.
It had gotten personal.
Ages ago, the public school teachers mounted a strike that government deemed illegal and the education secretary demanded to know the names of their leaders. The teachers answered: “We have only one leader, and his name is Hunger.” It was pretty much the same thing with the march last Monday. Although it had some spokespersons, who had the virtue of being new faces, it really had only one leader. His name was Anger. His name was Outrage. His name was Juan Gising.
They just didn’t get it.