Promises to keep
But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.”
That’s the last stanza of Robert Frost’s poem, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” with most people not quite remembering the earlier stanzas. I wonder, too, if the poem is even taught in our schools today, the title hardly one that Filipinos can relate to.
But it was the part, “promises to keep,” that kept playing in my head last Saturday, while I was on Edsa, and at one point I chuckled thinking about how my memories of the poem would date me to a time when we took up such poems in class, the lines buried somewhere in our brains.
I thought, too, about how Edsa might date us, and I’m referring here to what we called Edsa in our youth. I was old enough (or young enough?) to have seen it called Highway 54, but you would have to be a truly senior senior citizen if you remember an even earlier name from the 1940s: Avenida de 19 de Junio, that’s the birthdate of Jose Rizal. Highway 54 came in the 1950s.
Checking out these names on the internet, I stumbled on a treasure trove of materials on street names in Manila, bringing back even more memories. Aside from Highway 54, I have memories of languid Sundays and double-decker buses on Dewey Boulevard (now Roxas Boulevard), trips to Chinatown via Azcarraga (now Recto Avenue), visiting a favorite aunt on Vermont in Malate (now Julio Nakpil).
Yet, I’m still considered a young senior citizen because I say Rizal Avenue. My mother, who is nearly a hundred years old, called it, simply, Avenida, just as Dewey Boulevard was, Boulevard.
More than names
A tip for my fellow teachers: Talking about these street names, you can spice up any number of classes—for literature, social studies, English, Filipino, Spanish, history, even mathematics. There was, after all, supposed to be a whole system for numbering highways, Highway 1 being what was then Dewey Boulevard. Quirino Avenue was originally Highway 52; Sumulong, Highway 53 and Edsa, Highway 54.
Similarly, when Quezon City was being developed, districts were called “projects” because government was building houses and lots for their employees. Thus, Projects 2, 3, 4 and so on.
But no Project 1? Well, the very first area to be developed is what we call Roxas District today, with streets named after flowers as part of the concept of Quezon City becoming a Garden City. (Hear me sigh?)
More than street names, we speak of histories, and memories of better times when government seemed to have clearer vision of what it wanted, from highways to housing projects.
And more. Edsa is an enigma. It is an avenue as in E. de los Santos Avenue. (Teachers, test your classes, and yourselves: who was E. de los Santos?) It is also a highway—that is, Highway 54.
But are you aware that Edsa is also C-4, one of six circumferential roads originally planned to allow easy entry into and exit from Metro Manila?
Road names reflect changing times. The shift from colonial names—Spanish and American in our case—to those of local flora and fauna, and heroes and heroines is important. Which is why I feel our educational system has failed when I still see subdivisions with street names that make no sense to Filipinos.
I want our children and their children to grow up with good memories that tie into Filipino street names. I also want them to move through life remembering important roads, tied to history, like Edsa.
I’m not just talking about 1986 and the Edsa revolt. Edsa’s symbolism is not limited to that stretch in front of Camp Aguinaldo, where the people protected the military from the dictatorship. (Yes, let’s speak the truth: The dictatorship would have wiped out the vacillating soldiers, including Juan Ponce Enrile and Fidel Ramos, if people had not turned out to protect them, leading to the final collapse of the Marcos regime.)
Running through Edsa
Look further along Edsa. Officially, it starts around “Monumento” in Caloocan City, short for the Bonifacio monument commemorating the Philippine Revolution of 1896, stretching into Quezon City, through Cubao, through the Edsa Revolt area into San Juan, Mandaluyong, on into Makati, Pasay, Manila and ending with, hey, Highway 1 (Dewey, oops, I meant Roxas Boulevard). History is etched into Edsa, as with all our other roads, if we would only look for it.
Yes, Edsa is special because of 1986. After more than two decades of Marcos rule (he was democratically elected as president in 1965), people lost hope for change. We must not forget that the resistance, and revolution, throughout that period, both in urban and, much more, in rural areas, and the so many lives lost.
I started teaching in 1984, and despaired at the students’ unwillingness to speak up in classes, and I don’t just mean on politics but on their personal views as well. Martial law had tamed them.
The Aquino assassination in 1983 enraged the nation and led to political alliances determined to bring down the dictatorship. And that happened in 1986.
There was hope, and pride.
Alas, and this is where Frost comes in, there were too many promises made. . . and broken. People had turned to politicians dangling more promises with the assurance that these will be delivered, through fire and fury.
Walking down Edsa is symbolic for me, and for many others. Last Saturday I ran into other “veterans” not just of 1986 but of the 1960s and 1970s. I went up the stage to speak, with Sr. Mary John Mananzan who turns 80 this year, making our other fellow speakers from the academe—Ateneo’s Fr. Jet Villarin and La Salle President Brother Jose Mari Jimenez—looking like teenagers.
I thought of how some of the people on Edsa have been marching for more than 50 years. I told the audience: “I’m turning 65 this year, our 31st anniversary of Edsa. I can’t imagine marching another 30 years. I hope to see the day when we march to celebrate, rather than to protest.” Sr. Mary John declared her determination to continue taking to the streets, and I guess I’ll join her if needed, hoping the body matches the spirit.
Listening to Sr. Mary John, and knowing she’s Benedictine, I thought of the prologue of the Rule of Saint Benedict, which has this inspiring passage: Run while you have the light of life, that the darkness of death may not overtake you.
Let’s run against death, and for life, and not just on Edsa.
That’s where educators and schools must come in. We have to pick up on the promises of 1986, and earlier, remembering Edsa starts at the Bonifacio monument.
Frost returns minus the snow, his poem speaking about the temptation to take a detour and take in the landscape and, maybe, we should from time to time, as long as we don’t lose sight of the fact that there are many more miles to go, and promises to keep.
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