I was asked to speak to the crowd that had gathered in UP Diliman and was preparing to leave for the State of the Nation Address (Sona) events. But I declined, saying young people should be the ones to speak.
I nearly wanted to take back some of my words later, listening to some of the younger speakers, including some from UP. We require a Communications 3 course that includes public speaking, but apparently our activists don’t take it seriously enough, tending to ramble on and on and to preach to the converted.
We need veterans like Sister Mary John Mananzan to give pointers on effective speaking. Her speech that afternoon was about needing a true leader, not a macho president, not a presidency that thrives on “kabastusan” (disrespect, but the Filipino “bastos” is much stronger).
At mass mobilizations, I prefer running around and talking with people and listening to their stories, even if I know that, sometimes, it can be a terrible burden receiving stories of new killings, arrests, evacuations, disease outbreaks. The night before the Sona, I was around as well to greet some contingents from Southern and Central Luzon. I listened to the stories by three women who had been truncheoned by Manila police when they were getting ready to leave from a rally in front of the US Embassy.
Then there was this woman from Olongapo who walked with me a short distance to quickly tell me about how she and her companions had worked as volunteers after the bases turnover in 1991, full of hopes about the bases’ conversion. They worked without compensation, which was fine with them; then they were made contractuals, then permanent employees, then contractuals again.
She was joining this march to the Sona still hopeful that President Duterte would have some good news about ending endo, meaning contractual labor. (“Endo” is Tagalog English, derived from “end of contract.”) Duterte did refer to endo in his Sona, but almost tangentially.
The Filipino “asa” or hope could easily have been the word of the day. People don’t just go to rallies to protest; they go because they hope.
Present tense, past tense. I marched next to former social welfare secretary Judy Taguiwalo who, at one point, told me about how she had honestly hoped Duterte would be different. (She later texted to congratulate ourselves, having marched all the way to the rallying area some 3 kilometers from UP. “Seniors Rock,” she texted, proud that we dared to even hope we could make it.)
After listening to a few more speeches, I went back into the crowds to continue a search I began the previous day. I was looking for Leon, who was about a year old when he, along with his parents and about 3,000 indigenous people, came to Manila last year. My son, 11 at the time, was totally captivated by Leon and the two got along like brothers. The day before they had to leave, my son brought some of his favorite toys as going-away presents.
Leon’s parents promised they’d be back with the baby in a few months, but more than a year passed and the reunion didn’t quite happen.
When the Sona people arrived on Sunday night, I found the IP delegations and asked if they’d seen Leon. Many knew Leon and said he was, indeed, part of the delegations from Southern Luzon, but no one knew where exactly. I didn’t find him that night.
On Sona day, I roamed around some more, asking … hoping. My son was not with me, but I wanted to have photographs to show him.
Then, from afar, I spotted them: mother, Kuya and Leon. Leon stretched out his arms as the mother introduced the elder boy, who had not been here in Manila last year. Karl Marco, she said. I laughed, knowing where the name came from. Leon’s name I’ve changed for this column, but some of you might remember your political science classes and whose name usually goes with “Karl Marco.”
It was a short reunion. I had to move on. I told the mother I hoped to see Leon, and Karl Marco, some time soon. I walked away and didn’t look back.
Long must we live, to hope and to work on those hopes.
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