Boarding gates and promises of home
A few weeks ago, I sat in the boarding area of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia), nervously shuffling about as I waited for my flight.
The airport terminal is a witness to all sorts of departures, with some goodbyes heavier than others. Not so far removed from the opening lines of that classic Hotdog song, I have unceremoniously left Manila many times than I could count. My departure this time, though, was weighed with so much purpose and hesitation more than those dozen other times.
It’s not as if I was leaving for a long time. I’d surely be back before the year ends. It’s just that I could not help but associate myself with the many countless hungry minds who left the Philippines to seek higher education abroad.
More so with those who have done it out of a sense of service not just to patria, but to the Filipino people whose taxes have funded my legal education.
I knew, too, that this would hurt more than it should because I would be leaving, for the time being, my job as a civil servant of the very same Filipino people whose human rights I try to uphold every single day.
What is the value these days of pursuing higher education overseas? This is a loaded question, of course, and one that comes from the vantage point of privilege. Maybe beyond the classic Promethean model of bringing fire and flame which, to some extent, carries with it some conceit, the point is to reflect inward on my identity as a Filipino.
My command of the English language, my affinity for the liberal arts, and the study of the law — these are necessary consequences attached to my postcolonial body. At this point, the question is perhaps: What can I teach myself while learning about the world?
It’s a life-long project to decolonize oneself and to learn, ironically, more and more about what has shackled body and country through the promise of education. Here I am, contained in four walls, learning about the origins of the monopolized violence of the State that has caused crises back home. It’s not as easy as it seems.
As a lawyer trained in a classic, traditional, Filipino sense, the world opens up in the face of all the things I learn every day — for instance, how the world has moved forward in the protection of human rights, and how mechanisms and institutions have been made more sophisticated to allow justice to become accessible. There is no conflict in this sense. But there is, surely, some wishful thinking for the state of affairs back home.
I think fondly of Manila, sometimes to a fault. But when I think of the work that still needs to be done in terms of struggling for the greater aims of justice, I come back to the sober realization that this Manila is a city I have only learned to live through in privilege. While I quaintly describe adobo to my peers, the wheels of justice still grind slowly — and in the reverse — for most Filipinos.
Call it guilt, call it by any name that suits it. What grounds me back to reality as I open myself up to other injustices happening in the world at the same time is a continuing sense of purpose. I’ve come across many iterations of what they say about the moral arc of the universe, but the original still strikes me the most. In struggles for liberation — be it from ghostly colonial shadows or from our own whose powers remain unchecked — the end goal is always to do justice.
Hopefully, in the many years still ahead of me, I would never forget that patch of time waiting in Naia—how I was filled with terror and hope at the same time, for what we could do to make good on our promises.
* * *
Ross Tugade, 29, is a lawyer.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.