HK protests make me proud to be Filipino

The photos of Hong Kong protests streaming into my Facebook feed move me because I see our history in these. They cannot but make me proud to be Filipino.

I was peeking into Facebook in the early morning of Sept. 28 (Sunday) when a friend from Hong Kong posted photos of people tying yellow ribbons on a barrier. Later, another friend posted that he brought two bags of antipepper spray supplies—umbrellas and saline solution—that afternoon to protesters at Harcourt Road in Admiralty. Suddenly, tear gas burst 20 meters away from him. (False) rumors flew that the People’s Liberation Army was crossing the harbor; friends from as far as Australia texted him that the police were about to crack down. He found himself tying a yellow ribbon on a barricade and crying continuously for an hour.


After delivering more supplies that evening, my second friend walked to the Central subway station as Admiralty’s was closed. Riot police in full gear marched down Connaught Road, and he and the crowd raised their empty hands. The police fired tear gas with barely a second’s warning. Some tried to record the scene but dropped their phones and cameras in agony. My friend ran into a tunnel, trying to escape to the subway station, but he dropped his glasses as gas filled the tunnel.

He could barely open his eyes until volunteers sprayed saline solution onto them. Finally reaching home, he cried for several hours as the television showed more horrifying scenes play out. He wrote on Facebook, betrayed: “What have we done such that we deserved to be treated by our own government like this?”


My first friend wrote of seeing police fire tear gas at students sitting on the ground. “I have never seen a more peaceful demonstration and a government more scared of its own people,” he posted. “SHAME. I cried not because of the gas, but witnessing the death of this city.” He posted photos of peaceful crowds swelling after the gas attacks, describing the mood down to how people came spontaneously and unorganized, and how students ignored parents’ pleas to come home. My second friend returned to Admiralty and Central on Monday and wrote that it felt like heaven to see 200,000 of his smiling, peaceful countrymen in the streets.

These mild-mannered friends are the last people I expected to be writing about battling tear gas in Central. They are graduates of elite US universities, well-traveled and holding plum jobs—young Hongkies with all the incentive to stay home. These were the protesters whose stories flooded their foreign peers’ social media accounts; awarded documentarist Howie Severino likewise reported approaching the protesters’ translation booth and being assisted by two recent Cambridge law graduates in his viral article, “The yaya-raised Hong Kong protest generation.” I felt mixed fear and pride as I read the raw accounts.

Recalling martial law’s anniversary just days before, I wondered whether my friends from Hong Kong could have been narrating my parents’ thoughts and emotions as they stood on Edsa in 1986. Worrying for my friends, I realized that we take Edsa for granted too often today because we forget that it could have failed, that it and the Umbrella Revolution both might have ended like Tiananmen Square and I might be an orphan growing up into an eternity of martial law. I better understand Jim Paredes’ song from childhood memories: “Kapit-bisig madre, pari, at sundalo/Naging Langit itong bahagi ng mundo.”

My friends posted messages in English for friends elsewhere to read, and others asked for help translating their messages into multiple languages. It felt so natural to tell them that Filipinos support and understand them because, in 1986, our parents did what they did. Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello did a great thing when he stood at Connaught Road and expressed solidarity, telling protesters of People Power. So did our nameless overseas Filipino workers in Hong Kong who expressed their surreptitious support. It is ironic that the constraints of politics prevent a president surnamed Aquino from formally doing the same on our behalf, but countless young Filipinos must have proudly reached out to Hong Kong peers with the same narrative.

As we silently cheer the students claiming an uneasy victory as their government promises to negotiate, we must be proud that the flower of Hong Kong’s youth, with a standard of living and opportunities that many young Filipinos can only dream of, are risking much for freedoms our parents won for us in 1986. Amidst the poverty, traffic, corruption, impending power failures and buses falling from flyovers, we must realize that there is something fundamental about our screwed-up country that we must be proud of, after all. Hong Kong protesters hung a “Do you hear the people sing?” banner on an Admiralty overpass and Thai protesters flashed “Hunger Games” salutes, but should we not be wondering why “People Power” is not the slogan accompanying the yellow ribbons? Hong Kong students were citing Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, but why not Lean Alejandro, Edgar Jopson and Abraham Sarmiento Jr.?

Painter and social commentator Emmanuel Garibay exhorts everyone to tell our Philippine narrative as strongly as possible because it is not yet firmly entrenched in the global narrative. Perhaps our Asian brethren peacefully seeking democracy have not shown pride in the Philippines’ greatest legacy because we Filipinos are not ourselves proud enough of it today.

Oscar Franklin Tan (@oscarfbtan, facebook.com/OscarFranklinTan) cochairs the Philippine Bar Association Committee on Constitutional Law and teaches in the University of the East.


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