A tumble of violet, blue, orange and green…the blazing lights of the neon signs, the hazy colors of the disco scene. There I was, a typical colegiala out to enjoy the world, a part of the “let’s make tusok-tusok the fishballs” syndrome. Youth with all its petty follies and foibles. Life was good…sometimes. Other times, I found myself stopping to ask, “What’s the use? ” But I didn’t worry much about it. I mean, my life wasn’t a total whirl – it was just a little out of focus. At least I was having fun.
Other students in my school didn’t seem to have any fun at all. They were always raging about the economic and political stability of the country. In a way, I pitied them. They were sacrificing so much of themselves in rallies and demonstrations – for what? Things weren’t that bad here; other countries were in worse condition. If some people were finding life difficult, it was just too bad. That was the way the system worked and they simply had to adjust. Why other kids my age bothered about these people’s problems were beyond me.
Did they expect to save the world? Some of them even called me “unpatriotic. ” What right did they have to do that? Just because I wasn’t willing to stand under the sun all day to listen to a bunch of has-beens (ex-government officials who were probably sore losers in the game of politics) didn’t mean I didn’t care for my country. Didn’t I turn down my father’s offer to study in the States? After all, I had maids to order around, a driver to rely on, a ready source of funds. Why did I have to leave this country? Ang puso ko at buhay man /sa iyo’y ibibigay…. ” Then a shot rang out, and there was red. Red that spilled forth from a bullet hole and stained the man’s clothes, stained the hands of the men who touched him, and even stained those who dared to touch these men. The red continued to spread – till it had stained us all. The red wouldn’t come off; it remained a haunting reminder that we were all to blame. Yes, I blamed them, I blamed you, and I blamed myself – for killing Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr. hat day: August 21, 1983. We had the real murder weapon within our midst, the weapon that was never exhibited before the Agrava Board, the weapon that killed countless faceless victims, the weapon that we carefully created and perfected – our indifference. Yes, we saw the silent pleas in the eyes of the oppressed and heard their distant cries for help – but we never looked, we never listened. It was this attitude of unconcern that slowly brought Ninoy to his death. But I am looking now. I am listening now.
It was like I was swimming in a sea of darkness, content to bathe in the comfort of my surroundings, when suddenly there was a force pulling me, rushing me out of my secure world into the cold blinding light. And on that day, to borrow a phrase from Butz Aquino, “I was born again. ” Questioning: How could they let it happen? Who do they think they are? Are they resorting to cold blooded murder now? Do they think we will let them get away with it? What can I do? What? It was then that I hungered to know the truth about our country. I learned to read between the lines of newspaper articles and radio announcements.
Deducing: “Amendment 6 is a better alternative to martial law. ” It gives me power to make my own laws. “I will not run in this year’s Batasan Pambansa elections because I want to be closer to the people. ” I will continue to hold key positions in the government. “We cannot give permits to rallies because of the subversive infiltrators. ” We are afraid that more people are gaining the courage to express their grievances. When I saw a mother trying to protect her baby from the rain while waiting to get a glimpse of Ninoy’s body, when I heard the people belting out their frustrations and agony in one voice – “Ninoy! Ninoy! – at his funeral, and when I felt the sense of camaraderie despite the heat and weary feet – it was then that I knew where I belonged. When a true Filipino gave his heart, his life for love of country, it was then that I knew the true meaning of patriotism. “Tungkulin ko’y gagampanan/ Na lagi kang paglinkuran…” After August 21, the city had turned yellow. Yellow – worn defiantly by grandchildren, grandparents, babies and dogs alike. Yellow hidden discreetly under formal business attire. Yellow flying proudly, tied to the radio antenna of a Mercedes Benz. Yellow soaked in perspiration, tied around the head of a jeepney driver.
And yellow splashed across “alternative periodicals,” testimonies to the emergence of a new period. Yes, it was a period of bold action and frenzied movements manifested through demonstrations, marches, noise barrages. But it was also a period of quiet contemplation and humble gestures in the form of prayer rallies, masses, nationalistic songs and yellow flowers. The means may have differed, but the goal was the same: the upliftment of the Filipino. When Cory Aquino reached out with her response during the funeral mass on August 31, I was there, peering through the gates of St. Domingo church.
When the number of people attending the funeral procession swelled to a phenomenal 2 million, I was there, extending my thumb and index finger, exchanging the “Laban” sign with squatter boys along Quirino Avenue. When the Makati group chose to put aside their “burgis” image and expressed their sentiments, I was there, yellow confetti streaming down my hair while applauding the “Ninoy We Love You! ” banners sprawled across buildings. When a rally was held in Liwasang Bonifacio on Sept. 30 to commemorate the 40th day of Ninoy’s death, I was there, raising my arm with fist clenched ratifying my commitment to fight against further oppression.
When ROAR (Run On for Aquino and Resignation) ran a series of runs for Ninoy’s birthday, I was there, jogging in high spirits alongside the likes of Tingting Cojuangco and Kris Aquino. I was there…in the student’s march to Malacanan on June 28, overcoming my fear and shouting with the others, “Babalik kami! ” in the face of truncheons, facing riot policemen in Mendiola on July 6. Yes, I was there, alive in the knowledge that I was doing something, proud of the fact that I was forever to remain a part of our history. “Ang laya mo’y babantayan/Pilipinas kong mahal! ” Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not out to save the world.
But if I can make it a better place to live in, what’s to keep me from doing it? So I go on, doing what I can to help the country escape from its “cocoon,” like a butterfly spreading its wings and showing the rest of the world that the Philippines is truly beautiful within and without. I think that’s the best thing that I, or anyone for that matter, can do. The rest I leave to God. Editor’s note: The author wrote this piece when she was 18 years old. She is now a teacher and mother of three, living in the U. S. This essay won first prize in the English category of the Benigno Aquino Jr. Foundation essay writing contest on the topic