Disclaimer: This was written last May 1, 2016 after reminiscing my first ever Labor Day rally in 2015.
We were in our 3rd-year high school when our Social Studies professor, Sir Joel, required us to read the daily news. Every other day, he would call a random person to report whatever he or she has read. We loved that class, but we hated reading current events as much as we hated reporting in front. Come on! We were just bunch of teenagers with juvenile love problems and acne breakouts. Who would care about Erap or Gloria that time if you were a tween? Sir Joel was the one who told us that Andres Bonifacio should be our first President and how Emilio Aguinaldo was a traitor. That professor was not afraid to teach us the other side of our history, but most of us, including me, never really cared. My social studies professor was branded as an activist in the campus. In fact, our school was known for having progressive professors. I still graduated thinking that Aguinaldo was a hero.
I was never a fan of political activists. I never gave myself a chance to study about what they were shouting on the streets. I grew up in a very secured apolitical community maybe because we were living a relatively comfortable life. People would always tell me, “these activists cannot just keep quiet” or “these people are always negative”, or “these people are getting paid by their leaders to participate in pickets”. I even got the “these activists are actually getting support from the communist Chinese Government”. These people were the intellectuals which I looked up to. I grew up thinking that a rally or any other organized-revolutionary activities were not the solutions to the pressing issues of our country. Many would tell me that we cannot blame everything to the Government.
I thought that my 6 years and counting stint in Government service would be enough to compensate my apathetic and apolitical views in the past years. I was wrong. Though my work, which I sometimes call my “ministry” was very noble, I cannot deny the fact how everything was becoming frustrating each time I watch the news that the people are getting poorer amidst the fact that we were always boastful of our natural resources.
A paradigm shift happened last year when I had the chance to participate a rally during the Labor Day. It was a worldwide event. In the Philippines, a march is annually held from Liwasang Bonifacio to Mendiola. The people were all celebrating the success of the Labor Day story, the story on how the laborers of the world fought for their rights during the 19th Century and celebrating how we are now benefiting from what they have fought years ago including the shortened work hours from 16 to 8. In the Philippines, the first labor day rally was held on May 1, 1903 during the US colonialism in the country. They fought against US Imperialism and capitalism, which is still very evident in our country today. Amidst the celebration, they were all united because of their anger against the reasons why the rich are getting richer and the poor getting poorer. They were not there because they were forced to attend. They were not there because they were paid to fight the Government. They were there because they were really mad about something–something as real as poverty, unemployment, abuse by the Government which supposed to be helping them, and inequality. They were there because they were smart enough to know that it is only by these revolutionary activities can our country become really free.
It was a different experience, very different from what my apolitical community instilled in me. It was literally a tear-jerker just to see the unity of such a diverse crowd– farmers, fishermen, laborers, government workers, professionals, students, artists, religious groups, the indigenous people and the LGBT Community. OFWs and their families were also there including the family of Mary Jane Veloso. During that season, the news about Mary Jane Veloso broke out. Mary Jane was an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) in Indonesia who was accused of smuggling drugs in the country. Truth was, she was framed up by her recruiters. Unfortunately, she was imprisoned and enlisted in the death row. Guilty or not guilty, Mary Jane’s face is the face of the masses. Because of poverty, they were being forced to go outside the country, away from their families and willing to endure hardships just to provide food for their loved ones. I have plenty of friends who were struggling abroad,trying to make ends meet.
And I was just there standing, all these happening in front of me, watching them as they genuinely and angrily shouted their usual but powerful chants . I was there assessing myself, a supposed educated person, was not able to use that intellect for more than 2 decades. After my “exposure”, I realized that I should not take this for granted and I should study more about this. I also need to prove my professors in High School that the seeds of activism they planted in us were not put in vain. Thanks to my activist friends, they helped me understand the issues of our Country and are very much willing to answer my questions about these. There’s so much to learn.
I just want to end this post with Otto Rene Castillo’s poem called, the Apolitcal Intellectuals. I first heard this poem last April 9, 2016 during an open mic event in Quezon City relative to the massacre of the Kidapawan farmers last April 1, 2016. Here it goes:
And you will be mute in your shame.