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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Thursday, February 23, 2006

entry arrow4:09 PM | Twenty Years Later

In 1986, I was ten-years-old, and we lived in a ramshackle downstairs apartment somewhere in the bowels of Tubod. Dumaguete in those days was officially a city despite itself. It was verily a small town, and like all small towns, things moved slowly and people were gentler than usual.

I remember most the quiet that seemed to seep into our very blood. There was countryside softness to things, which were much simpler then. I had only started to go to school around that time, and foremost in my recollection of those days is the fog that used to embrace Dumaguete in the early mornings. I would also ride the tartanilla to school, because that was how you went around town with if you had no car. The now ubiquitous tricycle was only just appearing on our streets then, and there were so few of them we had yet to know the rough vocabulary of traffic.

Our landlord and his family -- the Mongcopas -- occupied the upper floor of that two-storey wooden house. We rented out, for a mere P300 a month, the lower floor which must have been a glorified basement then. It was sunken two feet to the ground, was mostly dark, and what passed for a CR was a separate hut only a few feet away. The apartment had no ceiling rafters to speak of, and so my older brothers were kept busy in the early days of the move power-stapling with precision and grace several packing cardboards, their plain brown side turned to us, upon the ceiling, to banish away unwanted sight of the upper floor occupants who were only too visible through the gaps of their wooden floor. That also kept away the dust from their inconstant cleaning. My mother was an irrepressible woman who could make do with anything and turn even the shittiest of circumstances into livable comfort. She was Martha Stewart of the downtrodden then.

Those were simpler times, and while those were certainly and paradoxically happier times, the family was very poor -- so poor that my mother reminds me now and then that there were nights, when I was a little boy, when I would wake her up and ask her to pray with me so that we could ask God for good meals the following day. We were a very close family, and I think it was that brush with extreme poverty that defined us, and made us better people. Where would we be now if we didn't know what it was like not to eat?

Fortunes had changed drastically those days. While my older brothers still remembered the gilded age as the scions of hacenderos in Bayawan, all I knew of childhood was a dearth of blessed things. It must have been more difficult for my brothers because they had tasted what it was like to be very rich -- the old house flowing with visitors, the car always on the go, the refrigerator constantly stocked with all imaginable food, the lives they led attended to by countless housemaids and houseboys. In the early 1980s, however, the sugar prices came down like an earthquake and Negros became a ghost of itself. My family was one of the seriously affected ones, and mother told us they had to sell everything to survive.

That unacknowledged bitterness probably made the family critical of what went on in the country. We were anti-Marcos as far as I can remember.

The landlord's family, however, were pro-Marcos -- by virtue, I think, of the father having been once a barangay captain. I remember Mr. Mongcopa as a stern but very respectable old man with gray hair. He was slightly-built, at least in my memories, and wore plain buttoned shirts and slacks every single day. And every single day, he was out in his porch, drinking coffee and reading the newspapers. When the snap elections of February 1986 came, he brought out the red and blue posters with Marcos's and Arturo Tolentino's faces on them, and tacked them to his porch walls.

One afternoon, I decided to skip classes in West City Elementary School, and walked all the way to the Boulevard, to an old wooden building -- painted yellow -- in what is now Sol y Mar, where Globelines is. It used to be known by various names then, including both Rainbow Lodge and The Office -- unassuming names for establishments that were rumored to be hang-outs of the city's prostitutes and drunkards. The Boulevard in the old days was not the gentrified version you have now: it was an ugly strip of asphalt and concrete that everybody nicknamed "the boulevard of broken dreams," and perhaps for very good reasons. I still remember the fluorescent lights that lined the Boulevard, their eerie whiteness as scabs of light that sucked at your soul, all of them curiously dim in the swallowing darkness of sea and night sky. The street was littered by countless tocino and beer stands, making the whole stretch of the Boulevard a haven for the drunks -- and the prostitutes. Nobody decent went to the Boulevard those days; it was the very underbelly of the city's lowlifes.

It was in that very place, however, where Cory Aquino's Laban Headquarters was located, in a small dark office that jutted out one side of the old Rainbow Lodge. I was only ten-years-old, and I wanted Cory to win because I had seen my mother and my brothers' faces flushed with excitement knowing that they were living through a special moment in history. In my young age, I had no idea what they were excited about; I knew Marcos only as a distant figure that did not affect my day-to-day play-making, and the specter of Martial Law was completely lost to me. What I knew for sure was the concrete conviction in my family's passion for change. It was an embracing conviction, and I succumbed to it.

That afternoon when I skipped school to go to the Boulevard, I asked the volunteers in the Laban headquarters if I could have some campaign materials -- perhaps a poster I could tack somewhere, but most of all, if I could have copies of the komiks they were giving out for free. That special graphic literature -- patterned to suit the reading taste of most Filipinos -- basically educated potential voters, in crisp illustrations and talk balloons, how to vote in the coming elections, and how to be certain that their efforts to battle Marcos would not be in vain. I still remember some passages from those campaign komiks, exhorting voters to make sure they wore yellow on election day, to make sure they practiced spelling "C-O-R-Y A-Q-U-I-N-O" if they happened to be illiterate, and to make sure they were vigilant in observing how ballot boxes were being transferred from precinct to vote-count venue. Most of my older brothers volunteered for NAMFREL, and my mother, my brother Rey, and I (because we were younger) monitored our radio to find out what was going on everywhere. Manong Rey was especially voluble in his Yellow loyalty, excoriating the evils of Marcos, and praying out loud that Cory would win. Meanwhile, old Mr. Mongcopa, upstairs, monitored his radio, too, to find out how Marcos was faring.

That was a strange parallel: one house, two floors, each cheering for either Marcos or Aquino. And yet what was even stranger was the cordiality that emanated from both families. Politics is always polarizing, but we each kept to our own niches, respecting the other family's political passions. I don't know how that happened, but the good graces were there. Until we left the Tubod house after six years of living there (to move on to a better life ahead), the Mongcopas remained good friends for the family.

And then the inevitable drama of EDSA came. The COMELEC had proclaimed Marcos the winner, the NAMFREL volunteers had then walked out, Cory was sworn-in as President in Club Filipino, and the crowd in EDSA grew by the tens of thousands. We were riveted, and while there was much rejoicing in the lower floor of the Tubod house, the upper floor slowly went quiet. When the news finally broke that Marcos had fled the country, we all cried -- it was like the biggest emotional fiesta there ever was.

I think that was the very spirit of the first EDSA: there was that consuming hunger for freedom, that teary conviction of righting wrongs. It was everywhere, that spirit. Not even just in Manila where all the significant action took place. It was there even in the countryside silences of the Dumaguete of 1986. It was there, even a ten-year-old kid could be swept away by it.

But how we murdered those joys, those hopes of 1986.

Twenty years later, and much has been said about how we squandered that singular chance to seize greatness for the Filipino nation. The Marcoses are back and living it up in grand style, EDSA -- with its permutations -- is now a parody of itself, the nation is forever on the brink of every kind of disasters, and there is no more respect for the Aquinos -- not Cory, the new Erap ally, nor Kris, the VD Queen of Television.

In the end, the glory of 1986 has been reduced to this picture (taken by Vernon Totanes) on this page.

The picture captures the sight of billboards of Kris Aquino and Borgy Manotoc -- offspring of both sides of the EDSA struggle -- both rendered plastic, inconsequential, and commercial. That both billboards should stand side by side is the epitome of the irony of all that we have struggled for and lost.

To be sure, EDSA was real. It was something to be proud of. Twenty years later, it has become a rebuke for our failures.

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