Portia Placino

Repository of my thoughts and images of art, literature, travel, and life.

SONA 2013: Stories, lessons, and questions

Today, I was in my very first official mobilization. I don’t know exactly why it took me this long to actually join. But now, I finally did. I do not agree with all of the ideologies represented by the Philippine left, but I learned a lot today. There might be knowledge gaps in what I write now, but this is what I have so far. Today, I was up early, I walked a few miles, and by the time I was done, I am a bruised and sunburned mixture of sweat, rain, dust, and ash. And it was all worth it.

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I can’t keep on reading and theorizing Slavoj Žižek and Maria Hlavajova, neo-liberalism, occupied movements, Arab Spring, and countless contemporary revolutions if I don’t really get out there and see for myself what is happening. My position has been conflicted for a very long time and I know experiencing things for myself can only help. What do we fight for? What can we believe in? What is the crisis of our contemporary lives and situation? Even now I know I am just scratching the surface.

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The day started with speeches and program at the Quezon Hall by the Oblation. I was intimidated to approach at first but when I finally did, everyone was friendly. They understood and did not judge that this is the first time for me to participate in a mobilization. Roselle even gave me her red bandana, as I do not have a stitch of red on me. We walked, we chanted, we jogged until we reach Commonwealth. We had to stop for a while, I’m not exactly sure why, but I saw the volume of the people who joined. This mobilization did not even have a permit. But even in my naiveté status, I know this protest must go on.

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We eventually reached Batasan hills and the volume of police are growing. I am not afraid of them. I know for a fact that I even have a few friends behind those lines, all of them very much concerned about me. I regard the police in a very different way from the peers I was marching with. They mostly view the police with contempt and I can hardly blame them due to a history of police brutality. But I see the police as friends and as public servants, particularly the young ones that they always deploy for mobilizations. After spending a few years in school with the future police, teaching a couple of hundreds of them, and being a criminologist myself, my point of view is quite different. I know that no one really enters the police force with the intent to get corrupted, they entered because they wanted to serve. If some of them are corrupt, it is because they had to survive a system that makes them that way. It is just the fundamental difficulty of being on the different sides of the barricade.

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The march was mostly peaceful. Chants are normal, of course, but it is peaceful. The news makes it sound like we forced our way to the south bound lane, but that is not exactly the case. Even in my newbie state, I know that the goal is to get as close to Batasan as possible. Not to do violence, but just to be heard. This is where some things became confusing to me….

Suddenly, we are face to face with the police and their shields. Again I expected this. No one was tense. I saw some reporters in the barricade talking to both sides. Photos were being taken along the lines. Everyone was relaxed. The fire trucks, I have to admit, scared me a bit. A question comes to mind, am I to experience being shot by water? I know that’s painful and I don’t have a plastic for my phone and camera, but I am resigned to it. (Advantages of owning a cheap phone.) What happened next was totally unexpected.

Marshalls cleared an area where I assumed the effigy would be placed and perhaps a program started. There was even a mascot there. A TV5 cameraman was on a short step that I noticed photojournalists and camera crews bring around on coverage. I even had a  photo taken by the barricade too. A few minutes after that shot, chaos erupted. Suddenly, the police was pushing against the protesters and the protesters hurriedly fixed the line and pushed back. My buddy and I, along with other university teachers were trapped in the press. I was scared and a little panicked. Protesters suddenly have their arms up, showing no intent to attack, but then we had to loop our arms around each other. We needed to stick together and push or step back. The marshalls were screaming like crazy. The police were pushing and pushing. There was no trigger along the lines, as I said, I was just chatting with people in the frontlines and looking at the mascot. Things got tense fast and before I knew exactly what was happening, I was pressed against someone and people behind me are pushing me forward and the police were pushing us back. It was crazy.

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Then some people started throwing rocks. Leaders and marshalls suddenly waved their arms, screaming for the rock throwing to stop. I saw protesters chasing some rock throwers, but as we were still in the midst of the press, push, and step back, it was quite difficult to comprehend. During one of the easier times, given the fact that I was freaking out a bit, Sofie asked if I wanted to step aside. I said yes. I just had to. This is my first time and as everyone would tell me, the last violent SONA march was during the Erap administration. No one thought I would have a difficult time today.

When we stepped back, that is when I realized that the rock throwers are not from the line of protesters. They would run into the group, throw rocks, then run away as fast as they can. Some protesters tried to catch them but as most are too busy with the police situation, no one can really deal with the teenage boys throwing rocks. At least, all of the rock throwers I saw were teenage boys. They would just run in, throw rocks, then run away. I have a feeling this happens a lot. This made me question news items I have seen before, even on demolition scenarios where everyone was reported as “violent.” Even in the news today, I saw how certain media entities called the protesters “violent” and how a GMA 7 camera man was hit by a rock by an alleged protester.

None of the police minded my buddy and I standing on the side. Most of them are concerned with pushing back most of the protesters. Standing aside, I saw the volume of the police lines. That was a lot. It was no wonder protesters were pushed rather easily. Imagine all of that pushing back at you. At the back of my mind, the question is still why. There was no violence, the atmosphere was relaxed. Then suddenly, bam!

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When we’ve got our bearing together, well, at least when I had my bearings together, we went up the overpass to get to the other side. Our peers are all there by then, pushed and dispersed by the police. Seeing the volume of people from above was overwhelming. I suddenly realized what we were faced with from the ground. As I am writing this, I am no longer wondering why my body still hurts.

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Things were calmer this time around. The program went on. I finally saw the effigy that I was looking for since the protest march started. My earlier position that people tend to listen to performances more than they would speeches still hold. I see the power of songs and performances. It just draws people in. Ideologies were put forward, some I wholeheartedly agree with, some I don’t, some I’m still on the fence over. I don’t have to believe everything because we are not of one mind. I came to see and to experience things from the ground, and perhaps gain a better understanding of where we are now.

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I don’t know where the legend of the paid protesters came from. Most of the people I met were workers from different fields. I also don’t know where the protesters just come for the food came from. Who would protest just to eat a bowl of rice and munggo beans? I liked it as I like munggo beans, but the sheer effort and exhaustion of joining a mobilization just to get a free bowl of it will not be worth it. I don’t know everything, but I know some things. I saw and met workers, professionals, students, and many others. I even saw a photojournalist friend who checked how I was. I was ok. Better than that, but I am overwhelmed even now.

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The last thing I really wanted to wait for was the burning of the effigy. I was not prepared to see how powerful that ritual is. The performance would be something that would really stick to you. I shared a photo from abs-cbn and I was mocked for it. What did I achieve in the end, asked a student from a religion-based university. Well, I am weary of my own achievements, but for this day, I am proud of what I have learned and accomplished. As a state university teacher, I would like to think that I live my life for my country. Though I may not follow all the ideologies presented here, I have learned a lot, particularly on what I need to consider when I take my position. The next time I read news about the protests in Istanbul, I have a closer reference to home that I can think about.

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This is a turning point in contemporary time. We need to historicize this present and document it, not just in the fallibility of online documentation. Too much is changing in a very small amount of time. The question is what kind of change would we accept and how would we deal when the change comes. The day ended in ashes as the ultimate performance of an effigy is in its destruction. I would want to think that our chaotic destruction today is paving a way to a more ideal future.

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This entry was posted on July 22, 2013 by in Diary of a Grad student, Random Writings, Reviews and Musings and tagged , , .

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