Thursday, August 6, 2009

Shelter from the Storm

Shelter from the Storm
After helping elect Cory Aquino as President of the Republic 23 years ago, Rick Olivares returned to the Manila Cathedral to say goodbye.
by rick olivares

Hope amidst the seedy underbelly
I was supposed to ride with the bus that Ateneo had chartered for the contingent that would go to the Manila Cathedral. Instead I wanted to see Manila up close and personal with the man on the street on a day of national mourning.

Once inside the LRT Line 2 that traversed the length of Aurora Boulevard all the way to Recto Avenue, the rain came pouring down like the wrath of God had descended upon the metro. It lashed at the train and I couldn’t help but thank the Man Above for shelter from the storm. Inside it seemed serene while outside nature’s fury raged outside. It was said that this month of August would be rainy more than usual but if you ask me, the heavens were commiserating with the Philippine nation that had lost a leader who gave so much for the sake of democracy.

At the Betty Go-Belmonte station, that familiar Tony Orlando and Dawn tune, “Tie A Yellow Ribbon,” that had become synonymous with Ninoy and Cory Aquino’s relationship as well as a signature note in their struggle for democracy, was played on the LRT’s piped-in music. It was only then that I realized that every pillar and column in every LRT stop had a yellow ribbon around it.

Since it was a holiday, the train wasn’t filled with its usual chock of students and professionals. The song with its ultimate meaning shook the dreariness of the otherwise somber mood inside the train. A few sang softly along to it but as the song built to the chorus, more passengers chimed in until its strains echoed throughout the train.

From Recto, I walked across the connecting corridor to Line 1 at the Doroteo Jose that ran the length of Monumento to Baclaran. The connecting station is quite a bit of a walk where you’ll come across the urban decay that has grown and festered in this great city where the walls are black from the soot and pollution and the only fresh coat of paint they receive are from graffiti.

Houses have been built upon houses in this stone rat’s maze and the fenced off and well lit corridor reminded me of the train is just alighted from – shelter from the storm.

The slums dwelling are almost on level with the elevated walkway and one can actually peer inside the windows if he wished to do so. A child, probably no older than five years of age stared out of one window that had a Cory Aquino streamer serving as a curtain. She managed a smile, missing teeth and all and flashed the “Laban” sign. Out of the mouth of the babes was hope amidst the squalor.

At Doroteo Jose, the station was jammed with people. I had to wait for three trains before I squeezed myself in to experience what it’s like to be a sardine in a can. Mercifully, it’s a short ride with two stops, the first at Carriedo, the popular shopping center of a different time and age and second and last, at the Central Terminal where I got off for the short walk via the underpass to the Intramuros.

The underpass, mercifully, was well lit. But the ceilings were leaking from the rains. Half the walkway was cordoned off because of the water and flotsam that flooded the tunnel. In the dry areas of the underpass, there were several homeless people asleep on top of cardboard boxes with dirty blankets wrapped around them to keep warm. The place reeked of urine and reminded me of those filthy public toilets.

A woman vendor, somewhere in her late 30’s, called out to me: “Pupunta ka kay Cory?”

I nodded and managed her a smile.

“Ikaw na magsimba para sa akin,” she said by way of asking a favor. “Kailngan maghanapbuhay pa.”

It turned out that she sold banana cue and turon near the pedicab terminal outside the Walled City. She had no home and lived in the underpass.

The Parliament of the Streets
I entered Intramuros from the entrance at Anda and Muralla with fleeting thoughts of the old Ateneo in my mind. As I neared Solano Street, the side streets were already filled with cars and I could hear cheers of a massive crowd carry across the concrete and stone canyons of the old symbol of Spanish might in the Far East.

A black SUV stopped in front of me and out jumped the detail security of Quezon City Mayor Sonny Belmonte. In a yellow polo shirt, he smiled and flashed the “Laban” sign. The crowds cheered him on.

Belmonte was lucky. Not every public official received cheers from the gathered crowds. Bong Revilla Jr. and Senator Francis Pangilinan were greeted with a mixture of cheers and boos with the latter more pronounced. I couldn’t understand what their criteria was for their benediction of yea or nay.

When former Marine General and Senator Rodolfo Biazon arrived without any entourage and fanfare, he received a thunderous roar from the crowd. Surprised at the reception, he smiled and saluted the crowd. And more or less, I began to understand. “Simple lang siya,” marveled one onlooker aloud. “Ni walang bodyguard.”

I suspected then that they looked at Cory’s frugalness and humility and anyone without a shred of being moneyed was canonized. The people, at least those hundreds assembled by the old Governor’s Palace were sick and tired of the endless politicking and corruption that has infected almost every sector of society.

“Sobra na. Tama na!” yelled a throng with fists in the air as they reprised the collective protest that marked the end of the Marcos regime.

When rumors of the impending arrival of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo circulated, the mood quickly swung into one of anger.

The last time I had seen this many OB Vans and camera crews was EDSA II. Except now, more people had cameras and the means of getting news, pictures, and video out so people were jockeying for the best vantage point. “Pang-Facebook,” said one colegiala. “Of course I want to say goodbye to Tita Cory. But this is also being a part of history.”

Everywhere there were enterprising folks hawking everything from yellow t-shirts, pins, baller ID’s, key chains, hats, umbrellas, and ribbons. “Mas maganda di hamak yung yellow kesyo sa pink ni (MMDA Chairman) Bayani Fernando,” was 24-year old Arnel’s sales talk to curious onlookers. He lives in San Andres Bukid and ekes out a living driving a pedicab. He wasn’t even born when the People Power Revolution broke out. “Narinig ko lang sa magulang ko yung mga ginawa nila Cory at Ninoy. Wala na siya sa gobyerno pero nagmamalasakit siya. ‘Di tulad ng mga karamihan na nakaupo, eh, puro pagnanakaw ang inaatupag. Itong pagbebenta ng mga t-shirt – hindi lang kami nakikiramay, nagkakaisa kami sa pamilya ni Cory.”

It Can’t Rain All The Time
As the Requiem Mass got underway, those unable to get inside the Cathedral had to make do with the loudspeakers installed outside to be able to hear what was going on. In a nearby VIP parking lot, a video wall was installed and the area was soon packed.

Galing pa ako ng Mountain Province nung Lunes pa,” said Lucinda, who was a public school teacher. “Hindi ako nagpunta rito para umalis dahil sa konting ulan. Ano ba naman yung basa ka sa ulan eh mas matindi yng dinaanan ni Ginang Aquino nung siya’y Presidente? Ito na ang pinaka-simpleng pag-aalay ko.”

A father held the hand of his six-year old boy in the driving rain. “I want my son to witness the historical significance of this and know why people love Mrs. Aquino,” said Manuel who works at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. “We Filipino people have a special purpose in the world. I want my son to understand that first-hand and for it to have an effect on him.”

When I bent over to shake the boy’s hand, he flashed me the Laban sign.

Around the time of Fr. Catalino Arevelo S.J.’s Homily, the rains began to pour once again. I shared my umbrella with a cigarette vendor. “Salamat,” he offered. I also noticed others share their tents and other rain gear with those without any.

When was the last time this mass act of unity and kindness happened? EDSA II?

No one budged from their places even as the downpour increased in its intensity. There was a handicapped man with a hand holding up an umbrella with the other keeping his balance. And there were those came far and wide.

Cory Aquino in life and in death had reunited the Filipino people. And every one found their shelter from the storm with her and one another. The spirit of the 1986 People Power Revolution was very much alive and one of the late President’s final wishes was for everyone to continue their work for the betterment of the nation.

In years past, I had become jaded to the point where I kept thinking and planning to migrate. I had given up the fight; one I took part of when I was only in high school and continued even years after school until my more mundane pursuits became the focus of my life. Now she gave me pause to think; think long and hard.

As her funeral cortege made its way out of the Manila Cathedral for what eventually an eight-hour procession to her final resting place at the Manila Memorial Park, the huge crowd clapped, cheered, chanted her name, and cried. After it passed my position at the corner of the street. I took some final shots and a video and offered one more prayer up above thanking Him for she who restored our pride and made us believe.

I retraced my steps back home. Along Anda, through the gate and the underpass. Across the bus terminal to the LRT Line 1 at Central where I got off at Doroteo Jose for the walk to Line 2.

The train still wasn’t full even if it was close to noon. Perhaps people had stayed indoors to take shelter from the storm.

Once inside the train, I sat and it felt good. I had been standing for six hours but had not really realized it. As I leaned my head on a partition with my mind still ablaze with emotions and thoughts regarding the last few days, there was a squawk on the loudspeakers. Then “Tie A Yellow Ribbon” began playing.

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