[OPINION] My activist story
I was in second year high school when Ninoy Aquino was assassinated in 1983.
“Did you hear? Ninoy Aquino was shot,” said my best friend.
I answerd back: “Who’s Ninoy Aquino?”
When I saw the news on TV and read about it the next day, I was as indignant as about any Filipino could be at that time. I became a joiner in the weekly confetti rallies along Ayala Avenue. I proudly wore my yellow T-shirt with Ninoy’s face printed on it. I flashed the L-sign at anyone who cared to look.
During the 1986 snap elections I volunteered for Namfrel. I went to the Philippine International Convention Center and later Baclaran Church with some La Salle Brothers to help protect the Commission on Elections technicians who walked out to protest the cheating.
I was in EDSA in those 4 heady days of February. I was in Mendiola the night Ferdinand Marcos left.
After seeing history unfold right before my eyes, I told myself to help make a better future for me and my country.
From blissful ignorance to radical knowledge
I entered UP Los Baños a few months after the 1986 EDSA People Power uprising brimming with hope. I believed I could make a difference.
It was there that I became intrigued with the grim and determined, kupas-na-maong-wearing, sandal-clad, pasikin-toting, tubao-adorned activists. They were so different. So anti-establishment. Counter-cultural. So UP.
But they seemed to have an explanation for everything, especially the questions that were burning in my mind.
It was from them I learned that the struggle for democracy did not end with Marcos’ ouster. That the problem was systemic. And that indeed, I had a role to play in making the country and the world a better place.
They taught me about structural analysis. How to conduct social investigation and class analysis. The struggle between the oppressed and the oppressors and whose side we had to take to make things better for all.
We were not content with slogans and empty rhetoric. Coming up with a sharp analysis and taking a stand on issues required a firm grasp and good articulation of history, economics, politics, sociology, statistics, anthropology and philosophy. My understanding of these subjects extended into the formal classroom, earning nods of appreciation from my professors.
This was not brainwashing. This was enlightenment.
Widespread corruption, chronic poverty, systemic injustice, underdevelopment - I got to see them not as accidents or punishments from a vengeful god. I realized these were products of a system deliberately designed for the benefit the few and the suffering of the many. And since people make up the system, then they have the power to change it.
More important was the realization that I could help bring about that change. Not just by electing good candidates. Not just through prayers. Not simply by graduating with honors, getting a nice job, buying a car, house and lot, helping my family, paying taxes and obeying traffic rules. All that was fine. But that wouldn’t change the system. I had to do more than that.
Suddenly, life made more sense and purpose. Such knowledge was powerful. Intoxicating. Liberating.
From shopping malls to picket lines
I started out as a campus journalist but found myself marching in the streets alongside farmers demanding land reform, with nationalists calling for the removal of the US bases, and with various sectors demanding an end to the debt trap. I learned how to speak out, organize, and mobilize fellow students.
I studied outside the 4 corners of the classroom. I joined strikes and picket lines, lived in farmers' huts in faraway places, and tried to understand what was happening around me and what my role was in creating a more democratic, just, and fair society.
This meant more time away from my family and old high school barkada. There were many sleepless nights putting the school paper to bed, weeks out of town organizing conferences and seminars, and hours hanging out with fellow activists, debating all kinds of stuff while singing progressive songs from a beat up guitar.
I drifted away from my closely knit circle but created wider arcs of friends and kindred spirits.
From obedient child to stubborn activist
And when I went home, there would be heated discussions at the dining table. Running debates with my parents. And a lot of tension.
My parents never agreed fully with my activism but did not force me to quit. They could be persuasive but at the end of the day, they allowed me to make decisions and supported my endeavors.
In return, I was careful not to hurt their feelings or cause any unecessary friction. We learned to accept our differences and stay away from each other’s hair.
I stopped studying for two years to be a full time activist. After graduating in 1993, I disobeyed my father’s wishes for me to take up law. I worked full time in the labor movement and then in various social movements and progressive organizations. Activism catapulted me to Congress in 2004 as a partylist representative. After 9 years as a legislator, I went back to the parliament of the streets.
From activist to parent
I have been an activist for the last 33 years. My journey has brought me from classrooms to picket lines, shopping malls to poor rural villages, stinking hovels to the hallowed halls of Congress.
And yet the struggle goes on.
I won’t probably live to see the full flowering of national democracy in the country, much more the socialist society of my dreams. As an activist, how I wish that the next generation continues the fight.
But as a parent, do I want my sons to be activists too?
My father, who was a lawyer, wanted me to be a lawyer. Of course I also want my kids to follow in my footsteps. Unfortunately, that choice is not mine to make just as it was not my father’s.
I understand that my children’s life choices will be determined largely by their own experiences. I cannot force my political beliefs on my kids or on others kids for that matter. I just hope they see sense in what I do and say.
All I can really hope for is to be a good example and inspiration to them. To be able to share my experiences and whatever knowledge and wisdom that I may have acquired. And then, after all is said and done, to have the capacity to respect their decisions and support their endeavors – just as my parents did with me. – Rappler.com