Ok this is five days late for EDSA People Power celeb. But anyway here it is….
Nothing happens in a vacuum. There is something in our culture that made a peaceful revolution possible. This is one man’s account but I hope you will find a shimmer.
Last January 20, after attending the liturgical service at UST, we decided to walk to Luneta for the Pope’s Mass at 3 PM. In our ponchos that look similar with the one worn by Pope Francis in Tacloban, we walked in the rain. It was a gloomy day and it was hopeless to even wish the rain to stop. Such weather was enough to dampen even the staunchest enthusiasm. You have television, radio and internet to follow events real-time. After all it is not a sin not to go to Luneta to attend the Pope’s mass. That in mind, we put that badge of courage and our ponchos, then counted ourselves among the self-sacrificing few who would brave the shivering weather just to go to Luneta. It was only when we reached Quiapo when we realized that we were – happily – wrong. A lot came from UST, if not all, but the chunk came trickling on the streets: people came from all directions, in groups, alone, old and young – families. When we reached Quiapo, my feet tired and aching and my leather shoes all soaked up, we found ourselves in a very busy street filled with soaked smiling people.
Cars were no longer allowed to pass Quezon bridge. The road, though closed to traffic, allowed ambulances, media vehicles and police cars to pass. While walking on the bridge we met a stream of people going back to Quiapo. It was a steady stream, but outnumbered by those heading to Luneta. Along the way I heard someone remark that there were already a lot of people in Luneta not counting those from UST. There was no sign of rain stopping. When we reached Manila City Hall, the streets were full of people walking in both directions. Almost like Nazareno Fiesta.
“Payong! Payong! Payong!”: Experiences at Maria Orosa St., corner Padre Burgos
“Sugod lang,” said my companion as we encountered a thicker crowd along National Museum. Buses parked along the way separated people like water flowing around a rock in a river. We were still quite a long way from Luneta. A while ago we could still hop over puddles of murky water, but that ended when we realized that bodies drew closer and closer to each other. Until we could no longer move. We pushed on so did a lot people. But soon, even those ahead of us could no longer forge a path. Then we stopped. People were glued to a huge LCD screen across the street. Whenever they saw the Pope everyone cheered. Whenever an aerial footage was shown, everyone cheered. I thought we were just momentarily stuck along Ma. Orosa. But soon I grasped that people did not stop to watch the big screen. People stopped because they could no longer move ahead. I tiptoed. I saw people. I tiptoed again. I saw a sea of people ahead of us not moving. Stuck. But cheering.
Everyone was squeezed to immobility. You can literally sleep standing. Young and impatient one of us said, “Kaya pa.” But there was nowhere to move. Imagine that kind of scenario kilometers on end.
I remember being stuck in a crowd a few days ago in the Nazarene Fiesta. The rush was so strong we could move an SUV out of the way. That was a rare moment when I feared for somebody’s life: an old lady was almost pinned against a car, saved only when several of us shouted “May matanda, may matanda!” I did not fear for my own, honestly, I liked the feeling of strength against strength – though there were a lot stronger than I. In contrast, the Pope Francis crowd was orderly. Different by miles. No, just different, entirely different. You have to experience it for yourself. Even we were squeezed in together, everyone was calm. Even at that most inconvenient time, event, situation, everyone was in good humor.
For whatever reason some brought umbrellas. It was publicly announced days before the arrival of the Pope not to bring umbrellas. We know it’s raining. People did not initially mind others bringing their umbrellas. I did not mind. But at that moment, umbrellas were blocking the BIG SCREEN! When people in front of us cheered someone from behind shouted, “Si Pope! Si Pope! Kaso may payong. Di namin nakita.” Then several people chanted in unison “Payong! Payong! Payong!” But the chant would abruptly end into laughter. I could not imagine we could laugh. Drenched, cold, hungry, squeezed to suffocation – we could still laugh.
Memorable. That event gives you an experience, no not an idea, but an experience of the quintessentially Filipino. That was the greatest gift of Pope Francis to me, to gather us in such a way that brought the best in each of us.
There were many personally moving experiences in the crowd. Those that moved me most were instances when I heared people expressing their concern for the old and weak. “Ok ka pa ‘Nay?” “Si ate nahihilo ‘yun.” “O ano kaya pa po, gusto n’yo alis na tayo?” It was a caring crowd. The strong were literally concerned for the weak. Even if we did not reach Luneta, so far from it, I was singularly happy at that moment. I was happy because I belonged to this group of people called Filipino. This gentle and caring people. My people.
30 minutes later we understood why some people went home. I could not breathe. I looked up into the sky just to breathe. My companions also felt the same thing. We lacked oxygen. That was also the first time in my life I felt like passing out. That was the time we decided to go back. There were a lot of people moving their way out as well, just as there were a lot of people coming to Luneta. But I never heard anyone complained of suffocation or the inconveniences of being in a thick crowd. I mean no one complained. Everyone was calm and joyful even if they did not reach Luneta.
Now, thinking over the event, it showed me in a very condensed way the people with whom I am living with in this small, poor country. I share this observation with a lot of people everywhere where the 6 – 7 million people gathered. I was there. Now I understand why the peaceful Revolution at EDSA was possible.
Payong means “umbrella”
Matanda means “old”