11 May 2016
#Throwback has become one of the most, if not the most, popular hashtag in the world of social media. As such, I want to share a throwback story-- a story of one of my most unforgettable experiences. The first time I participated in the Philippine Elections, that is, the first time I ever voted. You see, we just had our National and Local Elections the other day. And, while we are still waiting for the final and official results from the Commission on Elections (Comelec), I'd like to go back to that singular moment when I thought, for the first time, that I was going to die.
|(c) PPCRV Website for May 1998 Elections|
It was back in 1998. I had just turned 18 and, like any idealistic young adult, I was very excited to finally get to vote. We left our house for our hometown very early in the morning. I don't remember having slept the night before, I was that excited! Plus, I had insomnia. As we headed to our hometown, which was about an hour drive from the city, I kept myself focused on memorizing the names of the candidates I wanted to vote for. For president, I had Raul Roco in mind. I remember he was the candidate most young, idealistic voters were supporting. Much like Miriam Defensor-Santiago is this year's choice of the youth. And, oh, in 1998, MDS also ran for president for the second time! First time was in 1992. (Thank you, Val, for the reminder!) Anyway, Joseph Estrada won the presidency in 1998.
For vice president, I voted for Oscar Orbos even if I was the only one in my family who did and even if most of my friends didn't even know him outside of his popular TV program at that time, GMA's Debate. I had always liked him. I always remembered that he was part of former President Cory Aquino's cabinet and he was called "Wonder Boy" because he was young and promising. Somehow, that stuck to my mind. But, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo won that year's vice presidential race. In my head, I went over my list of 12 senators down to municipal mayor and vice mayor, and one or two councilors. I was so careful not to forget anyone.
Because my parents and my brothers went to our other hometown to vote, I was left under the care of my aunt. As we got to the the Elementary School where our precinct was, we found out that my name wasn't in the list. But, my other aunt, who was based in Manila was in the list so I got to vote in her behalf. Haha! Shocking, right? So much for the idealism I initially had, but that was pretty much how it was done in our town during those times. When a name was called and nobody answered, anybody could just go and vote for that person. No IDs required, no proofs, nothing. Even a 12-year-old kid could vote. Yes, I did see some 12-year-olds or maybe even younger inside the precinct being guided by some grown-ups as they cast their vote.
Back to my story, when my aunt's name was called, I was trembling when I came forward. The teacher who was assigned at the precinct had her son beside her and it so happened that this boy went to the same high school I went to. We were acquaintances and he knew I wasn't the person being called. I was mortified, but I pretended to not recognize him. He just smiled at me. My head was held high, but I was feeling really small at that time. One of our companions told me to hurry and assured me that I wasn't the only one doing that. As I entered the small classroom, some of the grown-up guides rushed to me, sat me down and started pointing out some names of councilors. After they were sure I shaded the names of their councilors, they finally left me at peace. I was taking my time because I wanted to make sure I didn't make any mistake.
By the time I was in the middle of the list in my head, my aunt (companion) told me she was done and that she would wait for me outside the classroom. I signalled okay and continued to take my sweet time. All of a sudden, there was a commotion outside and people started to rush inside the classroom. We heard gunshots. We immediately got down and tried to take cover. My aunt called out to me and I rushed to the door, but there were too many people running towards the classroom. The door was too small for all of us. I fell butt first on the floor and because of the people rushing in, I couldn't get up until I felt I was being stepped on. I fell on my back and I no longer remember if I was screaming or what, but I clearly remember I was having a hard time breathing. I just lay there waiting for what could have been only a few seconds but felt like hours. I remember everything was in slow motion. What got me out of that weird sort of trance I was in was someone grabbing me so I could get up. They had to force me to get up because I was half inside and half outside the room so they couldn't close the door.
When I finally gathered my wits, the door was already closed and my aunt was nowhere to be seen. I noticed that next to where I fell there was a piece of wood that had a huge nail protruding out. I tried not to think of the fact that had I fallen on that piece of wood, that nail would have stabbed me. But, I had no time to have an epiphany or anything like that because the armed men were banging on the door. The teachers kept it locked and were crouching behind it. We heard more shots. No one knew whether they were warning shots or they were really trying to shoot at us. We found out later that they were the incumbent mayor's men and they wanted to take the ballots from our precinct because it was one of the precincts that "belonged" to the opposition. More and more gun shots were heard. I never felt as scared as I felt at that time. I wanted to cry, but there were no tears. All I could think about was finding my aunt.
I saw one of my cousins sitting on the floor right across me so I crawled towards her. I asked her where my aunt was and she told me that those who were waiting outside the classroom ran to the houses behind the school compound when the incumbent mayor and his men came. I told her I had to find my aunt. Feeling that she couldn't stop me, she told me to run to any of the houses outside of the school compound because every house there was owned by our relatives. My aunt had to be in one of those houses. As soon as we felt like the mayor and his men had left, the head teacher assigned there opened the door a little to take a peek outside. I ran towards the door and asked her to let me go out because I had to find my aunt. The teacher let me out and closed the door again as soon as I was out. I don't exactly know, until this very day, where I got the courage I had at that moment. I saw that the armed men were still in the yard and I did see the mayor pointing to this and that direction. He was wearing a good pair of Raybans, that's what I clearly remember about him. There were actually some other people who came from the other classrooms who were already talking to the armed men. I ran towards the back of the classroom I came from and there I saw a gate. I ran as fast as I could to the house closest to the gate. It was a few meters away, I think. I used to do Track-and-Field back in High School, but I don't think I'd ever run like that! I was literally running for my life! It was like shooting for an action movie.
The funny thing was, yeah, now I can say it was funny, but it wasn't at all funny at that time, as relief flooded over me when I got really close to the the gate of the house and I was thanking God because I was finally safe, I found myself face-to-face with malong-clad armed men, from inside that house, running towards the gate. No, running towards me! They were probably on their way to the school compound to fight back, I obviously didn't have time or interest in finding out. The thing is, when I go back to that moment, I can't help but think that if those men mistook me for the enemy, they could have shot me.
I ran away from the house and as I was approaching the next house, the sound of gunshots rippled through the air again. I wanted to take cover because it felt like they were just behind me. But, there was really nowhere to go. I just ran and ran! Finally, I got to the next house. To my surprise, the people in that house were just talking as if nothing was happening. We could hear the exchange of gunshots, but they remained very calm. I was the only one scared. The owner of the house asked me who I was and where I came from. When I mentioned my mom's name, they told me they were her cousins and that my aunt, whom I was looking for, was just in the next house having breakfast. Having breakfast! Haha!
So, finally, I found my aunt and she was laughing at how scared I was. I was embarrassed, but I started laughing, too. And then, I felt a jabbing pain on my side and chest area every time I had abrupt movements. That was when I noticed that my blouse and pants, even my kombong (veil), had soil and shoe prints all over them. That meant that people really stepped on me left and right! And, I noticed that I had a huge scratch, with dried blood, on my side. I realized I was actually closer to that nail than I thought. I told my aunt about my experience. She just dismissed it like it was a normal occurence. Perhaps it was, during elections in that place. No one made a big deal out of what happened. No one fussed over the fact that I almost died. They did remind me, though, that whatever happened I shouldn't tell my dad about my experience. That's when I realized that it acctually was a big deal. If they didn't want my dad knowing, then I must have really been in danger. That's how it works, you see. To get things under control and avoid more trouble, you don't go telling the men in your family as they will be forced to fight or vindicate you. And, that may mean bloodshed!
Afterwards, we went back home safely. And, soon, I forgot how dangerous the whole experience was because it slowly became, to my mind, the greatest adventure of my life. I never voted in that municipality again as the next election I was registered, finally under my own name this time, in our other hometown. That scratch on my side, I wore like a badge of honor. Sometimes, something like that could afford you bragging rights. I was very young, I liked bragging rights. Of my friends, I was the one with the best (election) adventure story to tell. It ultimately became a source of pride instead of embarrassment. It was actually a rite of passage and I made it out alive and laughing. And, I could survive anything after that.
That was eighteen years ago today. I am happy that some things have actually changed as time went by. But, I feel sad whenever I hear that there are still many towns in this province that have elections as scary and violent and many people still experiencing the same or even more dangerous elections until today. I hope all of that changes and we can all finally have peaceful elections in every single town. Also, I wish the story above were just a product of my imagination; I wish it were just a scene from an action movie. But, it happened. I experienced it. While I'm grateful that I came out of it alive, I know now that I shouldn't take pride in that experience. That shouldn't have happened. That should have been only for the books. That, all that, should change. No one should go through that kind of fear and helplessness. Change comes from the people, I know that. It has to come from everyone of us. So, I pray that we gather enough strength and courage to bring about that elusive change.
I want to share here my #Halalan2016 thoughts, which I posted on Facebook yeaterday. Here:
Ngayong araw na ito, masaya ako. Una, kasi panalo na si Presidente Duterte. Pangalawa, mananalo din si Bise-Presidente Robredo, in shaa Allah. Mula umpisa, sila na talaga ang napili kong iboto kaya masaya talaga ako. Dito sa amin sa Marawi City, sa Lanao del Sur, at sa kabuuan ng ARMM, solid na #DuRo ang mga tao! Dami kong natanong at nakausap, e, kaya alam ko ito. Nakakatuwa. At sa totoo lang, nakaka-proud na hindi nanalo dito si Bongbong Marcos. Pangatlong rason ng kasiyahan ko 'yun. Pang-apat, nanalong muli sina RG Hataman at RVG Lucman. Tuloy ang #ARMMazing! Pang-lima, para sa Marawi. Mukha kasing parating na rin ang pagbabago. Inaamin kong may kaba pa rin sa puso ko at ng lahat ng taga-rito pero pinipili kong manalig. Pang-anim, ayun sa partial and unofficial results, mananalo rin ang mga kandidato mula sa pamilya namin! Congrats sa inyo, Kuya Fiat at Kuya Froxy. Si Ate Mela naman sa Kolambugan, final at official na, first vote siya! Congrats, congrats ulit! Alhamdulillah.
Dagdag dito, marami akong na-realize. Una, bilang guro ng Panitikan, kailangan kong doblehin ang aking efforts sa pagmulat sa kabataan hindi lamang tungkol sa buhay kundi tungkol sa kasaysayan, lalo na ng Pilipinas. Ang muntikang pagkapanalo ni Marcos ay tanda na kulang sa kamulatan ang mga Pilipino ngayon kaya mahalaga talaga na ang mga susunod na henerasyon ay maimulat sa katotohanan. Pangalawa, saludo ako kay Grace Poe at dumoble, tumriple ang respeto ko sa kanya matapos kong mapanood ang press con niya kagabi. Si Mar Roxas din, dumoble ang respeto ko sa kanya nang marinig ko ang mga salita niya sa sarili niyang press con kanina. Mula pa noong umpisa, siya ang second choice ko. Pangatlo, hindi alam ng karamihang Pilipino kung gaano sila ka-suwerte na ganu'n kadaling nakakaboto sila at nakakapagsalita ng walang takot. Noong botohan, mabilis nilang tinapos ang pagboto dahil sa init ng panahon o kaya dahil sa dami ng tao. Dito sa amin, sa ilang mga munisipyo at lungsod, kailangang bilisan ng mga tao dahil sa takot na mabaril sila o masabugan sila ng granada o kung ano mang bomba. Kahit kita ng dalawang mata mo ang lantarang pandaraya, pagbili ng boto, pananakot at pagkitil ng buhay, kailangang tumalikod ka na lang, magtago na parang nasa action movie o umiling at huminga ng malalim kasi takot ka na hindi lang ikaw ang patayin kundi buong angkan mo at pati mga bahay 'nyo ay madamay. Napakalungkot pero ito ang katotohanang hinaharap ng iba sa atin habang ang iba nama'y balitaktakan sa social media ang pinagkaka-abalahan. Hindi ko sinasabing mali itong pakikipagbalitaktakan at pakikipag-debate sa social media, naisip ko lang talaga na hindi alam ng karamihan kung gaano sila ka-suwerte. Pang-apat, mas kalmado na ako ngayon. Oo, medyo OA pa rin ako kumpara sa ibang tao, pero malaki na ang pinagbago ng temper ko. Mas mahaba na ang pasensiya ko. Pang-lima, natuto akong manalig at mas rumespeto ng iba't ibang opinyon. Pang-anim, mula noon hanggang ngayon, nag-uumapaw ang pagmamahal ko sa bayan ko.
Meron lang akong hiling sa lahat, igalang po natin ang naging pasiya ng taong-bayan. Time out muna sa pagiging nega. Ilang oras pa lang po, hindi pa nga po lumabas ang official results na galing talaga sa Comelec, e. Baka naman po pupuwedeng bigyan natin sila ng pagkakataon na patunayan ang mga sarili nila. Kahit ilang buwan man lang. Opo, maging mapagmatiyag po tayo dahil responsibilidad natin ito bilang mga mamamayan pero sana naman po ay ilagay natin sa lugar. Inuulit ko po, ilang oras pa lang po. Magtulong-tulong po tayo tungo sa kaunlaran ng ating minamahal na bansa.
May hiling din ako sa mga nanalo na at mananalo pa, huwag po sana ninyo sayangin ang tiwala at boto namin sa inyo. Hindi 'nyo man po kami kilala, ipinaglaban din po namin kayo. 'Yung iba nga po sa amin, nakipag-away pa sa mga kaibigan at kakilala nila. Kung ano-ano na po ang itinawag sa amin pero ipinagkibit balikat po namin kasi may tiwala po kaming mapapatunayan namin na kayo nga ang dapat na mailuklok sa puwesto. Ginawa po namin ang aming parte, kayo naman po ngayon. Makakaasa po kayo na susuportahan namin kayo pero, siempre, babantayan din po namin ang mga gawain ninyo. Binabati ko po kayong lahat at kasihan nawa kayo, tayong lahat, ng Panginoon.
Mabuhay ang Pilipino! Mabuhay ang Pilipinas! :-)