I am less than 2 weeks away from flying out to the Philippines for my second Baliksambayanan Exposure Trip. After a six hour meeting in preparation for the trip, I made a pit stop to the mall for some Hot Dog On A Stick Lemonade, and found myself skimming through old diary entries from my last trip in 2010. I had only transcribed 3 days of journal writing, but reading those three days was very telling.
I was glad to find an entry that I had written after an eventful day with the PUP students and the Morong 43 healthworkers who were then still in prison. It triggered a lot of memories from our 2010 BSB trip, making me feel as though I were back then again. Suddenly, my Hot Dog on A Stick lemonade disappears, and I am once again facing the Morong 43 women in their prison cell, singing “Dakilang Pakikibaka” in acapella.
My diary entry reads:
Day 3 (Dawn of Day 4): 7.16.10
Today was another long day. My feet are so swollen that they can barely fit in my slippers. It’s probably all the walking, and the high salt content of our food. My dad calls this “manas,” where parts of your body bloats/swells because your body has too much salt.
Anyway, why am I talking about salt? Today was an eventful day: We went toPolytechnicUniversityof the Philippines (PUP) Santa Mesa, and walked out with the students to invite them at the National Youth Walkout tomorrow; we visited the Morong 43; ate isaw and other street foods; and rode the jeepney from hell called “Patok.”
PUP was very exciting, because I hadn’t been to that university before. We did a “bandwagon” protest wherein we started marching on the second floor of the building, going up on campus, inviting students to join us for tomorrow’s action. It was refreshing to see college students like us (although they’re much younger) live such similar yet different lifestyles. The students there are also going through similar budget crises, and problems with their facilities. They all also seem to act like us, talk like us, dress like us, and joke around like us. They all have really interesting names, and characters, too. Like Anna, for example, is well known by everyone here as “Grade Five” or “Five” because she looks like a 5th grader. Another one of the youth is called—or rather teased—as “Charice,” a guy with very pretty, long hair, who resembles Charice Pempengco. He really goes by “Wax,” but I don’t know if that’s his real name either. What a trip.
We also visted the Morong 43 at around noon, and it was a very powerful experience—I really didn’t see it coming. The Morong women had prepared a program for us, where they sang songs, and talked about their experience in the prison cells. They shared the mental, and physical torture that they’d undergone, which made me feel angered and sad. It made me open my eyes to how inhumane people can get when they are power hungry. It made me realize how much dedication and strength you’ll need if you’re going to be a part of this movement. They said that even though they’re in prison, they’ll still keep on training with their medical work. And that when they get out of prison, they’ll be back to what they do best—work as health workers for communities that need them most.
It made me cry to see these women still laugh, and joke around even though they’ve been through horror. They still managed to smile even though they are unjustly imprisoned. They stay together, and are always there for one another.
One of them had their birthday today. Ate Alex, I believe was her name. I spoke to her after we’d collected their messages to us, and told her that I was so sorry that she had to spend her birthday in prison. She said that it’s okay, and that next year, on her birthday, we should visit again. “Sanapagdatingnoon, mag se-celebrate tayo ng malaya na kami.Paramay handaan. May party. Diba?” (I hope when that day comes, we’ll celebrate with our freedom. So we can have food. A party. Right?)
I didn’t show her then, but it almost brought me to tears when she said that. She still had so much optimism…I guess it’s because she knew—they all knew—that justice is on their side, and that they will be freed. No matter how long that may take.
Seeing the Morong men was heartbreaking, though. They’re placed at a more high risk facility. They have it stricter: every person goes through a strip search. You can see how sad their eyes were, and quiet they were compared to the women. Guards watched our every move, and listened to our every word. They also just let 5 of the men talk to us. They looked exhausted yet desperate to see us. It was good to hear their stories, but really sad that they had to tell it in such a constrained manner. They had very little privacy, and very few visitors because of the strict rules.
The Morong 43 gave us all hope, and drive to organize. Slowly, my questions and doubts about our work are being answered. The 43 is living proof that selflessness in the movement is key to our struggle. The sacrifice they make will not deter them from being in the movement, and mum them from protesting against the government’s oppressive, fascist, capitalistic ways. Their stories will always be in my heart, and their embrace will always keep me warm from cold days of uncertainty.
Free the Morong 43!
A lot has happened since that time. The Morong 43 is now free, and Ate Alex can finally celebrate her birthday with us–outside of prison.
Even Grade 5 is no longer Grade 5…well, she’s still Grade 5 to me and my kasamas who went with me in 2010, but Anna is no longer organizing with LFS. She’s now in the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP).
A lot of the people we met there are no longer organizing in the same organizations. Some of them became consumed with work, some are organizing in the provinces, and some, unfortunately, have passed (RIP Ka Erning). A lot has indeed changed.
Since BSB 2010, I have served two terms in EC officer for LFS SFSU, and will be embarking on my third term as Educational Development officer. We have grown as a the only international chapter, and recently just became a part of Anakbayan USA…we’re now also in the process of sending 10 Filipino-American youth and students to Baliksambayanan 2012.
All 10 of us are about to embark on a trip that will change our lives as organizers forever…all 10 of us are about to embark on a trip that will ripen the National Democratic movement faster..and next year, we’ll hopefully sending 10, if not more members to go to Baliksambayanan.
If you would like to donate to the Baliksambayanan exposurists, and the communities that they will be integrating with, you can send your donation through Paypal. Click here to donate.
We’re also taking the following items for donations:
Medical Supplies (pain killers, vitamin supplements, anti biotics, etc.)
Office Supplies (pens, notebooks, binders, etc.)
Contact your nearest LFS member for donation drop offs, or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until my next diary entry,
LFS SFSU Chairperson 2011-2012