Ganito Tayo Noon (The Way We Were)
Yesterday, over a hundred activists from martial law years gathered at the ALPADI compound in Antipolo for our third annual “Ganito Tayo Noon…” reunion.
Thanks to Alex Arellano for being the first photographer to post on Facebook the 200 snapshots he took during yesterday’s five hours of fun, food and friendship. Even some fund raising.
The idea of this reunion was hatched in 2008 by Arno Sanidad, who observed that many activists of the martial law years had no chance to meet, except at wakes and funerals of former comrades. Why not have a happier occasion to meet for catching up on our lives?
His proposal was taken up by Darwin and Monette Flores and a volunteer steering committee. Alex Padilla offered the ALPADI compound for the first reunion in December 2008.
Yesterday we “reaffirmed” our commitment to make this an annual gathering at the ALPADI compound, on the first Saturday of January.
Next year, that’s January 7, 2012 for those of you who want to plan your lives one year ahead.
Girlie and I have been fortunate to attend all three “Ganito Tayo Noon” reunions, and have always been energized both by the experience, and by our remembrance of the experience.
Our “Martin and Pops” emcees, Susan Tagle and Joel Saracho, asked me to give a brief background to those who were attending for the first time, like Edna Aquino, Analyn de Luna, and Milabel Cristobal, who have been working outside the Philippines.
I quoted from an author I don’t recall: “We have two selves: The experiencing self, and the remembering self.” And our lives tend to be more influenced by our remembering self.
Paraphrasing Gabriel Garcia Marquez, what matters is not so much what has happened to us, but what we do with what has happened to us.
What we choose to remember, and how we choose to remember. I should have added, “and with whom we choose to remember.”
For that is what yesterday was all about.
Sikolohiyang Pilipino observes that we Filipinos tend to communicate even serious stuff (especially serious stuff) first through jokes, biro. It’s our way of reassuring each other that we do not question each other’s pagkatao, and that we accept each other as kapwa, even if we may have differences with each other and questions about each other.
That’s the serious side of our laughter yesterday. Given the twists and turns of the collective history of the Philippine left, the unspoken second part of “Ganito Tayo Noon” is the question “Ano Na Tayo Ngayon?“
The answers can make for awkward conversation, if pursued with the “grim and determined” part of our tradition.
Hence the agreement by the steering committee that the day is without any over-all “agenda,” no matter how worthy. The reunion is simply a “democratic space” where participants can engage in all sorts of paired and small group conversations, including whatever agenda they may agree to discuss and pursue.
The spirit of biro started at the trellis entrance to the lawn. New arrivals were asked to pose for the “official” photographer (who else but Arno). They were asked to express their contemporary version of the clenched fist. A few stuck to the “classical” version. Others improvised. One had the clenched fist under the chin, a la Rodin’s “The Thinker.” Another had a fashionista gay salute. Bong Mendoza even asked for a “Take Two” after fetching an intifada scarf from his car trunk.
The good natured heckling, often led by Arno (again!) dwelt for a while on Etta Rosales, CHR chair, who came with her arm on a sling.
Arno’s explanation was that Etta was talking on her phone while walking, and was so focused on delivering her usual “nat sit” that she stumbled.
Joel Saracho then took on Liza Dacanay who had arranged for the vegetarian menu, side by side with the menu for omnivores. Her well-taken point is that vegetarians should not be marginalized, but mainstreamed. So, when Joel announced that lunch was served, he said that there were two tables and queues – one for “pagkain ng tao,” and another for “pagkain ng kambing.“
Of course, in line with our activist tradition, most us us took something from both tables. For lunch, I tasted both vegetarian salmon and crispy balat ng lechon, with organic brown rice. For merienda there was kakanin and sliced sweet potato and nilagang saging.
Joel is also responsible for a biro, repeated from a Facebook post, that one project we should consider together is a home for the aged, sponsored by the “Revolutionary Geriatric Society.”
Quite a few of us do carry senior citizens’ cards, though they did not apply to the 400 peso registration fee, or the souvenir T-Shirts and bags for sale.
The collective energy level was at its highest after lunch, and not just because of the good food and lively conversations. It was picture-taking time, and another round of heckling and revelations.
Gathering all participants for a group photo was quite a chore, accompanied by mock-commentaries: “For a group of organizers, we are difficult to organize. No wonder we couldn’t mount a successful revolution!” But no one hesitated to join, since we all proudly acknowledge that we were all part of the revolutionary movement, aboveground or underground.
The hesitation and the heckling happened when it was time for smaller special group photos. Some categories were easy to assemble, like those who were part of the Nationalist Alliance and the JAJA, both of which used to hold meetings at the same ALPADI compound. The same for the youth and student movement, the trade union movement, and the church sector.
It was still easy to gather “All those who have been political detainees.” And many even took a militant pose in the spirit of “All those who were part of cultural work!” But it took a bit of time to gather “All women who have taken part in the armed struggle.” Four bravely posed in response to Arno’s challenge “Those who identify themselves with the RA.”
But there was no way to have a group photo of “All who have received disciplinary action e.g. for insubordination, sexual opportunism, and other violations!” And even more impossible to get anyone to pose for a group photo of “All those who were responsible for imposing isciplinary action!”
After the self-designated hecklers ran out of categories for special group photos, we stood silently to remember those activists who have died, especially those who died in 2010. We listened to brief tributes to those whose names were written at the back of our reunion tarpaulin. The few I can recall are Leonardo Co, Oca Francisco, Luisito dela Cruz, Maricel…
From remembering the dead, we were asked to think of the living, especially those ageing activists who have health problems and who need help. That was when the idea of starting a fund to cover the required 10-year Philhealth payments for them to qualify for coverage.
The proposal was welcome, and in line with or activist tradition, Jorge Baviera immediately went around with a souvenir bag for our tarting contribution.
There is more to tell of what I remember from yesterday.
Tomorrow. Ed dela Torre