DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/31 August) — It had been almost two hours since Iglesia ni Cristo members started gathering on the sidewalk outside the Davao City Overland Transport Terminal on Sunday night.

At first look, it was a scene straight out of the early 1980’s. An hour before midnight and the crowd volume was threatening to close down the street. Some among them had laid out mats and sacks on the sidewalk to sit or sleep on. They were generally people of age to be in the labor force, all coming to Davao City to gather in front of the Department of Justice. There were a few schoolchildren and one or two infants. There were also a few senior citizens. Mostly, these were adult men and women, fit and able to plan at least six hours’ travel to get here.

I chatted with a few men who had just come off the van from Los Angeles (Butuan). Later, I stopped a couple of young ladies who had just gotten off a van. They said they were from Madrid (Surigao). They had no plans for decent lodging, billet, or toilet facilities. Their objective was just to get on this sidewalk and stay here until Tuesday or whenever.

“What if it rains?” I asked.

“It won’t rain while we’re here,” said an authoritative male with conviction in his voice.

Uh-oh. There’s a thunderstorm coming in early morning.

In huddles on the sidewalk watching the stage being set up outside the DOJ gate were contingents from Nasipit (Agusan), Pikit (North Cotabato), Tacurong (Sultan Kudarat), Zamboanga, Carmen (Davao del Norte). The Iglesia ni Cristo locals from Davao City had yet to join the flock. Already, about eight hundred had taken over the sidewalk. Pedestrians had to gingerly skirt the edge of the road, ever watchful of cars coming from the opposite direction.

A stage at the terminal is a terminal stage. Right.

Vans and open trucks kept coming, unloading people and moving on to find parking somewhere else. Two police cars with flashing lights were parked at the corner of Candelaria and Maya Streets, its personnel deployed to keep the transport trucks and vans from blocking the road. Close to midnight, the Traffic Management Group was in an emergency meeting planning contingency measures to reroute traffic or perhaps to temporarily relocate the bus terminal.

“Is this your first time to join a protest rally?” I asked a young man from Los Angeles who claimed to be 20 years old.

“It’s a peace rally,” he corrected me.

“What for?” I persisted.

“For peace,” he replied. Like, that would be self-evident. And here I thought it was to celebrate Araw ng Kagitingan.

“How many clothes did you bring?” Toto asked instead.

“Six shirts,” he answered.

It’s a Sunday. Evidently, at worship today, local INC churches had sent out the call for its respective members to gather here. I guess by now the Mayor must have been briefed already about this newest invasion of his territory. The poor man. If it’s not the United Church of Christ of the Philippines taking in Lumads from all over, it’s the Iglesia ni Cristo bringing in people from somewhere else to express their grievance here. It looks like it’s getting to be enough of a public inconvenience to make him swear off organized religion.

Except that these people did not act like they were aggrieved. Nobody said this had anything to do with Justice Secretary Leila Delima. They don’t even know who they came here to talk to and what demands they would be making. They’ll just wait for the program, they said.

This is not really like the 80’s after all.

The street scene then featured people from all walks of life. Men in barong rubbed elbows with peanut vendors and jeepney drivers, college students and office workers. On some occasion, you’d have Kris Aquino in pigtails before she made tusok-tusok the fishball (or was that Sharon Cuneta?)

Tonight, most of those people do not even know why they’re there. Absent is the personal conviction that characterized the firebrand street parliamentarians of my youth. You ask those people then why they were out on the street and you’d end up getting lectured on what was wrong with the government and why Marcos had to go:

“Tama na. Sobra na. Palitan na!”

I asked about ten people out there tonight why they were here. Their reply, to a man, was: “We were told to come here.”

How very obedient. It’s almost as if this political exercise – because that is what a public demonstration is – were a commandment from on high.

The Bolton Bridge is just a stone’s throw away from where they are. I wonder what these people would do were their organizers to tell them to jump off the bridge.

Davao City denizens had better avoid that part of the city tomorrow and probably the day after until these people make up their minds. Or have it made up for them by their organizers.

For now it’s just a gathering of numbers. It is a dream for anyone doing research and wishing for a representative sample of Mindanao citizenry all in one place. Occupy Candelaria Street. This can indeed stop traffic and prevent DOJ employees from coming to work. Who do you then talk to when there’s nobody home?

And oh, by the way, Delima does not hold office in that building. Not in this city.

For their sake, I wish our guests would just get off the sidewalk and streets and head out to our malls instead. Get something to remember the time they came to visit Davao City. That would make the mayor very happy, too.

(The author finished this piece at around 1 a.m. on August 31. By 7 a.m., thousands had occupied Candelaria St. but dispersed mid-morning as soon as officials in Manila announced the dispersal of the rallies in front of the Department of Justice in Manila and the EDSA Shrine area).