COMMENTARY: “Smell like the sheep…”

Pope Francis’ exhortation for the clergy and all consecrated persons and leaders of the Catholic church all over the world must have come home to some religious spotted during the “People’s SONA” who chose to respond to his admonition for them to be “Shepherds living with the smell of the sheep.”

As I braved the long march alongside the protesters, I started to silently pray despite myself, that I would be able to go through the hurdle when along the way I started feeling weary and tired. I could have easily given up and stopped walking through the five-kilometer stretch from the entrance of the University of the Philippines towards Batasan, but the multitude around me seemed to urge me gently on, have faith, and have the heart to continue walking, half-running, half dragging my feet and my weary body forward.

But I thought, it’s not my fight alone as I noticed, (and was ashamed of how I felt) that among the thousands of feet hurrying along the pavement were those of young mothers with their month-old babies in their arms; senior citizens much, much older than me, some of whom were frail-looking, but who nevertheless went with their families; children with their parents clinging to each other; young people who were finding new friends among the Lumads from my hometown, workers demanding just wages; farmers clamoring for justice against the plunder by state forces on their lot; families of the poor dwellers in the cities who have become victims of impunity and bloodlust; church people whose leaders were  summarily executed; and many, many more…

Each have their stories to tell and they too must have felt the way I do but were likewise determined to see through the struggle, because so much depends on the oneness that everyone must be feeling. There was a sense of urgency among the protesters that needs no prodding as alleged by the anti-poor. No amount of intimidation can stop this multitude from flocking and expressing their disagreement and disillusionment freely out here in the parliament of the streets.

There is so much at stake now, more than ever. It is no longer merely a concern for human rights violations that State forces wantonly disparaged and committed and seemingly tacitly approved and even seemingly encouraged by the national leadership all along. He said the people’s concern was only HUMAN RIGHTS, and he thought he has greater concern for human lives.

But then he did not stop to consider that these were the same human lives that he wantonly wasted with his simplistic solution to the drug menace and the same approach of his predecessors to “economic development” in the countryside that puts little premium on the lives of the poor especially among the Indigenous Peoples over and above profit for foreign corporations.

His logic escapes me as human lives have no meaning if human rights are not RESPECTED and protected.

For sure the president could have known the easiest and probably sounder way to beat the drug lords if he has just given it a thought. He had been there not only once but many times when he sat down with aggrieved people in his turf and listened to their legitimate causes and grievances. But then, things have changed. He failed to effect the change as he boasted, but he himself instead CHANGED for the worst.

And for that, he is now getting the flak from the same people, the “masa” he had vowed to serve, the ordinary citizens who once cast their hopes in his candidacy. In the big city, everything is controlled by big business, thus, it is no surprise that the little people composing the mammoth crowd did not get the news mileage from the established media owned and controlled by big corporations and the moneyed few.

For the first time in my life, I was given the chance to be in the middle of a restless and madding crowd clamoring and hungry for justice. I was a tiny speck in the crowd, breathed heavily with them as each individual become a part of humanity, becoming a distinct part of the human spirit that moved the weary and the lethargic.

Unlike before when I only saw and heard humanity’s cry for justice in the distance over the television where commentators project their own short-sighted interpretation of the people’s cry, being with the groaning masses drenched me with a new understanding of people’s lives.

There were so many strange faces, but why did it feel like I was part of it all. It was as if I became one with them, and I felt their pain and their confusion. Extraordinarily so, one learns so many new things about people and how they see and understand events. There was an old man aided by no one but a cane who was making his “dangerous” proposition for a “civil war” on a piece of paper pasted on the front and back portion of his shirt.

It says in all caps: “We need civil war! China magtagumpay! Sakim at Matakaw? Slaves tayo sa Bayan? Duterte gusto yan?  Anti-corrupt okay!  Anti-drugs not okay. If God is stupid, Duterte more stupid!

There was a youth donning a mask of pain that rolled over the pavement and enacted what would have been the stifled cry of victims of extrajudicial killings on the streets of Manila and elsewhere in the archipelago. Then again, there were groups of elderly nuns whose weary faces echo the beaten countenances of the Ata-Manobo and other indigenous peoples who endured the hostile pavements of Metro Manila, some even walking on bare foot.

Then, even as I had my own personal discomforts, the sight of young mothers bearing their children walking by me, reminded me that I was once like them when the martial rule menace was also declared by Marcos during our younger days, as I was among those who filled the streets in my city denouncing the insanity of Martial Law. They too must have deemed it right to give their share to ensure that the world that they borrowed from their children be given back to them and for the next generation.

Because it seemed the so-called national leaders of this nation since I started to see the light of day, had forgotten and did not see the fact that they do not own this country to be dispensed according to their greed for power and wealth. They have NO RIGHT to plunder our environment and kill people at will.., because they are only SERVANTS and not masters the way they behaved and believed.

These are but one of hundreds, nay thousands of reasons why the multitude gathered on that day, not to listen again to the lies and deceit of Duterte’s farce state of the nation that sounded like empty gongs in the dead of night, but to cry in unison and make the world realize that the Filipinos are neither complacent nor intimidated.

The Filipino people are rising up again to take back their birth right and their rightful place.