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Home Columns Op-Ed Page The Mournful and Haunting Sound of the Foghorn
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Columns - Op-Ed Page
Monday, 01 October 2007 12:02

I  came to America in November 1985, landing in San Francisco aboard a Northwest jumbo jet with a borrowed $10 in my pocket.

My children and I could have left the Philippines in 1983. But somehow, if you are a faculty member of the University of the Philippines’ (UP) Department of Political Science, there seems to be this unarticulated expectation that we are supposed to offer our lives for our people, to be with them till our last breath. So we did not come to America.

At that time, the Philippines was considered to be a "social volcano" on the verge of explosion. The Marcos dictatorship was breaking apart. Millions were marching on the streets protesting the assassination of Ferdinand Marcos’ fraternity brother, Benigno Aquino. There was hunger, poverty, injustice, and a hopeless future. Rebel groups, such as the National Democratic Front and the New People’s Army were confident that with 30,000-armed guerillas, they could take over and establish "National Democracy" in the Philippines. Indeed, for the many, there was general discontent and hopelessness all over the land.

With a heavy heart, I decided to leave. I boarded the massive, cathedral like, Northwest Jumbo jet. With me were Filipinos who looked like they had come from the rural areas in the Philippines; perhaps immigrants like me. Then last to board were the Vietnamese refugees, those who survived the bombs, the grenades, Agent Orange, the helicopter gunships, submachine guns, land mines, and the pungi stakes. They were lucky to escape the carnage in their land during that fierce struggle among themselves and their American allies on one hand, and the Vietnamese Liberation Army and their allies, the Red Chinese and the Soviets, on the other hand. They were lucky to survive the pirates and the elements in the South China Sea. They were lucky to survive their temporary shelters in Bataan and Palawan in the Philippines.

 

It was a chilly autumn when I arrived in San Francisco. The silence in Berkeley where my wife was staying as a manager of a care home, compared to the shouting, the laughing, the screaming of playing children in the UP campus, was almost palpable.

 

The loneliness, the nostalgia, and the hankering for the familiar places that I had left behind could not be avoided. This was aggravated by the fact that despite my education, my training, and my varied experiences in the Philippines, I could not be hired. Day in and day out I would send letters of application.  No luck.


In the meantime, the turmoil in the land I left behind, the only colony of the United States, went on unabated.


During the chilly nights of autumn, jobless, without any friends, and marooned in a faraway land, sleep was difficult to come by. When the fog would roll in, I could hear the sound of the foghorn in the San Francisco Bay. Mournful, incessant, haunting, warning mariners to be careful, to steer their ships with utmost care.  There could be unknown perils beyond the mist and the fog.


The "social volcano" in the Philippines finally erupted in February 1986. Millions had finally gathered enough courage and strength to oppose Ferdinand Marcos and his cabal in a show of massive defiance at Epifanio de los Santos Avenue or EDSA. Marcos had ruled the Philippines for 20 years — assisted by the military and other groups. He was flown to Hawaii by a US aircraft. The "People Power Revolution" now referred to as "EDSA I" was miraculous. Not a single life was lost.

From 1986, this country, whose people was referred to by an American writer as "Little Brown Brothers", would limp along until January 2001, when the Filipinos would gather again in EDSA, this time to demand the resignation of a movie actor-President whose proclivity for the good life was well known, Joseph "Erap" Ejercito Estrada. The military sensing the massive outpouring of anti-Estrada sentiment, withdrew its support. There was mass resignations from Estrada’s cabinet. He left Malacanang Palace.  He is now incarcerated awaiting the resolution of his case for plunder. This was the second political miracle. Not a single life was lost in "EDSA II".

Estrada’s successor, the second female president of the Philippines, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, daughter of a president, educated in the US, with a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of the Philippines, took over the presidency which was declared vacant by the Philippine Supreme Court. Despite a vow that she would not run for the presidency in 2004, the end of her term, Ms. Arroyo broke her promise. She ran for the presidency where she was pitted against a high school drop out, a movie actor too. The election was closely fought. It helped Ms. Arroyo that there were three other candidates for president, a lawyer who used to be a member of her cabinet, a former policeman who was a ranking military officer during the time of the dictator Marcos, and a candidate who was banking on his religious adherents.

The consensus was that if Ms. Arroyo won, it would not be by a large margin. The Filipinos wanted change. It did not matter that the possible replacement was someone who did not finish high school, as long as Ms. Arroyo was replaced. Despite protests from her political opponents, she was declared the winner last year.

And then all hell broke loose. First, her son and her husband, were linked to an illegal gambling very popular in the Philippines, known as "Jueteng". This was followed by the presentation of a tape recorded voice which sounded like the voice of Ms. Arroyo. The tape seems to indicate that Ms. Arroyo had talked to an official of the Philippine Commission on Elections, inquiring about her votes in Southern Philippines. After stonewalling for several days, she finally came out publicly that indeed, it was her voice that could be heard. And she begged the Filipinos for forgiveness.

As we go to press, Metropolitan Manila is again in turmoil. There are mass actions. Retired generals, other military people, religious groups, students, "progressive groups", the National Democratic Front, other groups are clamoring for Ms. Arroyo to resign because allegedly she cheated during the election. There is talk of impeaching her. In the Internet, there are even psychos who want to kill her. There is talk of a military-civilian junta. There is talk of a revolutionary government. There is talk of a coup d’etat.  There is talk of a civil war.

In the stillness of the night, I seem to hear the mournful, incessant, haunting sound of the foghorn again. But this time it seems to be warning the leaders of the 87 million Filipinos to be careful. There may not be a miracle in EDSA ever again. # # #



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