EDSA on my mind

EDSA on my mind
HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated February 28, 2016 – 12:00am

It’s EDSA ‘86 that’s been on my mind all week. I guested on two TV shows where I talked about my experiences, and did several radio interviews. I also gave a talk in two places and attended the EDSA 30th anniversary.

All this brought back memories, some of which that I had forgotten. Also, meeting some of the old warriors of the revolution and hearing their stories awakened feelings that I wish to share with my readers.

I recall hearing June Keithley calling for me through Radyo Bandido, the rouge radio station set up by Radio Veritas that kept the EDSA faithful informed and energized during the four days of the revolution. She wanted me to hurry to the studio to co-host since her crew was getting exhausted.

Every person who saw me on the street urged me to heed the call. It seemed everybody was tuned in to Radyo Bandido. I was not sure where it was but I had a suspicion and went with it. It was in the old DZRJ studio on Sta. Mesa Boulevard.

When Lydia and I got there, we had to take the stairs to the top floor since the elevator was not working. The moment we opened the door to climb the stairs, we heard prayers being murmured by a group of nuns who had occupied the stairs as a line of defense to protect the civilians running the station. It was quite eerie but very moving.

When we got to the studio, they were already closing the operations. They were also watching Marcos on TV who was right then and there unceremoniously cut off the air. Soon after, a few minutes of blurred broadcast, a picture appeared. It was a long table with civilians gathered around it all grinning at the camera. They were giddy but had victory written on their faces. What a memorable sight! The people inside Radyo Bandido burst into cheers and applause. Soon after, we drove to the newly liberated PTV 4 and joined the liberators there.

Thousands of people had gathered inside and outside the premises. Outside the gate, the people had assembled to secure the front gate. The first line of defense nearest the main gate was rows of children. The next line was a row or two of paraplegics in wheel chairs. After them were nuns and seminarians. Then it was the civilians who had gathered. It was an awesome defense. I remember thinking how any group of loyalist soldiers could have the heart to ram their way into the building and take over the station.

That afternoon, a group of us entertainers gave an impromptu performance on the top of the drive way entrance cover of the building to the delight of the huge people power contingent who had gathered there.

I was talking to Secretary Jose Rene Almendras during the EDSA 30th anniversary ceremony at the People Power Monument last Thursday and he told me that he gave a talk on EDSA to an audience last Wednesday. When they sang Bayan Ko, he teared up. He had to explain to the crowd that during martial law, that song was banned.

He recalled that he was at a bar with a friend during martial law and when someone played Bayan Ko everyone started to sing. In the middle of the song, someone in authority demanded that the music be stopped. They were all shocked.

Bayan Ko was the opposition’s anthem then. We sang this when we gathered by the hundreds when it was impossible to get all of us arrested at the same time.

During the 30th anniversary, there was hardly a dry eye among the warriors present. I wept as I sang it with my right hand held up in a fist, alternating with the Laban sign.

After the takeover of the TV station, Johnny Manahan immediately organized an impromptu program aired live on PTV 4. I was one of the hosts assigned to interview guests, make announcements, and direct people power to areas where civilians were still needed to protect the places.

I was also announcing things like troop positions, and the laughable curfew order from Marcos which was supposed to be from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. I remember telling everyone not to follow it but feeling fear right after I said it. I also reported “news” from Gen. Fidel Ramos announcing the defection of military units to the side of the people which I found out later had not even happened yet. It was part of the psy-war Ramos was playing to convince the military that a majority of them were already on the side of the opposition. It apparently worked.

The people who risked their safety during EDSA remember those days as defining moments of their lives. It defined a lot of who we thought we were, our character and what it meant to be Filipino at that time.

We chose to stand up and fight for the country. Were we scared? Sure! I know I was, but we still showed up anyway. We had drawn the line on the sand and there was no turning back. We were going to end the dictatorship and install the winner in the presidential race, who was certainly NOT Marcos.

I read somewhere that the meaning of historical events changes depending on the generation looking at them. To the millennials, EDSA may not have the same meaning as it does to us, baby boomers . It may not have much significance at all.

I say to you, please take heed.

In his speech at EDSA last Thursday, the President quoted George Santayana who said that people who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it. It would be the saddest thing to happen to a nation who taught the world a new template of change, for its succeeding generations to abandon what their elders learned and invite a return to the dictatorship.

‘Di na ko papayag!

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated February 21, 2016 – 12:00am

Every generation everywhere looks at the youth as the promise of tomorrow. We have often heard and actually said (and believe) that the youth are the hope of the country and the future.

This was what I was talking about with a friend recently. We were daunted by the fact that so many young people on Facebook appear to be voting for Bongbong Marcos. From the content of their comments and posts, they readily believe the lies and propaganda the Marcoses have put online. It seems many of them are impressionable, ignorant and gullible. Against solid facts, they argue that the Marcos years were the high points of recent Philippine history. They gloss over the monumental thievery, skullduggery and cheating that occurred during the Marcos years.

My friend and I were left wondering how the “hope of our country” had become zombies. How did this happen? Where have we been remiss? Would this be one of those strange moments in history when the old will end up blaming the young for how the nation has turned out?

That afternoon, my friend and I both participated in an event sponsored by the EDSA People Power Commission at Club Filipino. It was a dialogue between 30 people who were at EDSA — the Baby Boomers — and about 150 millennials — young people who were born after the EDSA event.

The setup was like this: each table had one EDSA participant and five students who sat together and answered questions flashed on a screen onstage. Each millennial was asked to answer the question and the EDSA veteran would be the last to respond. After 20 minutes, the young participants were asked to move to another table as the next question flashed on the screen. All in all, each young person joined and met four older EDSA vets.

The millennials were mostly students from De La Salle University, University of Makati, Philippine Military Academy and the Philippine National Police Academy. There were also young recruits and regular members of the Philippine Navy and the Philippine National Police.

The young got to sit with the likes of Etta Rosales, Ed Garcia, Elfren Cruz, Chito Gascon and many other men and women (writers, ex-detainees, teachers) who lived through the horror of martial law, fought against the dictatorship, and helped win back our freedoms.

When I met with my first group, I had ample time to talk to them before we tackled the assigned questions. I described what it was like to have been a college student and a young person during that dark period in our history.

I told them that 20 years of my life were spent under the Marcos regime, 14 under his military dictatorship. I told them about my classmates in college who died after being picked up by the military; how mere soldiers could stop a bus and order any person with long hair to get off the bus to be subjected to an instant haircut, or even be arrested and detained for whatever reason they could manufacture. I talked about visiting some of my professors in prison camps; the controlled press that published only good news about the Marcoses; the independent media that was suppressed, forced to spread lies or be shut down; how the opposition was persecuted and many of them jailed, killed, or forced to leave the country. I talked about life under a curfew and the climate of fear that permeated our daily lives.

They said that they had heard stories about EDSA from their parents and grandparents and they read some stuff about it on the Internet. The characters in the EDSA drama were a bit sketchy to them so I tried to describe as best as I could who they were and compared them to contemporary figures.

They asked a lot of questions. And after answering a question, I listened to their insights. Here are some things I remember they said. (I paraphrase.)

“I now realize freedom is a great gift given to us, but it can also be lost through the ballot.” (From a student taking up journalism.)

“The greatest achievement of EDSA was that it reoriented the military back to its professional stance — that it must follow civilian rule and not rule over civilians.” (From a PMAyer.)

“EDSA made me realize that the freedom I am enjoying is not free. People who were born before our generation fought and paid for it.” (From a PNPA cadet.)

“EDSA must have been one of the important defining moments in your life, Sir.” (From a student.)

“These elections are so important. Democracy can be subverted by corruption and by people who do not follow the Constitution.” (From a student.)

I was amazed and happy to hear their responses. I know that with more such dialogues, we could help the Filipino youth understand the damage that martial law and the Marcos family did to our country and people, and the importance of upholding the freedoms we regained at EDSA.

The millennials expressed wonder at how we pulled off EDSA without cellphones and social media, using only landlines, decrepit beepers and, of course, radio. They were in awe at how millions of people were mobilized so quickly with such basic communication tools compared with all that they have now.

The answer, of course, is the overwhelming desire for freedom, justice and democracy that made citizens drop everything and come to EDSA from Feb. 22 to 25, 1986.

Now that the EDSA People Power event is 30 years old, I realize more than ever the importance of preserving and promoting its ideals, dreams and promises among the youth.

In the coming elections, there are candidates who are plunderers and potential dictators. A Marcos spawn is vying for the second highest position in the land. In his campaign, he urges Filipinos to “move on” to the future. To him, moving on means forgetting the atrocities, the skullduggery, the grand thievery that his father imposed on our nation. He wants us to think martial law never happened and asks, “What is there to apologize for?”

“Plenty,” is the response to his arrogant question. We have not forgotten. History will not be repeated. EDSA is alive and will not be retired into nostalgia. It will continue to fight for more freedoms, more democratic space and an ever more vibrant democracy. No dictator or plunderer will again rule this land.

Never again. ‘Di na ko papayag!

Batanes, finally

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated February 14, 2016 – 12:00am

Screen Shot 2016-02-14 at 3.00.54 PM />Fundacion is the best place to stay in Basco, Batanes. It was made by the late Pacita Abad.

We had been thinking of going to Batanes since the early ‘80s. Lydia and I had put this trip on our “Someday” list. It was going to happen someday, but there were still other places to visit in the meantime.

That someday finally arrived on Feb 3. Together with six others, we flew to Basco, the capital of Batanes, on an early morning flight for a three-night stay.

Immediately after we checked in at the Amboy Hotel, we hopped on a van and began our sightseeing tour.

Batanes is generously endowed with striking ruggedness and beauty everywhere. The beaches along the coastline are great to look at but are not for swimming. The waters are very rough and the shores are rocky. It is quite a sight watching big waves splashing on rocky peaks all over the islands.

The winds were almost always very strong. I swear, they seemed like category 4 or 5 typhoon winds sometimes. They blew our head covers away as we concentrated on navigating on cliffs, making sure we were sure-footed with every step. When in Batanes, be ready to have bad hair selfies.

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Valuga beach is very rocky.

There are rolling hills, valleys, mountains, everywhere. There are many lighthouse structures, churches, chapels, and really old houses that are part of the tourists’ must-see sights.

The natives (Ivatans) are very friendly; there is still a touch of innocence about them. It was refreshing to be greeted with “Good afternoon, visitors” by children in the streets. Some of them went up to us to make “mano.” I saw three children walking home from school merrily singing Pamulinawen which brought a smile to my face.

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The Ivatan can get very shy, though, and even move away when you talk to them. I was told by our tour guide that when Kris Aquino went there, no one went up to her to ask for an autograph or to have photos taken with her. It wasn’t because they did not know her. They were just too shy to ask.

Aside from Basco Island, we also went to Sabtang, a 25-minute boat ride from Basco on the roughest sea we have ever encountered. The waves tossed our boat around every which way but were respectful enough not to overturn it. But what Sabtang had to offer made our dangerous sea passage well worth it.

We saw dramatic peaks, vistas that took our breath away. Tinian is a must-see. It reminded me of Wuthering Heights. We also visited neighborhoods where old, quaint Ivatan houses with their thick walls and thatched roofs dominate the landscape.

People have compared Batanes to Scotland because of the terrain, the extreme winds and its lighthouses. I often got the feeling that it is the most different part of the Philippines. The Ivatan dialect is a mixture of Ilocano and other dialects but has a lot of the “V” sound. The plant they use to make their head and roof covers is called “Vuyavuy.”

The food in Batanes is composed mostly of root crops like camote. They are also big on seaweed. The meat and fish dishes are tough since they like to dry them under the sun. Batanes cuisine is even more spartan than Ilocano.

Batanes has been relatively isolated for the longest time. It is only in recent years that airlines have begun flying there daily. When the weather is rough, flights are cancelled and supplies from the outside world are delayed. We went to the café in the beautiful and picturesque Fundacion Hotel, looking for dessert. Unfortunately, they did not have pastries since the flights were canceled for two days while we were there due to rains and their supplies had not come in.

The population of Batanes is around 16,000. The tourist arrivals last year reached 17,000. Batanes prelate Bishop Camilo Gregorio, whom we met on the plane and was kind enough to invite us for dinner on our last night, lamented that Batanes is already over-advertised. There are not enough facilities to house the growing number of tourists. The Bishop said he had to take 14 people into his house because they needed board and lodging when their flights were canceled.

I was particularly impressed by two businesses I saw in Batanes. The first is the Honesty Café, which serves snacks, coffee and souvenir items where one simply writes down in a logbook what one has bought and leaves the money in a box. The other is the Conscience Shop near a church that sells religious items and souvenirs to help pay for the education of scholars. It also has no shopkeeper. You simply leave the money for payment in a box.

With the world discovering quickly what our country has to offer, it is best to visit places like Batanes now before they become too commercialized and lose some of their wonderfully wild and rugged charm.

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Now is the time to go, discover and enjoy our country.

Lydia and I are happy that, finally, our “someday” visit to Batanes has happened. And yes, we plan to go back someday soon — maybe in the next two years.


HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated February 7, 2016 – 12:00am

This is my 11th year as a grandfather. I only have one grandchild so far. I wish my kids would hurry up and make me some more. I am in my mid-60s and I want to spend more time with their children. But alas, as of now, there are no signs I will have another grandchild, at least within the next nine months.

My only grandchild is Ananda. She is generally a delight to be with. Sometimes she is a worry. I will get to that later.

Ever since she was born, I have been trying to be a grandpa. When she was a toddler, l enjoyed having her close by, carrying her and holding her stretched-out right hand while leading her in a dance.

She grew up mostly in the company of adults — her mom, aunts and uncles, and grandparents. She spent her first eight years with us. She has always been inquisitive, lively and very bright. Often, I would catch her literally having “aha” moments as she made sense of things around her.

When she began to grow up and have real conversations, I enjoyed just sitting with her, giving serious, accurate and sometimes absurd answers and explanations to her many questions. I never tired of answering her queries. Even with my own kids, I never ignored their questions because I wanted them to love learning.

During long train rides in Sydney, I would whisper in her ear that I was actually the one controlling the train with my mind. It was our secret. Of course I knew the stops the train took and when we would be near a station, I would “predict” it by closing my eyes and pretending to concentrate on stopping the train.

Of course she knew that I was joking her but she always tried to put one over me by asking tough questions to prove I was “lying.”

At another time, I talked to her “seriously” about Miss Peralejo, (a teacher’s name that I made up) who had “reported” to me some serious behavioral problems she was having in school. She, of course, denied she even had a teacher by that name. I would answer that Peralejo was the “real” name of her teacher, but she used an alias in school. She would then ask me what Miss Peralejo had reported.

I would invent things and say that the teacher reported that Ananda tried to burn the school and shave her classmate’s head. She would laugh with delight as she enjoyed my invented stories while arguing to prove me wrong.

My grandfather did the same with me and my siblings when we were growing up. He would say things that were incredulously funny, like pretending that the only parts of his body that could not handle a tickle were his thumbs. He also told us about a man who wore his suspenders so tight, his feet could not touch the ground. My Lolo was a great guy.

Ananda is an amazing child. I say this not because she is my granddaughter but because she is really amazing. Because of her adoration of K-Pop, she started picking up Korean phrases and is now actively learning the language by herself. She often watches Korean game shows, musicals and comedy programs so that she now knows a lot of Korean words and can speak the language in simple conversation. She has an incredible determination to learn things Korean. She has also made friends with some of her Korean neighbors in the condo building she lives in.

Ananda is growing up so fast. She is quite an achiever in school. She likes joining school clubs and activities. Because of this, she goes to school quite early in the morning even if her classes are still in the afternoon. This often wreaks havoc with the car schedule since she always ends up calling her Lolo to send the car!

Like all my kids, she is a reader. Her vocabulary is extraordinarily wide. She also likes to argue a lot and will hardly take “no” as a final answer. She is a sharp negotiator. At times, she can be sassy. Luckily, her Lola Lydia does not hesitate to put her in her place when needed, even if she spoils her a lot. Her Lolo is only strict with her when it comes to spending.

Ananda is also very nurturing. She automatically becomes an “ate” to younger kids. She makes sure that no one is left behind, everyone gets their fair share of toys and goodies, and that everyone is okay and attended to. She is a born leader. She stands up for younger kids who are bullied. She has empathy for others and that makes us very proud of her.

Grandchildren grow up too fast. Soon, I will not be as important to her as I would like to be. Her world will change and new people will seem more important. But I am determined to continue playing a vital role in her life. I would like her to remember me as a grown-up man she could have fun with, and someone who gave her a sense of awe about life and the world. I once read what someone wrote about a grandfather being “someone with silver in his hair and gold in his heart.” I hope somehow that I would be remembered as such!

My hair has already turned white. I still have to work more on the gold in my heart.