I WAS THERE. But I'm also confused, maybe disoriented.
One minute we were kneeling -- an appeal that THIS IS A PEACEFUL PROTEST -- and the next we were running for our lives.
We arrived at the scene at the same time with the squad of full battle gear SWAT Officers equipped with armalites -- those that took our friends away. We crossed the street as a platoon of riot-mode police officers was unloaded, and by the time we reached the protest, the 100 blue uniforms already got into formation.
What were they so alarmed about, I wondered, as I looked at the 30 masked protesters equipped with bondpapers distanced almost two meters away from each other. When the police crowded over us, we knelt in response. Lowered our bodies and put forward our calls.
There was a countdown -- 15 minutes, 10, five, finish this up, or we're gonna’ have a problem. Unsure what about, we asked: They said they wanted to check if we were in violation of the GCQ; no one under 21 should be present. We followed every safety procedure, our IDs were present for inspection, so there should be no worries. We had nothing to hide. The mob speaker implored that they respect, protect, uphold our right to peaceful assembly.
When the countdown was over, the riot-mode police officers immediately positioned for an attack, and we couldn't even take the time to retreat. Here comes the surprise: Armed civilians started grabbing all individuals they could take a hold of. The rest of us ran towards the gates, but a UP guard prevented our entrance. We went over the bricks. Ran. Looked back. Witnessed arrests, heard screams, but still ran.
A police officer grabbed my bag, and then my hair. It's 2017 again. I'm in Kamp Karingal, alone, getting dragged by five full battle-gear officers by the wrist and the neck. I tell myself I couldn't go through that again. I ducked and rolled towards the downward slope of the bricks and ran. My bruises and wounds are fresh, so they pulsate. Every second I am reminded that I made it this time.
But seven of us didn't. I woke up earlier to Joahanna's scream for help. I think of Lolo Jeps, sixty and gravely mishandled, overpowered. I think of Al, my good friend, who greeted me with an air hug just a minute before we started running. I think of Nar and Bern, too young to experience distress like this. I think of the two Food Not Bombs volunteers. I think of the bystander. And most of all, I weep for Dyan. Unlike most of us who ran for our lives, she stood her ground. They trapped us inside UP for a long time, but the overwhelming amount of support extended to us made us safely vacate the premises. It is most comforting to know that as the crisis heightens, so will the collective compassion to participate, support, reinforce the struggle for what is just.
Earlier, I couldn't sleep. It's 2014. I am an incoming freshman with my mouth wide open in amazement at how good and intimidating the chairperson of UP Cebu is. Gurl, okay ra ka, she'd ask me. I'd nod, and I tell her okay ra ko Ma'am. Hala grabe siya, Ate Dyan ra itawag nako uy. I love you so much Ate Dyan. You are one of the bravest women I know.
(The “Ate Dyan” referred to in the article is Dyan Gumanao, a member of the Kabataan Party List, who was among those arrested in the June 5, 2020 Anti-Terror Bill rally at the University of the Philippines Cebu in Barangay Lahug Cebu City.)