By Andrew Zubiri
My grumbling stomach was telling me the time—it was almost noon. I decided to go out of our college building to grab something to eat at a nearby makeshift canteen. I was appalled with the throngs of jeepneys lined up on the street surrounding the Oblation as soon as I stepped out of our building, as if a jeepney terminal was relocated inside the campus. Seeing an assemblage of such vehicles inside the vicinity of the university was something peculiar to a naïve college freshman like me back then. I saw one of my blocmates and a couple of her friends in one of them, and jokingly asked her if she knew where the jeep was bound for. She seriously said yes.
Those jeepneys were bound for Edsa. There were about twenty of them, and a batch of almost the same number had already left a few hours earlier.
I forgot all about my hunger and headed straight to my dormitory to see if my roommates were also going. The idea of joining the rally was already abuzz in the dorm since the other night. I found one of them in our room and he told me that our other roommates had already left almost an hour ago to join the rally. I asked him if he was going to Edsa as well, he said no because he has tons of things to do. I invited second thoughts of not joining when I heard those words, for I did not want to go alone in this new pool of experience I am about to jump into. There were a lot of uncertainties playing in my mind, most of which came from what I see on TV or read in the newspapers about people, particularly students, who join rallies: violent arrests, beating up by policemen, or simply a scolding from my parents who warned me to not join such activities. But, fortunately, those remained as just those– thoughts. And those did not taint my enthusiasm and curiosity to join the rally.
I emptied my backpack and dumped in all the things that (I think) I would need: a shirt, a small towel, bottled water, and my allowance for the rest of the week. It felt like I was about to engage in a battle of some sort. I went to a nearby fast-food chain to buy four burgers, which I hoped would last me the rest of the day.
I went back to the place where the jeepneys were parked, but what I just saw was the last of them speeding away. I considered that as a sign that didn’t “deserve” to join a rally yet. I was as fresh as I can be as a college freshman, and I am not “nationalistically mature” yet, whatever that means. I saw a bunch of students wearing loud red shirts who at first I thought were student-activists, but I assumed and later confirmed they were members of a fraternity and a sorority. I overheard them talking about going to Edsa, and I wondered how. The jeepneys had all left, and not even one of them owned a car. My being nosey led me to stalking them. I heard them saying that all the vehicles will first converge in Crossing (Calamba), and from there will proceed to Edsa. My face lit up and I saw a ray of hope as I heard those words; I wasn’t totally left behind after all. They hailed a jeepney bound for Calamba, and I eagerly followed them.
The trip to Calamba was unusually a smooth one. We arrived there in no time. The multitude and convergence of students, professors, and other university constituents in another place outside the UPLB campus was overwhelming. Most of them were crammed inside cars and jeepneys, while some of the activists were spilled on the streets asking some of the manong drivers who have not yet joined the bandwagon (literally and figuratively) if they could go to Edsa. The students were not able to convince the jeepney drivers –but they were able to convince the bus drivers! After a few minutes of haggling and negotiating with the conductors, students started to pour inside nine non air-conditioned buses. Each was packed to the hilt with about seventy students, accommodating more passengers than its usual capacity. As a consolation, they had a television on-board. After everyone has boarded the buses and all were set, we began our pilgrimage to Edsa.
We breezed through the South Luzon Expressway, occasionally stopping for the other buses and jeepneys to catch up with the convoy. On our way, the ‘marshals’ told us we needed to pay about 35 pesos each for the one-way bus ride. The conductor switched on the TV, and the screen showed the impeachment trial court barren with the prosecution panel. We shouted ‘Booooo!’ whenever the irritating faces of the 11 senators who denied the opening of the controversial envelope were put up close the monitor.
I suddenly realized my hunger, and devoured one of the burgers with just a few big bites and gulped down half of the water I brought with me. I felt sleepy afterwards and decided to take a nap.
My adventure in dreamland ceased when I felt the bus stop and switched off its engine. I can’t exactly pinpoint where we stopped, but I know it was somewhere in a tollgate along C-5 road. A small building that housed the policemen and other traffic authorities was nearby. I thought we were there because some of us needed to respond to the call of nature, since there was a public toilet outside the building. Yes, some of us used the comfort rooms, but I later learned that it wasn’t really the main reason why we were there in the first place. I noticed that the marshals were talking to the traffic aides, but I was sure it wasn’t just a friendly chat. I sensed something was wrong. Our marshals eventually told us that the traffic men wouldn’t let us proceed to Edsa since the signs of the jeepneys say we were already out of route. Of course we were out of route, we came all the way from Los Baños! They said that the vehicles weren’t conducive for a safe trip because it was jam-packed. Of course they were jam-packed, would they bother to give us a few thousand pesos to hire a few more buses and jeepneys? They also said that we weren’t on for an educational trip, so why the very large number of students? They were definitely wrong. I know it would be one of the most historic, educational, and significant trips I’ll ever take in my whole life. They gave us various delaying tactics, like looking for protest permits, and threatening us that they would confiscate the automobiles’ plate numbers. I know someone ordered them to prevent such massive mobilizations. I know they were just doing their job, and apparently, they were doing it pretty damn well.
Most of us felt restless after a while, and the marshals told us to go down and join them in ‘pleading’ to the traffic authorities to let us go. The marshals told them that we would block the road if they won’t let us leave. But they were unmoved. We started to form a human barricade. With our arms linked together, kapit-bisig so-to-speak, we blocked the northbound lane of the road. Heavy traffic started to clog the said lane in no time, as motorists started to honk their horns. Some of us approached them and explained to them what was happening. Soon, their horns were blaring simultaneously to the tune of “Erap resign” (E-rap re-sign!) we were chanting. We started shouting Palam-pasin kamI! Palam-pasin kami! (Let us pass through!) to appropriately match our plea. The traffic men are (quite) smart: they let the northbound vehicles pass through the southbound lane. But we are smarter. Some of us have already started to occupy the opposite lane, and both roads soon became congested. The traffic men began to call for back-up with their CB radios.
A few minutes later, and not expecting the unexpected, the traffic aides let their defenses down and decided to let us go even if the back-up they’ve called for hasn’t arrived yet. If there’s a will, there’s surely (and literally) a way. We all cheered and rejoiced in jubilation. I was ecstatic. We felt that this was a very good start in anticipation of what was to come. We scurried in our respective modes of transportation, and quickly left and headed for Edsa. I saw one police officer passing by (maybe one of the back-ups) in his patrol car and gave him a thumbs-up sign and a snappy salute.
I can consider this sequence of events was a premonition of what was to unfold in the days to come. This also served as an inspiration that prepared us as we headed towards the historic place in Edsa Avenue corner Ortigas Avenue.
And the rest, not only as the cliché goes, but as we witnessed in Edsa, is history.