Many of my friends have noticed the apparent "slant" in my views about how things are run in my country, and some have asked me the question: Why don't you just leave if you find it really THIS bad in the Philippines? (And they always couch this with "It's not that I want you to leave...", which I find strangely hilarious, that they need to have a disclaimer.)
A fair question, to be sure. I am one of those who advocate leaving a situation when things become too stressful, too bleak, too bothersome to be worth my time. Or anyone else's time. If the cost is too great vis-a-vis the rewards, then there really is no point in continually getting stuck in an unpleasant situation, is there? Especially if one has a choice.
A case in point happens in my very own class that I teach. There is this one woman who is quite vocal (behind my back, that is) about how she is SO bored with my class, and proceeds to tell other people (who enjoy my class) that she knows someone "better". And yet, every week, like clockwork, she shows up without fail, and even though she does look more bored than a box of chalks sitting in a pre-war classroom, she makes the effort to be in my class week after week. Many times, I have had to stifle the urge to tell her, "If you're so unhappy in my class, I'm certainly not going to beg for you to stay. The door is wide open, the question is, why do you linger?" This is a person who makes the choice to be miserable. And she does this of her own volition. (I can only conclude that she is a closet masochist, and doesn't know this yet.)
While some people may see what I write about as parallel to the case I just described, there is one big difference: I had no choice being born in this country.
It is a country that has nurtured me, sustained me and is now giving me so many opportunities. And despite what may commonly (even though incorrectly) be gleaned from my statements, I appreciate this country deeply, and with all my heart. I love this country, long after the choice was no longer mine to make. My parents are to share in the blame for this, to be sure, and this is something for which I am eternally grateful. They have instilled nationalism in me, from a very young age. They rallied against Marcos long before Ninoy's assassination, and brought us children (my sister and I) at the weekend marches leading up to Cory declaring her candidacy to challenge Marcos himself.
One particular memory that sticks out - for sheer terror alone - was when we were camped around the old Channel 4 (which is currently where ABS-CBN holds their offices), pouting as usual for being dragged through another "rally", having a sandwich my mom and our helpers prepared. (They used to volunteer for the "food brigade", and they made hundreds of sandwiches to give to anyone needing them during our marches.) While I was eating on the lawn outside the station, a bird flew over me and crapped on my pants, narrowly missing the sandwich in my hands. (It would be after this incident died down that I would think of the bird as symbolically telling me "something is about to hit the fan".)
Out of nowhere, gunshots were fired. And then some more.
You could see everyone looking at each other in stunned silence, for the briefest of seconds. And in the next instance, the realization of what was happening sinking in, panic and pandemonium came next.
My mom got me by my arm and was practically carrying my sister in her other arm (we were around 9 and 11, so this was no small feat), and joined the panicking mob.
"Si Marcos, nagpadala ng sundalo! Inutos daw nyang pagbarilin ang mga tao sa channel 4!", we could hear someone shouting.
My mom got us to crouch behind a utility vehicle (if I remember correctly, one of the cars of the TV station) and my sister and I looked at our mom, and I asked her, "Why are we even doing this?!? Now we're going to be shot!"
I will never forget her answer to me: "We are making sure that evil does not triumph. We are here because we have to, this is our country and our home."
In that singular instance, I knew what was really at stake here. All thoughts of "silly marching" (I was a child then) flew out the window. With both her actions and her words, my mom taught me what it meant to love one's country, that she could not sit idly by and watch the country go to hell (or at least, somewhere in that vicinity), not while she had something to say and do in the matter.
And that is exactly why I am not leaving this country.
I still give a flying fig what happens to the place I was born in and have lived in all my life.
It is exactly for this reason that I continue harping on what I perceive as the ills that have befallen this country. When I see something very wrong, I don't act docile, pretend it never happened, and look away, hoping it was just a bad dream. I say something and I make it known. I take pains to follow our own laws, because I still have enough respect for this country and its' people to do so. It is also why I expect everyone to do the same - I am not anyone "special", and I can do it, so why can't everybody else?
One saying I have come across some years back is something I remember whenever I get asked about my not leaving: The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. Yes, I hate the inefficiencies, the boorishness, the small-mindedness, the lack of self-discipline, but make no mistake, I say this because I care what happens to this country. Just like comics who have gone through heart-wrenching experiences to make them brilliant at what they do, it is because I am still an optimist at heart, hoping - some say against all hope - that this country will see better days, despite all the negative things I have seen and observed.
Two recent incidents have kept this fire of hope burning.
As I was going somewhere along Makati Avenue, I blew out my front tire passing over a small hole in the road which should have been covered. After the usual pleasantries (read: cursing indiscriminately for this unfortunate incident), I began taking out the jack from the trunk of the car. Almost immediately, two policemen came over and decided to help: One of them directed the traffic behind me to take other lanes, the other one tried to find an object to help prop the car with. And not a minute had passed, a motorist in a white van stopped in front of my car, got his (infinitely better) jack, and proceeded to help me change my tire. After we finished, I asked him what prompted him to stop and do what he did: "I saw you needed help. Yun lang. (That's all)."
And the other day, as I was paying for coffee, I failed to notice that a 100 pesos bill fell out of my pocket. After a minute from leaving the coffee shop, I noticed the man behind me in line at the coffee shop panting and running after me, to give me back the 100 pesos bill.
In both instances, they did not want anything in return, even though I thanked them profusely and offered them something for their inconvenience. Neither did any one of them have a long, drawn-out narrative about their actions. They helped because they did what needed to be done. I am not a Pollyanna, anyone who knows me would never equate that description with who I am. But these seemingly small acts are what fills my heart with hope, that we will rise above the pettiness and the apathy. The capacity for being great is there, and has been there all along. We just need to draw it out.
Let me repeat, for those who find this a disarming and unexpected post from me: I am not yet ready to give up on this country.
Not just yet.