I had come in to work before 8am to make sure I had logged in enough hours to justify leaving the office early. As early as 2pm I saw them forming their ranks outside my office window at the corner of Estrella and EDSA. When I got the text message from Sam saying he was already outside, I packed up and joined him.
This is my second chance, after the not-rally that we joined on the 25th of February, of perhaps being a part that will make things right with this country. Too much to expect, perhaps, but I didn’t know it then, and maybe neither did the eighty thousand people who followed the route to Ayala on this the 29th of February 2008.
We marched with the Laban ng Masa and the Freedom from Debt Coalition from Estrella into EDSA, turning right on Buendia Ave. On this stretch some people looked out of their office windows and waved to us. On a building that was under construction across the IPR building, the workers gathered by the edge of the third story and waved to the crowd marching by below. At the BDO branch on Paseo, police officers stood by the sidewalk, arms relaxed at their sides, watching the people marching by.
I thought we were going to make the left turn on Paseo, but the march went further down, crossing Makati Avenue. Later on we learned that we were to converge with another group that was coming from the other end of Buendia, at the mouth of Ayala Avenue. It was the Makati City contingent, dressed in green as Mayor Binay had earlier announced. Green is the color of hope. We were certainly full of hope.
By the time we had turned into Ayala Avenue the streets were packed with people. Occupants of the buildings that flanked Ayala had come out to watch the march. Banners of all colors waved in the air. From the corner of my eye I saw strings of pink crepe floating by, and then Sam pointed out an old friend of mine, erstwhile partylist candidate Danton Remoto. I asked him about his failed bid in the previous elections, such a shame I always thought. Danton said he was running for the Senate in 2010, after having received pledges of support from places he never thought would sympathize with his cause. I told him he had my support, for whatever it’s worth.
The usual entrepreneurs were there, my favorite being this vendor wearing headgear most appropriate for GMA. I wanted to get one for Maia but I wasn’t sure how she’d like it. The usual sources of guilty pleasures were there, boiled sweet corn, boiled peanuts, iced drinks and the ubiquitous purified water vendors. I imagined a whole lot of work for the street cleaners the next day, and wondered how they find rallies like this, perhaps murmuring under their breath when people would learn to clean up after themselves.
I do not claim to be a seasoned rallyist, the way Sam and his brothers are, the way some of these people who have been walking since morning from wherever they started from. But there is a certain air of camaraderie and respect among people who march for the same cause. You walk carefully around a group that have settled themselves on the street to rest. You smile at people who catch your eye, maybe even wonder if you’ve seen them before but never really noticed them till now.
When we marched and as we stood there with the program on stage beginning, there were chants that went: Laban ng Masa, Baguhin ang Sistema, Patalsikin si Gloria! and Gloria Resign! But as the day wore on it started to feel like nothing of the sort was going to happen. Eighty thousand protesters on the street can’t be wrong, but when you lack the impetus and the leadership, all you get is a concert after Cory, Erap and Jun Lozada have spoken.
There were rumors that Noli de Castro was coming to be sworn in as President, while GMA was to be deposed. There was word that this group of eighty thousand was to march into EDSA towards the shrine. There was also the text message report that GMA was in Camp Crame making sure where the loyalties of the police force were still in the right place, meaning with her. The Ayala area had been declared a no-fly zone so that TV stations with helicopters couldn’t show the world just how many people were in Ayala that night. The sight of a crowd that large could actually snowball into an EDSA 4, and that GMA could not allow.
When it was almost eight o’clock in the evening I looked at Sam again and asked the same question I’d been asking him since we joined the march—You think something’s going to happen?. He said no, he didn’t think so. We started to walk away. At the parking lot behind the Intercontinental Hotel, a bus load of police officers from out of town sat relaxing in their bucket seats. On the other side of the same street were vans with doors open, special forces in black uniforms standing around, but with weapons slung on their shoulders, not in their hands. No one in formation. Maybe they knew the party was breaking up, and they were just waiting for their dinner.
We found a fastfood place with a bathroom so we could change out of our sweat-drenched shirts, had supper there and hopped on a bus home. No change tonight, we will wake up to another ordinary Saturday morning and go about our business, perhaps for another two years. The politics and ramifications of tonight’s mass action will be discussed, rued, slammed, vilified, praised all in turn in the next few days, depending on whose opinion is being aired.
But maybe something did happen that evening. Eighty thousand people as one decided to tell GMA that “It’s time to go, Tita Glo.” That should make anyone nervous.