‘Lazy is refusing to take part in the people’s struggle’

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The fight for the basic rights of the marginalized seems to be an unending battle. A writer recounts how she found herself joining this battle, one she hasn’t turned away from since. Illustration by JL JAVIER

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Ten years is a long time, and in the past ten years, I have managed to relocate from Metro Manila to Mindanao, as I transitioned from working in the non-government sector to the ARMM regional government. Despite these changes, I have constantly been a part of mobilizations — whether it’s a Labor Day mob in Davao City or an #EndDependence Day mob in Manila.

But sometimes, whenever I find myself in a mob out in the streets, it feels like very little has changed.

***

I met manang Linda ten years ago during the Sumilao Farmers’ Walk for Land and Justice. I was in my third year of college and somehow survived three years of being in the University of the Philippines without joining a mobilization, also known as a “mob.”

Mobs had no appeal to me back then. Our classes would be disrupted every once in a while because of a lightning rally on the steps of one building or a program in another. I felt that those class interruptions were unnecessary in an institution where my priority was to study,  learn, and eventually graduate.

And yet, on December 2007, I decided to join the Sumilao Farmers’ march. The idea that farmers would leave their farms and family behind in Mindanao to assert their right over 144 hectares of land, and walk straight to Malacañang to demand an audience with the president appealed to me.

Nothing could have prepared me for it.

I can still remember the men shaving their heads in front of the San Miguel compound in Ortigas, leaving clumps of hair on the sidewalk. I remember going a little further ahead to wait for the farmers somewhere along Cubao and then seeing them carrying the bamboo poles from which every pair of tattered slippers that they have used since the march began were on display. I also remember attending mass with them in the Church of the Gesù in Ateneo, with the priest delivering the entire homily in Binisaya, and yet it felt like I understood every word.

I remember holding the hands of manang Linda as we greeted each other for the first time, her hands reminding me of how different our lives were. Her hands were dry and calloused, hands that knew hard work, while mine were small and soft, having held only a pen or a lover.

Later on, I would learn that it wasn’t manang Linda’s first act of resistance that brought her to Manila from Mindanao. Ten years before the march, on Oct. 1997, she was among those who staged a hunger strike in front of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) compound in Quezon City, fighting against the same oppressive system, fighting for the same land.

A few months after joining the Sumilao Farmers’ march, I met Ka Ramon in the “tent city” near the gates of the DAR, along the Quezon City Circle. Walking along the sidewalk leading to the then bolted gates of DAR felt like walking across the Philippines, with farmers from Laguna on one end and farmers from Davao del Norte on another.

Choosing to take part in a mobilization is choosing to take part in a long history of struggle, one that is fueled by the passion and determination of people who have been mindlessly accused of being “lazy.”

Ka Ramon was from Sarangani, and he belonged to a group of farmers who have spent more than a decade fighting for land ownership. He had already been living in the tent city for a year when we met, and at that time, Typhoon Frank had just hit Manila. He told me how they repeatedly asked the guards of the DAR compound to let them in, but they were only allowed to stay in an empty, locked outpost.

I remember asking him why he chose to stay in the tent city despite the difficulties, and in his voice was a quiet determination as he answered, “I know this will be a long battle, and that this could go on for years. Someday, my child would’ve already finished school, you probably would’ve graduated from college and even forgotten about me, but this battle would still be going on. I am ready to see this through the end, no matter how long it takes.”

“This is not a battle I am waging on my own. This is a battle my people have started years ago, and this is a battle my people are ready to carry on even when I’m gone,” he added.

After my interview with Ka Ramon, I would spend the rest of the semester visiting their tent city, sharing stories with farmers who would eventually become fathers to me — their shared struggle to provide reminding me of my father’s own struggle to give me everything that I could ever need, and their dreams reminding me of the dreams I had for my family.

As I learned more about their struggle, I decided to contribute however I can. Since then, I’ve gone through life thinking of how to make things better for the others who continue to struggle for their rights.

***

Since then, I’ve constantly joined mobilizations, with the State of the Nation Address mob becoming an annual tradition. Every year, I would march along Commonwealth with various sectors representing the oppressed and marginalized, and the mobilization representing our direct response to the president’s SONA, regardless of who is president.

Because if there was anything the past 10 years have taught me, it is that change does not come with change of presidents, but with the people’s constant commitment to dismantle systems of oppression that work against their interests.

Every mobilization is a day devoted to sharing our people’s truth, a truth that exposes the insidious and the people who are oppressed and taken advantage of — us, included. These mobilizations are not standalone events; they are but parts of a struggle that have begun before we were born and will continue on long after we have passed.

Choosing to take part in a mobilization is choosing to take part in a long history of struggle, one that is fueled by the passion and determination of people who have been mindlessly accused of being “lazy.”

Lazy is accepting any less than what is rightfully ours just because we have learned to get by. Lazy is settling for scraps when the fight for equitable land distribution, quality and accessible education,  decent public healthcare, decent jobs, and just wages is carried on by the masses. Lazy is calling those who choose to refuse and fight against injustice “lazy” while we sit in the comforts of our own home, scrambling to find the means to pay for basic social services that the government is supposed to provide.

Lazy is refusing to take part in the people’s struggle, and choosing to quietly surrender our rights to the ruling class. Lazy is taking a dozen selfies from a sixth floor balcony, thinking of which selfie to use for what will eventually become a viral but ignorant Facebook post, and making comments about a social movement whose history goes beyond our middle-class comforts.

Lazy is easy.