So they won’t disappear


bu-op-icons-sarahSo They Won’t Disappear
for Concepcion Empeño*

The work of death in an island of cheap matters, like raw resources and warm wageless bodies, does not require gas chambers and crematory ovens of Holocaust proportions. They are needless and so out of fashion in the current book of human rights, the liberal humanist edition. It will tell you that things are better because we have acquired a more elegant way with words. The linguistic turn transforms the human condition. The climate of impunity is made up of such extravagant claims.

Meanwhile, we have grown accustomed to practices of waiting and expecting, the kind that is akin to the uncanny act of burning both sides of the candle. In almost all relations, homecoming means “to be yours.” I distinctly remember the very first time I met the school principal. It was in an office room that housed me for many years, the same room I can never come home to. But she was there, a stranger to me and to the situation that History got her into. I took a mental picture of the mother who was looking for her daughter in my eyes. “Do not blink,” whispered the Angel of History. And so I didn’t. And so I won’t.

Yet she who administers the everyday affairs of teachers and children also gets busy marking her school calendar with regular appointments that seem like therapy sessions, only that they mostly occur in the streets. She takes pride in these engagements as though they were some source of prestige, security and survival.

Yesterday, while walking along the street of Padre Faura, I had an unusual encounter with her in my head: We are in a mass demonstration. I am, as usual, looking for an escape valve for a big matter such as this system. Just because the people’s History is mine, too. She is making a list in a manner that would make any atheist think that she’s been taken over by some religious ritual that turns her into an infantile fixated neurotic. “May I see your wish list?” I demand. “I don’t have one,” she answers. “I am listing the names of everyone who’s here. So they won’t disappear.”

Human Kinetics
for Sherlyn Cadapan**

I picture you swiftly
running around
the track reserved for athletes:
sprinting soles spiking tired
carabao grass.

Like those childhood dragonflies
that eluded chasing
they say you didn’t want to be
bothered while you do this.
Not for lunch, not for a radical chit-chat,
not for a high-five.

My lover says you were in his class.
How was she like?
He does not remember
a time when you weren’t disappeared.
It’s what keeps him still,
hopeful and with context.

Your mother believes
you did a Houdini.
And that great escape keeps you
roaming invisibly in regions
only she can map with gut-feel,
with hope and in desperation.
You are now her legendary Amazon.

Did I mention running this morning?
Sometimes when I put on
my running shades, I utter “Cadapan”
as I face the mirror with a triumphant smile.
Sometimes I think of going beyond
the awkwardness of being in a shirt
draped with warm sweat and tears.

You were there, your presence ablaze
amidst a crowd of bewildered shoppers
and striking workers.
The mall entrance staged
your very own dance steps
to the tune of Henry Sy’s loud music
that meant to drown
the megaphone which owned up
to your smoking agit-prop.
I still come to SM Cubao, Sherlyn.
And I don’t always remember you when I do.

I still come to mass demonstrations
to picket lines, to Mendiola, to Liwasan.
And not for the way we were.
But to claim time,
to claim history.
A miracle does not happen
when we revolt.
Only us.

*Connie Empeño is the mother of Karen Empeño. The latter was a student activist from the University of the Philippines-Diliman. Karen and Sherlyn Cadapan were abducted by military elements in Bulacan in June 26, 2006. They have been disappeared since then. There would be big rallies in which I expect to see Nanay Connie as I also wait for her daughter’s return.

**Sherlyn Cdapan was abducted with Karen Empeño by military elements in Hagonoy Bulacan. Both of them were students of the University of the Philippines-Diliman who struggled for a mass oriented, scientific and nationalist education by working for and with the farmers in Bulacan. Sherlyn was the College of Human Kinetics Representative to the University Student Council. She was with the political party STA ND-UP in her college days. Sherlyn was two months pregnant at the time of her abduction. Raymond Manalo in his sworn affidavit testifies to the torture and abuse that Sherlyn went through while in the hands of the military.

Sarah Raymundo is a full-time faculty at the University of the Philippines-Center for International Studies (UP-CIS Diliman) and a member of the National Executive Board of the All U.P. Academic Employees Union. She is the current National Treasurer of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) and the External Vice Chair of the Philppine Anti-Impeiralist Studies (PAIS). She is also a member of the Editorial Board of Interface: A Journal for Social Movements.

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