I feel the goodwill of the common people

Days before Christmas, presidential ranting has continued to rain negative feelings of enmity, ridicule, and vilification against a broad range of critics of government policies and actions or inactions. Worse, it sows fear, intimidation, and threat that “Lulutang tayo dito sa dugo (We will float in blood)” against those branded as “enemies of the state.”

Despite the bilious rhetoric from the highest seat of governance, however, the spirit of goodwill, charity, and fellowship remains deeply rooted among our people at ground level. I am happy to observe this when I venture into the streets: little acts of kindness toward one another – and, pardon this tinge of self-reflexiveness, toward myself who has been a perennial target of political persecution and prosecution since the Marcos martial-law dictatorship.

Take, for instance, what I experienced after the Talaingod (Davao del Norte) police arrested and detained me (along with four pastors and four teachers of an indigenous people’s school in that municipality) last Nov. 29.

(The police has charged 18 persons, including me, with “violation of RA 10364, RA 7610 and kidnapping and failure to return a minor.” We were arrested after we came to the aid of 14 pupils and their teachers, who had been forced out of their Salugpongan school by the military and their paramilitary group, Alamara. We are now out on bail.)

In the morning of Nov. 30, the Philippine Army’s 56th Infantry Battalion transported a group of indigenous people from Dulyan, site of the shut-down school, to stage a protest rally particularly directed against me. An elderly man, whom a detained IP teacher identified as a datu, came up to our detention cell and asked to talk to me. He said he wanted to know why I was in Talaingod. The teacher explained that I had been invited to join a National Solidarity Mission to help the Salugpongan school and its students. The datu smiled, told the IP teacher, “I’ll pray for you.”

Before leaving, the datu peered into the cell and waved at me. I smiled back and nodded to him. A friendly gesture from an Ata-Manobo datu, ironically trucked in by the military with a small crowd to rally against me. Wouldn’t one’s heart be uplifted by such compassion, amid the antagonistic atmosphere the military had been trying to create outside the police station?

On the midnight flight back to Manila, with ACT Teachers partylist Rep. France Castro (a co-respondent in the police charge), other passengers smiled or gently waved in greeting. Though exhausted by the ordeal that I, France and the others had gone through that entire day, I deeply felt the message of goodwill, even of solidarity, coming from all those people – total strangers, but fellow Filipinos.

Last Monday, as my wife Bobbie and I were on our way to the Philippine STAR Christmas party, our car experienced engine trouble. First the airconditioning conked out, then the headlights gave up the ghost, and finally the vehicle stalled and refused to restart.

Traffic was heavy and we needed to push the car to one side of the road. After a few minutes, a young couple crossing the road approached me to ask what the problem was. They then volunteered to help, and that part of our problem was soon solved. As I thanked the couple, the woman smiled and remarked, “We’re very glad to be of help, Ka Satur, ingat po kayo.” That really made us feel it was Christmas!

We decided to walk to the party venue, which was over a kilometer away from where we stood. Obviously, finding a taxi at that time and place was out of the question. After we had crossed P. Burgos to pass in front of the Rizal monument at the Luneta, a traffic enforcer from the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) called out, “Ka Satur, bakit kayo naglalakad? Saan kayo papunta?” I told him about our stalled car and where we were headed for. The man volunteered, with his MMDA buddy, to check on the car and see what he could do to help. He told his buddy, “Si Congressman Satur Ocampo yan, idolo ko siya!” He gave his name, Roque, and I thanked him as we parted. I learned later from our driver that he did arrange for the car to be towed to safety. That was the second spontaneous gesture of goodwill that was proffered to me that early evening.

Truth to tell, that car always reminds me of my friendship with the late Ambassador Antonio Cabangon Chua. We had known and respected each other since the mid-1960s, when I was with the Manila Times business desk and he was a struggling businessman who himself brought his company’s press releases to me.

In 2007, he lent me his vehicle, which I was able to use in criss-crossing Luzon during the electoral campaign in that year’s party-list elections. Despite the schemes of the Gloria Arroyo government to dislodge my party, Bayan Muna, from the House of Representatives, we retained the three seats in the chamber that we had held since 2001.

After that election victory, “Amba” (as Cabangon Chua’s staff loved to call him) told me I could go on using the car, with free regular servicing to boot. The car has aged (along with me!) yet it has served me well. And it’s the best car that I ever used. Thank you so much, Amba!

Back to that Monday evening incident. As we continued to walk down Roxas Blvd., some of the people we passed along the way made us feel welcome. One man thought I needed to put on a bit more weight. A security guard gave a snappy salute.

Meantime, my companion was gawking at the physical changes along the boulevard, which one overlooks when travelling by car. Poor Rizal has indeed been photobombed. Taza de Oro is gone. Plaza Ferguson, where we used to gather to denounce US imperialism in front of the American embassy, now blends inconspicuously with the surrounding establishments. And on the sidewalk, several homeless families and their dog were preparing to sleep without dinner.

Merry Christmas to one and all!

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Email: satur.ocampo@gmail.com

Published in Philippine Star
Dec. 22, 2018

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