Sunday, February 1, 2015
More than three decades ago, I was in first grade and I joined an elocution contest at school. I vividly remember the day of the contest – I was dressed in crisp white pants and an equally crisp white shirt. My grandmother couldn’t find the bow tie she bought for me that morning, and so she fashioned one from a black sock. The improvisation worked perfectly, looking now at the old photograph of myself on stage with one arm raised as I delivered the lines.
She also chose the poem I recited – The Unknown Soldier. I don’t remember the author anymore, so I searched for the poem online and several results for ones with that title came up. I read several hoping that a line or two from any one of them would help me remember which one I spent late nights on learning, memorizing that time in 1980. Two poems looked promising, they both sounded quite familiar.
I will never know the details of the tragic mission that led to the death of the 44 men of the Special Action Force. I know only what everyone else knows: they died a very painful death. So painful that the pain was felt all across the nation. And as the president decided that being there when their bodies were brought back from ground zero to the capital wasn’t enough to cancel his appearance at the inauguration of a car manufacturing plant, the pain just went deeper, and the people are furious. For really, how can he be so heartless?
A close friend of the family is related to one of the slain, but I myself do not know any one of them personally. And while I’ve recited poems almost all of my life, I never did learn how to write one myself. This is one of those moments when I wished I could.
But I do want to put this out there, to the unknown men who laid down their lives for Bayang Magiliw:
They have lowered flags at half-mast in your honor. We are all trying to get a handle on this and millions of our countrymen are eager to have their voices heard, to praise you and your honorable sacrifice. I cannot even begin to imagine what life must be like being one of you: keepers of the peace, defenders of the people and this nation. Unlike you, next to you, I am a coward. I don’t have the courage to carry a rifle, aim it at another human being and pull the trigger. I am not brave enough to get hurt that way, and even more afraid to cause another human being that much pain.
They are supposed to be fighting for something lofty, noble, but they had just committed a most dishonorable deed, those murderers. And while we struggle to come to terms with your tragic death pointing fingers are people whose names follow words like excellency and honorable, yet commit the most deplorable and dishonorable crimes against the people, I hope that we will also not forget that you died not only because of such deplorable and dishonorable acts of our leaders, but also because fellow Filipinos indeed aimed their guns at you and pulled the trigger.
Out of the countless ways we can live our lives, you chose to live yours serving this country. Now that is indeed honorable. Not all of us are given the chance to die for our motherland, but most of us do have the chance to live our lives for her. And that is, perhaps, the least we can do to honor you, the 44 martyrs who died serving our country.