It was November 1996. The APEC Summit was being held in Subic Bay, Philippines.
It was a time for the country to show off its newly established Subic Bay after the former bases were left by the Americans under piles of ashes brought by the Pinatubo eruption. It was also the time for then President Fidel Ramos to showcase his Medium Term Philippine Development Plan. It was Ramos’ Philippines 2000. It was globalization. It was Olongapo.
Like most people in the progressive left, I was against it. I believe that if businesses can be allowed to globalize, we should also allow the workers to globalize. If capital can go around the world looking for cheap labor, then labor itself should also be allowed to find better pay anywhere in the world. What I’m for is simply for fairness.
The stage was set for mass demonstrations against globalization. And so we at the Sanlakas Olongapo were ready.
While the rest of the country thinks that what Dick Gordon says is the same sentiments of the whole of Olongapo, it’s about time that they know different. Gordon had unlimited access to the media, we simple people do not. Even if we tell some media that not all he says were true, we were taken for granted dismissed simply by saying, “pulitika lang yan.”
This APEC Summit would be the chance, if not the only chance, that we from Olongapo would be able to let the outside world see that there is also a part of Olongapo contrary to what everybody else believed. That Olongapo is not just Dick Gordon. And Dick Gordon is not Olongapo.
We heard on the radio that the caravans from all progressive groups were being blocked as far as Pampanga. Some groups skirted away through Bulacan. The plan was that we would welcome them here in Olongapo, whoever made it passed the blockades. But the establishment was hell-bent on making sure they don’t get closer to Subic Bay.
Fortunately for us, we’re already here. We are from here.
We eagerly wait inside our decrepit office inside the Conti-J building. John, Tune, Shiela and Ameth were busy detailing what we planned to do. Che from the Buklod Women’s Center was there and brought us food. I think I ate way too much for fear of what lies before us. I even took several 1000 mg’s of vitamin C capsules foolishly thinking that it would make me stronger. Never had this kind of rally had ever taken place nor attempted in Gordon’s Olongapo. And at this time of year? We will be swarmed by pro-Gordon and pro-government mobs.
It was time to go. Hundreds of our supporters are now waiting in front of the Plaza called Triangle on the vicinity of the public market. We saw hundreds of cops armed with batons and anti-riot gears.
I pacified my colleagues and reminded them, “they are cops, we are here in peace and therefore they would be professional and will remain neutral”. What we actually fear the most were the Gordon hooligans who would do us harm if we push through with our plans to show the world our disgust over globalization and Gordon.
We started to mobilize in the streets. As soon as we unfolded our streamers, dozens of men, some shirtless, suddenly appeared from nowhere wielding clubs and baseball bats. My eyes were hit by the glint of the sun’s reflection in one of those bats that were made of steel.
The rest of our supporters, out of fear of the mob, stayed on the sides. On one side, I saw a familiar face looking at me as if to say, “get out of there” while moving his head sideways, his eyes full of pity like I was about to get hanged.
The mob tried to bully, intimidate and threaten to club us all the while yelling “Lumayas kayo dito, hindi kayo taga-Olongapo!” (Get out of here, you’re not from Olongapo) It is but their ploy to dissuade the public in believing that indeed there are locals who are in fact dong contrary to what the Gordons say, and are willing to fight for it.
It was just me and the rest of the core group who were then in the middle of the street. We were in a quagmire. I realized then that if we try to run, they would go after us. So the better option was to take a stand. “This is it,” I said to myself. All the rallies I had attended in Manila led me to this day. The day only I and a handful of buddies take our last stand against a globalization, and against a political dynasty.
When one of the hooligans tried to take away the streamers we are holding, the fights started. The cops told us to go home while they hold our hands but let the mob continue with their blows. I got mad for the cops for taking sides.
It was just six of us armed with nothing but streamers, flags and determination. With me are brothers John and Tune, Shiela, Ghie, and Ameth. The mob was more than two dozens armed with sticks, 2 x 2 clubs, steel baseball bats, and God knows what.
I didn’t see what came but my survival instincts just took over. I just fought. We just fought. Only after a few months later, when we saw the footage, were we able to smile and feel vindicated. That with all those armed men ready to pounce and harm us, with us nothing but courage, they were the one who were afraid, not us. I was able to grab one of those bats and hit four of them. We were there on our own free will, on our own accord. And they, they were just paid.
After the fight and almost everybody got settled, all he fighters somehow settled down. I saw an old lady hitting Tune with a stick. Knowing she was a Gordon supporter but still worrying about her poor old age in this situation, I went to her and said, “Manang, wag na po kayo makisali baka kung mapano po kayo.”
Then… from behind my back… I felt a sudden thud.
I looked behind me and saw a guy running away from me. People were shouting to the cops, “Yun! Yun ang pumalo!” There were hundreds of cops in the area. Yet nobody arrested the guy.
At that instant I felt something weird on the side of my head. When I touched the left side of top of my head, it was missing. I retrieved my hand only to notice flubs of white matter that I assumed to be parts of my brain.
My knees wobbled. Tune and a bystander who I was later told to be Kathy Macomb immediately carried me to a parked jeepney all the way to the nearest hospital. I lost too much blood, and pretty much half of my skull missing, I was brought to the St. Jude Hospital.
When we got there, the attending physician refused to treat me, citing that they need a medico legal to treat me. I don’t know if it’s the sudden adrenaline surge or just my will to survive, but I tried to argue with the doctor, saying they can always call the medico legal while they are treating me. After a few exchanges, he simply admitted it. He wouldn’t dare touch me for fear that they will lose their business. “Pasensya na po talaga, baka po ipasara kami.”
I didn’t catch the doctor’s name. I didn’t bother because I understood his concerns. I understood.
The clock is ticking. I also understood that the only thing left for me is the city-run public hospital James Gordon Memorial Hospital. And when, not if, they refuse to treat me, the only option I have would be the San Marcelino Hospital in Zambales, which is hours away. And I may not last an hour.
I just asked him if he could lend us their ambulance, we’ll pay of course. Just in case the Gordon Hospital wouldn’t accept me, I may be able to make it through San Marcelino. He again refused. “Itatawag ko na lang po kayo ng traysikel.” The devil. I promised myself that if I die that day, I will definitely haunt the coward.
We were left with no choice but to go back to the streets to catch a tricycle. Tune was with me all the time.
When we arrived at the Gordon Hospital, I was already vomiting so they immediately brought me to the Operating Room. Good thing I suppose, so they wouldn’t be able to cross-examine me. They wouldn’t find out that I am not a pro-Gordon. Tune left to go back to the others who were left behind.
On the operating table, I never got any anesthesia or anything. They just poured alcohol over my head and started stitching it. All the while a familiar doctor was asking me… “atin ka ba?” “atin?” He repeated several times but I didn’t reply. I knew exactly what he meant. And by not replying he knew exactly who I am.
Nurses and aides taunted, ridiculed me. One of them actually spit on me. I ignored them completely. The physical pain and the humiliation may soon pass. For now, I only think of my safety and the safety of my friends who were left behind. I need to regain my strength, and fast.
One medical assistant who was there was privy to what was happening. His curious but confused look told me he’s an outsider, unfamiliar of the inner workings inside the Gordonland. “Why is that doctor asking you if you are with them?” he asked. I decided then to capitalize on that small chance I got. I explained to him who I am, what happened to me, and why they are taunting me.
The guy was from University of the Philippines, a volunteer for this particular day of the APEC summit. Upon learning my plight, he decided, “Don’t worry, I won’t leave your side until you are secured in your room.” He never did.
I thanked that UP volunteer, I never had a chance to get his name, Tune, who brought me to the hospital, and to Kathy who immediately helped me.
I thanked the heavens that during the whole ordeal, I didn’t fade even for a minute; my eyes didn’t even dare blink. Because I think if I did, I wouldn’t be able to open it for good.
(To Be Continued)