Sunday, August 01, 2004

August 2, 2004

Individually embattled, they swayed and danced together and celebrated.

In truth, the July 26 gathering was a menagerie of disquiet. Each Filipino who arrived that fine evening at the Quezon City watering hole called Conspiracy carried a roster of personal concerns in their hearts. But as is often the case, when called upon, the heart finds a way to expand beyond breaking point in order to embrace a few more causes.

Answering the call that night were businesspeople alarmed at the steep decline of the country's economy and workers facing mass lay-offs; feminists outraged over the assault of the Arroyo administration on the reproductive rights of women and couples, and artists, intellectuals and activists threatened by hectares of social ills.

In reality, the occasion chosen for the activity that night was for most Filipinos an arcane event, esoteric even for many of those who attended the activity: the 51st anniversary of the attack on the Moncada Barracks - an armed push by a determined band of Cubans that launched the six year struggle which overthrew the US-backed government of Fulgencio Batista, the dictator of Cuba.

But those who showed up did not exactly join the event to commemorate the Moncada Barracks assault and some did not exactly go there to register their agreement with Cuba's efforts to construct socialism.

The only thing on display that evening was the mambo of camaraderie - the extension of support by crisis-ridden Filipinos to Cuba - a small sister nation reeling from the hooliganism of imperial America. An extension of moral and financial sustenance by citizens of an economically distraught country to the people of Cuba who have accomplished much despite the inhuman 45-year economic blockade which the US government continues to impose. Illiteracy was eradicated a long time ago in Cuba, where the net primary school enrollment for girls and boys reached 100 percent in 1997, where the ratio of primary school pupils for every Cuban teacher ranks as high as Sweden, where the ratio of 5.3 doctors per 1,000 people ranks the highest in the world, where enough anti-retroviral medicines are produced, according to the BBC, to supply the country's AIDS patients, and where infant mortality rates are lower than US rates.[1] To cite a few trifling examples.

On through the night they swayed and danced in a celebration of defiance, with male democrats and activists doing most of the swaying, perhaps intimidated by the graceful feminist souls dancing to the fever-inducing music of Bo Razon's band. So much is freely offered, a saying goes, to anyone with eyes to see.

Zelda Zablan, spry icon of the University of the Philippines Population Institute and the spirited Mercy Fabros of Woman Health Philippines were on the dance floor the longest, followed by the graceful poet Mara Llanot, dance instructor and part-time Philippine history luminary Maris Diokno, and Princess Nemenzo, who danced a bit but applauded the loudest and smiled the widest. Young souls all.

The garden place Conspiracy was a jam-packed house and its main serving never came close to running out: solidarity, the antidote to adversity and despair.

The same spirit of generosity that drove a hundred animated citizens of East Timor - the world's newest nation, one still reeling from the genocidal Suharto-instigated occupation - to take part in the international day of protest against the war on Iraq on February 15, 2003.[2]

"There is no moral principle in [the] current desire to overthrow Saddam Hussein when [the governments of the US, the UK and Australia] felt no compulsion to overthrow Suharto, who was at least as bloody and brutal as Hussein," said the statement read in Tetum and English at the embassies of the US, the UK and Australia by East Timorese demonstrators marching with drums and music peacefully through the capital Dili.

"Suharto's dictatorship was eventually ousted by the Indonesian people, who accomplished 'regime change' through largely peaceful means. The people of East Timor made our own 'regime change' through the Popular Consultation," the East Timorese protesters implored. "The Indonesian invasion of this country resulted in massive civilian casualties and destruction. Yet, during 24 years of illegal occupation, neither East Timor's resistance nor any foreign government advocated invading Indonesia or attacking Indonesian civilians. The Indonesian people, like the East Timorese, were victims of Suharto, not to be punished for his crimes."

"After 25 years of war, the people of East Timor want peace not only for ourselves, but for the whole world. East Timor is a small and new nation, but we know quite a lot about the death and destruction that come with war, and we don't want to see similar destruction anywhere . . . Human life is too precious to be wasted for political or economic profit."[3]

"No War, No Racism!", "Keta Ataka Iraq" (Don't attack Iraq), "No blood for oil!" said their placards. For the survivors of genocide, the blows to Iraq were blows to East Timor as well. And so they swayed and danced as they marched through Dili and distributed solidarity, the antidote to war.

We must begin to live together as brothers and sisters, Martin Luther King, Jr. once said. Or we can perish together as fools.

[1] "Learn from Cuba, says World Bank," Jim Lobe, IPS, Washington, April 30, 2001. "Cuba leads the way in HIV fight," BBC News Online, February 17, 2003. "Vaccine May Open Window in US Blockade," 29 Jul 1999, IGC News Desk, Patricia Grogg, IPS, July 28, 1999.
[2] "East Timorese People Demonstrate Against Impending War in Iraq; World’s newest nation participates in global protest for peace," February 15, 2003.
[3] Statement by East Timorese and Indonesia citizens organizations presented to the embassies of the United States, United Kingdom and Australian in Dili, East Timor, on the occasion of the International Day Against the War in Iraq, February 15, 2003.

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