Yes, yes, I know: No political commentary here. There are plenty of other blogs that offer it, after all. (Some of them are pretty good. You should read them.)
Bearing in mind the current political state of the Philippines, I would be amiss if I refused to mention these matters in this blog. I would prefer not to lapse into political discussion here, though, no matter how strongly I may feel about what's going on.
So I'll just tell a story.
You see, in mid-January 2001, the state of the Philippines was at a distinct low. The country's economy had been adversely affected by political corruption, ineffective government policy and the recent Asian Currency Crisis. To make matters worse, various sources accused Joseph Estrada, then President of the Philippines, as the source of a number of these corruptive elements -- in particular an illegal numbers game that operated in many provinces.
Then-President Estrada was eventually called to trial, a massive televised event that became a regular spectacle for any Filipino with access to a TV. The prosecution and the defense literally represented some of the finest government lawyers in the country, and the case was heard by the Philippines' own gathering of senators. This trial, however, was flawed by the associations of the esteemed senators for one side or another; When the erstwhile "judges" voted not to open what many viewed as a critical piece of evidence, the prosecution lawyers walked out of the courtroom and the people took to the streets.
Around the third week of January, I had been working for less than three months as the project manager of a small web development company. The street demonstrations were more of an irritation to me than they were a serious consideration; With a company that was less than a year old, after all, the quality and consistency of our work was going to determine whether or not we were going to survive in the coming months.
The employees had a constant habit of leaving earlier than usual then. They either wanted to join the rallies, or they had relatives or friends who had joined the rallies, or they just wanted to get home before the traffic became unbearable because of the rallies. My boss and I agreed to these requests on the condition that the staff file them well in advance, and thus we continued our work in the face of growing political instability. Eventually my boss himself would join the rallies, leaving me to 'hold the fort' for the waning hours of each day, as it was.
On the morning of January 18, I woke up early, got dressed, and went to work. I noticed a good-sized wall of people walking along the main EDSA thoroughfare, although I didn't think much of it at the time. (Yes, I was sleepy.)
I found the office empty when I arrived at 8:00 am, when there should have already been at least one or two people hanging around at that time. Having nothing to do, I pulled up an online newspaper, read about how the rallies had suddenly grown in terms of size and ferocity after the walkout, and waited for the other staff members to arrive.
By 10:00 am, I was still the only person in the office. The phone rang, and I answered it to find one of our web designers on the other end:
"Sean, you went to work?"
"Yeah. I mean, it's still a weekday, right?"
"But everyone's in the streets!"
I told him that he didn't have to come to work if he felt threatened by the crowds. Then I put the phone down and settled back in my chair for what looked to be a looooong day of waiting.
The phone rang only one more time that day, at around 11:00 am. It was our France-Hong Kong client, and he was calling to ask if we could submit any studies for his current project on that same day:
"'Allo? Sèan? Could you submit today?"
I took a look out the window and saw only the empty street in front of my office. "Er... I don't think we can submit anything today, sir. No one's in the office right now."
"'Allo? Why? Is it a holiday?"
"Ah... not really, sir."
"So... why is it you cannot submit anything today, Sèan?"
"Ah... we're kind of in the middle of a revolution at the moment, sir."
He laughed and told me that it was okay... he would be expecting something by the end of the week instead.
Sometimes I still wonder if he believed me.
If you happened to be out in the streets on the morning of that same day, you'll probably remember that Estrada finally acceded to the peoples' wishes and left the Presidential Palace somewhere around midday. At that time, I was kicking my heels in my solitary workspace, reloading websites every two minutes and just hoping that the strangest workday of my life would finally end.
That's my story, everyone. On the day that the people raised their voices in the streets and toppled a president, I went to work.
Just like that, yes: I went to work.
The small web development company I work in is still a small web development company, only we've survived long enough to get the big clients now. In fact, I've been its project manager for almost five years, and most of the colleagues I've worked with on that cold day in January have since up and left. Joseph Estrada still languishes in privileged imprisonment, still saying that he was cheated of his presidency.
This afternoon, it took me almost an hour to walk to a client's office and almost an hour to get back. Some of the major streets were cordoned off, and the major underpasses closed. Somewhere in the distance, a throng of people gathered to chant slogans against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and the way that she had allegedly cheated them of their votes last year.
I'm told that these current rallies continue long into the evening, and make the traffic particularly unbearable. My staff, though, is perfectly welcome to leave the office earlier than usual -- as long as they notify me well in advance, of course.
Perhaps these rallies will soon gather enough people to topple the presidency once again. Perhaps these rallies will eventually peter out, and we'll all return to our previous existences. I don't know, and I don't presume to know right now.
All I know is that, when that change comes, I'll be going to work.
You'll find me there. You can always just put down your banner, stop by, and say hello. We'll have a nice cup of tea, and we'll talk about the weather or something like that.
After all, somebody's got to hold the fort.