Dr. Aurelio S. Agcaoili, PhD.
I told Ka Domeng as a counter-warning: “Dangadang is part of a quartet. There are three more coming up. Same length, a continuum.”
Even as I responded to him, the image of exiles in all of human history came to me in a flash: the Israelites sent out of the promised land; the Diaspora peoples settling in strange places; the Ilocanos coaxing earth and sun and rain in Mindanao; the Filipino service workers in the Middle East pampering the oil-rich merchants and making them feel good; the teachers nursing and nurturing other people’s children in Hong Kong, Singapore, England, Taiwan. The stone in my heart cries out: “Oh, my people, my people!”
But what scenes! What words! What concepts! What technologies of oppression! What economies of suffering! “Oh, my people! Where are you all going, my people?”
Perhaps I read so much of the social and political philosophy stuff for my undergraduate and graduate classes in philosophy in a number of seminaries I had the privilege of getting an adjunct teaching appointment for many years.
Perhaps I remained the dreamer despite more than twenty years of getting stuck up in the classroom and teaching my students various methodologies and approaches to understanding what reality is all about.
Perhaps I took some part too much of a number of useless revolutions in the homeland: the “today’s democracy: revolution” of Apo Ferdinand Marcos that went pfff; the green revolution of Imelda Marcos that turned rotten dark and dank; the yellow revolution of Cory Aquino that remained yellow and a hodge-podge of other oligarchic and dynastic colors; and the EDSA Dos revolution of so many opportunists in government and in civil society that has not brought any meaningful reforms in governance and in the distribution of the goods of social life.
Two EDSA Revolutions happened before me and I took part in both of them. Both revolutions happened in the twenty-one years that I taught college and university and helped form young minds. I watched the years go by and realized soon that both did not bring about any structural changes in the political, economic, and cultural life of my people. And the sadder fact is that I was a witness to both, that I could testify to the way these twin opportunities could have been used to effect the needed social change.
Day by day, I read stories of my people going to faraway lands, to destinations sometimes unknown just to make a difference, to figure out what is at stake for them. Some days, I read the stories of their deaths: hit by shrapnel from a suicide truck, or from a tanker blown-up, a hanging, a frame-up, getting bonkers, leaping to their deaths from a cold tower of a condominium reaching up to the heaven of heavens, a hundred lashing, an incarceration—all kinds of reasons and causes, many imagined, concocted by authorities to whitewash the police report but many too are real.
Some days I read a customary rescue by a consul or an ambassador or even a president’s husband.
Think of media mileage, good news, and public relations campaign.
Think of image management in one minute. In the meantime, my sister whose husband works as an overseas contract worker or OCW—“our cows and carabaos to the world” some pundits would spell out what that acronymic OCW means—in a military base in Guantanamo Bay, points to me the warehouse near the Ninoy Aquino International Airport where the government keeps all the arriving remains of migrant workers.
Frozen, my sister tells me. Cold like ice. Some are kept there for days and months on end for lack of documentation papers. Relatives could not just mourn and grieve and bury their dead without the documentations.
Ay, manong, my sister tells me: Talk of government neglect, inefficiency, and bureaucracy.
My sister knows the whole set-up from the heart: her brother-in-law worked in Guantanamo Bay as a handyman and died there in his sleep. Heart attack, a massive one, she recalls to me. And so the brother-in-law came home in a box and to four young children and a young wife who all had depended on him in the many years that he worked his sweat and soul away from his family. What luck!
Put together, all these stories helped inform my desire to work on that book that will try to understand what is in the stories of migrants. I hold on to the magical, enchanting, and epistemological power of stories. As a story-teller myself, a fictionist and novelist if you want—I have realized that every man’s life is a story, that in the end, stories are all we are and have and nothing more.
Published in the Inquirer, Aug 26/05