by Joel Pablo Salud
They were not the ‘usual suspects,’ at least, not those you’d often see hobnobbing at a coffeeshop.
This ‘eclectic’ gathering of Filipinos, on the night of April 2, 2018, was anything but ordinary. Call it a magnanimous conclave of a cross-section of society’s ‘rogue’ thinkers, writers, artists, journalists and editors, opinion makers, academicians, the religious, all wrapped in their own outspoken ideologies, political posture.
With the exception of this one particular night when all their differences took a backseat for one common goal: a crusade for freedom.
I have to admit: when I received the invitation to be part of the so-called #nohashtagparty, I was hesitant at first. I hardly knew what to expect, let alone who I will end up facing. As editor, I have an aversion to joining political groups. Wasting away my time listening to inane speeches is not my idea of a good day.
But Inday Espina-Varona, my former editor-in-chief in the Graphic and one of the organizers of the event, assured me the get-together will have none of that. The idea, as I understood it, was to bridge the spaces between people of varying socio-political persuasions for the sole purpose of safeguarding a common goal: the exercise of our liberties.
I followed Inday’s lead and, with Graphic writer M. Pirante Peréz and Graphic literary editor Alma Anonas-Carpio, later on proceeded to the venue.
Familiar faces hogged the 500-or-so-meter-square facility, from both long-time friends and strangers. Some I knew only because they were celebrities, singers like Audie Gemora, Pinky Amador and Jim Paredes. I happened to see Agot Isidro and independent filmmakers Lav Diaz and Kidlat Tahimik among a throng of a little more than a hundred.
Others I’ve met on social media, like human rights activists Edna Aquino and Mae Paner (Juana Change).
Sen. Kiko Pangilinan was there, and so were Bam Aquino, Satur Ocampo, Atty. Florin Hilbay, Fr. Robert the running priest, litterateurs Marne Kilates, Menchu Aquino Sarmiento and Jenny Llaguno, professor and historian Xiao Chua, blogger Jover Laurio, Sister Mary John Mananzanan, Dinky Soliman, a number of editors and journalists, not the least Vergel O. Santos, leaders of urban poor groups, families of victims of tokhang, and hundreds more whose faces were familiar, but whose names escaped me.
I grabbed a beer and, after the pleasantries extended to friends and acquaintances, and a couple of selfies, I sat somewhere near the shadows. The introvert in me was in an uproar. I had to keep it down. So I opted for the barbeque, which tasted really great, and more beer.
The whole event was bereft of the expected programs, save for some songs by Audie Gemora and Pinky Amador (her rendition of La Vie En Rose was breathtaking) and a slew of invitations from heads of organizations.
The night wore on with none of the ruckus and grandstanding one would expect from a political gathering, only hours of socials and conversations between some of the most unlikely couples and groups around.
As a social experiment seeking to prove how political differences could deliquesce in the light of a common goal, in this case freedom, then it’s safe to conclude that what happened that night offers hope for this country.
The event thereafter turned for the better when esteemed journalist Vergel O. Santos took the floor. The author of Worse Than Free, a book I keep by my bedside library together with Luis V. Teodoro’s Vantage Point: The Sixth Estate and Other Discoveries, is something of a legend in my eyes as far as journalism is concerned. And so I grabbed my phone, took his picture, and listened intently to what he had to say.
I didn’t expect him to say anything new, nothing that I’ve already written in the course of my career as editor and writer. I was right. “I have been called a biased journalist, and I say I am,” Santos said. “I am biased for the truth, in the first place. I’m biased for freedom. And I am biased for justice […] These things–truth, justice, freedom–have been hijacked. If we want to preserve democracy, the thing to do is to first set aside our differences.”
While this may not be new to my ears, Vergel O. Santos’ words took on a whole new meaning that night, the night when right in front me people of obvious disconsonance and divergence converged under one roof to share their ideas. What used to be a mere principle, at once appropriate and right, the organizers had turned into reality.
By this alone, one can already ruminate on the extent of the possibilities that such a gathering and sharing of ideas could accomplish. Our struggle to preserve liberty and justice needs as much unity as they do diversity, with each one safeguarding the other.
I felt the strength of Vergel O. Santos’ words, “to first set aside our differences,” embolden many who attended the event, myself included.
After the party, we proceeded for a nightcap at my colleague’s home in Makati, which was a stone’s throw from the venue. There, over coffee, talks on authors and books, and a generous serving of roasted pork, we came to the conclusion that this #nohashtagparty should spark a series of gatherings of the same nature.
Kudos goes to the organizers–brave ones all: my chief Inday Espina-Varona, Zena Bernardo, Betty Romero, Peachy Tan, Dino Manrique, Krix San Gabriel and Peachy Bretana. These were the so-called nuts and bolts of the event, the people who took the idea of democracy and made it a reality.
Democracy is never easy. It takes a certain spunk to accept, or perhaps even tolerate, a difference in opinion without necessarily losing hold of one’s own, and to search thereafter for possibilities of fusing the two without diluting one and the other.
In light of a creeping dictatorship, this nation needs more of such gatherings. Because if we were to stand triumphant over tyranny in the end, it must be on a ‘colorless’ platform, bereft of all political allegiances save one: our nation’s freedom–yours a