It was a rainy Thursday afternoon. I was fixing my laptop and bag and was preparing to leave the day-long meeting at #3 Mahabagin. I was thinking of the meeting I would have in a few hours and the important decision that needed to be made. As I was about to step out, Tone stopped me.
“Tara. Let’s toss a coin, Jae,” he said.
It was a reference to my Facebook status message at the time, wherein I said something about how I will probably just be tossing a coin to find a way out of a dilemma I had been wrestling with for two weeks now. I looked at Tone to see if he was serious, and I saw him fishing out a P5 coin from his pocket. “O, game,” he said. “You assign the sides.”
Heads, go. Tails, stay. I said in my mind.
The first toss, I wasn’t able to catch the coin. It rolled to the floor. Tails.
Do it again, Tone said. It’s not valid if you weren’t able to catch it.
The second toss I was able to catch. Heads. At this point, the others were watching as well. Waiting for the outcome.
It was time for the tie-breaker toss. I took a deep breath and tossed the coin in the air with an even flick of the wrist. And as I watched the dull-yellow disk twist and turn in the air, the wisdom of coin-tossing as a decision-making tool hit me. It wasn’t the outcome that mattered; it wasn’t about how the coin would eventually turn up. It was about the instinctive whisper that you call out to the universe during that two second period that the coin is up in the air. What you hope would come out when the coin lands to the ground is the answer that your gut needs for you to hear.
During that time when the coin was spinning, I found myself asking the universe for Tails. Thus, even before I could see what side of the coin had turned up, I knew the answer with mind-numbing, powerful certainty. I wanted the coin to make me stay.
And therefore, I had reached a decision. I got my best corporate “costume” from the cabinet — a black pencil cut pinstriped suit, three inch, kick-ass, very pointy-toed heels — and put it on, braved the smog of EDSA to go to a gleaming office in concrete and marble and say “no, thank you” to a nice Singaporean man in coat and tie.
After a brief and cordial discussion, during which we talked about my current employment and the work that I do, he shook my hand and said, “I understand you perfectly. You are doing this for the farmers.”
“Oh, no, Sir. I am doing this for myself.”
He smiled a questioning smile, but asked no further questions and escorted me to the elevator. Had he asked me what I meant, I would have told him this:
There is nothing I give to the farmers that other people or other lawyers cannot give. There is nothing special in what I do. I harbor no illusions of indispensability; when I am gone, the vaccum that would be created can be easily filled. I prepare pleadings and research jurisprudence that will help them assert rights that already exist. I attend proceedings when an “atorni” is needed to expound the merits of the case, with the Court oblivious to the fact that they would hear the exact same thing had they asked the farmers. I only translate legal principles into a language more easily accessible to them, and they decide how to challenge, expand, push to the limit these legal principles so that it can approximate as closely as possible that which is fair, just and true. It is their wisdom that matters, the strength that they find in their own ranks that counts. Naniniwala ako at habambuhay akong maniniwala sa lakas at galing ng hanay ng magsasaka.
So, no. I am not doing this for the farmers. I am doing this for myself.
I am doing this for myself because this is where I have found my quiet. During my first trip to Bondoc Peninsula, I went home with the certainty that this is the struggle that I want to take part in for the rest of my life. I had no previous background on peasant work; have in fact, never met a single peasant organization in my life prior to that trip, but I decided that it was something I wanted to learn and I was going to learn it. I would find my own mentors, learn concepts that need to be learned, and navigate my way by trusting my gut but knowing who to ask.
I am doing this for myself because I am an advocate of not living by “defaults”. I don’t believe in taking the path of least resistance just because that’s the easiest path to take, even though we know that we could be happier elsewhere. Minsan may mga bagay talaga na kailangan ilaban, kailangan pagtayaan. We should be where we are not by default but because this is where we chose to be and where we are happy to be. I don’t know what the future holds for me, or what I’ll look like after ten years. I wonder if I could, like my classmates, live in a tidy condominium unit and not fret about bills to pay. I wonder if my health will hold. I worry about the cost of medicines and medical procedures. And — because a grim and determined baggy shirt and dirty sandal-wearing activist I will never be — I will admit that I wish I had enough disposable money to buy makeup, pretty little dresses and lacey-lacey lingerie anytime I want (I can’t be self-righteous about this, . Monica says I will be maarte until the day I die.) But I know that I am not wired to work for something I cannot believe in, and if working for something I believe in means being less than certain about the future, then I say it’s a fair trade. Gusto kong maging kaibigan ang sarili ko.
I am doing this for myself because am the kind of person that needs her anchors. After twenty nine years, I’ve stopped believing in a lot of things. Age has a way, I suppose of chipping at our faith. I’ve stopped believing that the unjust will face censure; that if you act kindly towards other people, they act kindly towards you; that “if you want something bad enough, the universe will conspire to give it to you”. But there are things I still believe in. And one of those things is that I work with people who do the right thing for the right reasons. I belong to a party that still insists on its bottomlines at a time when compromises are made left and right and truly practices the democracy it preaches. Another is that we owe our farmers for centuries of injustice. Akbayan and agrarian reform are two of the anchors of my life. A friend of mine told me recently: “You are in your own way an anchor for other people. You are the most consistent person that I know. Watching you always try to do what is right even in the simplest ways and put your money where your mouth is, help us find our clarity as well.” It was one of the most touching things that anyone has ever told me (albeit quite possibly something I don’t really deserve). I don’t claim to know the great truths or profess to know the right course of action each time , but the few things I am sure of, I try my best to live by. I don’t want to get lost. I am afraid that if I do, I won’t be able to find my way back.
But most of all, I am doing this for myself because I can’t bear to be away from them. I love them with all of my heart and am honored to work with them. They are the reasons I have chosen to stay: