The rain pounding on the roof of my little hole in the city wakes me up. The clock tells me it’s only 5:30 in the morning.
It’s a holiday in my country. One hundred and fourteen years ago, a Filipino general waved the Philippine national flag in the balcony of his home and declared the nation’s independence. A marching band played the Philippine national anthem for the first time. Neither Spain nor the USA, who were fighting to control the country at that time, recognized the declaration. Years of American and Japanese occupation followed, but for Filipinos, freedom came on June 12, 1898.
I mull on this a little as I get out of bed. I’m not usually a morning person, but since going back to my old work, I’ve been waking up at 5:00. I get myself a proper breakfast of pan de sal (salt bread), scrambled egg, and coffee. I walk three blocks to that corner bakery for the bread. On the way, I see old folks in their running shoes and clothes, street vendors arranging fruits on carts, and sari-sari (retail) stores opening their windows. It’s always nice to watch the main street waking up.
I also love the quiet during early mornings. There’s a peaceful lull before my neighbor goes home from the call center and blasts Beyonce, Mariah Carey, and Adele songs from his stereo; before the other neighbor’s kids play near my windows or bang on my door; and before someone turns on the TV.
As I stir my coffee, I thank all the heroes of the revolution who fought for my country’s freedom. Many Filipinos would say we have too much of it now. That may be true. I don’t know how anyone can exactly have ‘too much freedom’, but that’s probably why laws are considered ‘suggestions’ rather than something to be enforced and followed. It’s probably why people who get convicted or who know nothing and have shown nothing in the way of public service still get elected to a public office. It’s probably why most of us complain all the time but fail to do the simplest things, like throwing garbage properly, to make our country better.
But I’m thankful we are free, free even to do all this complaining. Despite all the dismal things that have been going on, there’s still a lot about being Filipino that I love.
There’s that pan de sal, sari-sari store and bakery in every street corner. There’s the ingrained politeness in everyone, the way we say po and opo and do the mano (touching the elder’s hand to forehead of younger person) to show respect. There’s the easy smile and laughter that makes everyone feel welcome instantly and that lightens the crazy schedule at work. It’s that penchant for happiness that helps us survive tough disasters or the harshness of poverty. It’s why old and young people alike still smile and wave at cameras even in the middle of a flooded road. There’s the sense of family and community ties, why people still volunteer to help their neighbors even if the volunteers themselves come from poor families. That’s why the home for the aged is not as common here. We take care of our own.
The sun is finally out. The coffee is all gone, but it will be time to eat pinakbet or maybe adobo or some other Pinoy food soon.
Maligayang Araw ng Kasarinlan sa lahat (Happy Independence Day to all)!