Tag: philippines

Pushing and shoving, mud and sore feet: Pope Francis’ Luneta Mass

Pushing and shoving, mud and sore feet: Pope Francis’ Luneta Mass

Pilgrimages are journeys, either short and long. One can expect them to be arduous, or they can be unexpectedly miserable. On the day of Pope Francis’ Luneta mass, it was the worst on the streets.

At about 4 A.M., I checked my Facebook — a status update from a volunteer who was issued an ID-and-all had already turned back, due to a mess of cars and crowds along Maria Orosa street. Oh wow.. that happens to be the main entrance. What now? But my head was hurting to consider it seriously, and in a few moments I was bound for Manila City.

On the A.M. frequency, Ted Failon’s voice had an alerted tone, still in rapid dialogue with a frantic field reporter who was observing the events along Maria Orosa street. Ayan na! Ayan na! Hindi na mapigilan ang tao! Tumba na ang barikada! 

Maria Orosa street, cleared for the Popemobile. (Then why was it made the official entrance, to begin with?)

An hour since the radio reportage, we finally made it to Orosa street corner U.N. Avenue, where there was an apparent confusion (like the scene in Ice Age where the animals were pointlessly walking away from the breaking ice). There was a thick, disordered line of people, made unclear by stranded cars. Cars inched against the pedestrians, who were split-seconds away from being squished against the parked bus. It was only 6 A.M., on a Sunday.

The start of the line. To the right, the people trying to find the start of the line. It eventually thickened into a two-lane line.

Tracing downstreet U.N. Avenue, until about Del Pilar, we found the “start” of the line. At that point, it was getting cramped on either side of the street: the “line” going to Maria Orosa official venue entrance with scanners, and the “line” trying to find the back of the former. In the chaos of things, there were multiple quick-myths being echoed. ‘Di na kayo papapasukin. Sarado na sa Roxas. Yung mga may-ID lang ang pwede. But we were in line and, just like everyone else, we mentally vacillated with blankness whether this would be a fruitful effort or not. Surely, the graying lola who was trying to cut me in line wasn’t mentally vacillating. She was leaping and elbowing me!

That early morn, the sky was overcast. “Biyaya yan ni Pope sa ‘tin, na hindi gawing mainit ‘tong araw na to,” a lady said, while our bodies clung like in an MRT rush hour. If my mental and physical toughness was tested in high school special CAT, then my own patience was tested in that stupid line. Truly, I could not fathom each of everyone’s motivations as to why getting themsleves stuck in this thick chaos is worth their time! We would be the philosophical laughing stock of born-again Christians and INC, I thought to myself.

After two and a half hours, we would learn that we just wasted sleep, time and energy. Maria Orosa had been blocked instead, and the scanners were moved to the Taft Avenue entrance. We turned a corner around U.N. Avenue going to Taft Ave., whilst still trying to follow a “line”. We eventually deposited ourselves into a free-flowing, lineless sea of people in back of Rizal Park. The scanners were indeed there, but they weren’t working, and people just passed right through it. We didn’t have to line up. We could’ve just gone straight there. It was a bummer, like Lapu-Lapu’s huge bum, and it had started to rain.

The thick line condensed into an elbowsome single file, as cascaded from the “scanner entrance”, which turned out to be useless. Who was the idiot that told everyone to make one line?

Sitting on our mats, the rain turned the ground into mud, and we were forced to stand up. On the video screen, Pope Francis had boarded his Popemobile, headed for Luneta. People started to get into a cheering frenzy and continued to cram the space, continuously increasing human density within the area. It was becoming extremely unsafe. I pitied ourselves, the Filipino-Catholic people. All to see the Pope. We decided to get out of that cramped place and go back near the Lapu-Lapu statue, where there was more air to breathe (except near the portalets). Squeezing one’s way through barricades of bodies is hard enough, it was harder with the cold through one’s raincoat and wet socks,  by slipping every so often from the mud, with sore hands and shoulders from carrying bags, and without enough sleep. It was a miserable situation; undeniably a far cry from the organized, large-scale worship of other sects.

Suddenly, there was a roar. Pope Francis! He’s here! We positioned ourselves at the screen behind Lapu-Lapu’s bum. The mass was about to begin.

The huge orchestra played through our local set of speakers, and the camera panned towards the altar. It was the same processional song used in the first mass at the Manila CathedralAll that time, the rain started to get stronger. Onscreen, Pope Francis lightly swung the censer, just like how our local priests did it— but this time it was him doing it on the altar

“In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.” As if my body knew, I began to calm down and focus. It was a Sunday, a day of obligation, and I was hearing mass with Pope Francis. Suddenly transfixed at that thought, I felt more and more alive. Even though Pope Francis’ homily was weakly audible, I listened and clung onto each word. In spite of all my internal negativity, I felt moved by an unseen force.

Live, behind Lapu-Lapu’s statue.

In a quick realization, I realized that the mass could not have been any more meaningful without that day’s difficulties. I was a pilgrim. Everyone there — the lola, the little kids, the people who commuted all the way from outside Metro Manila. We stood there in the rain, with sore feet and grumbling stomachs. We heard mass, and we fulfilled the purpose of braving through that whole day. Whether it was unsafe, miserable, and ridiculous was beside the point. It was about making any form of a difficult journey, and quenching it spiritually in the end.

Pope Francis could have went somewhere else. He could have visited Obama or the Queen of England. He could have just went back to Italy, but no. He booked a flight to this little, uninteresting country with so many problems. He chose us. Then, for this final, most difficult day, we also chose him; we journeyed to him. Mabuhay ang Santo Padre! Mabuhay si Kristo!


The Number 1 University in the Philippines

Sometimes, I like to think of my school simply as a plot of land that has buildings where professors can teach and students can learn. The State is simply mandated to take out some cash to finance some buildings with whiteboards, light bulbs, LCD projectors, laboratory glassware, and computers. But if financing was food that provides sustenance, and each college building is a body part, then the University of the Philippines is a skinny child.

Let’s have lunch in UP Diliman (UP). Wipe some sweat from your forehead, stuff your thick lanyard brand in your bag, and greet the hot, dusty road. It’ll be too hot inside the cafeteria, so let’s just eat outside. Yeah, we’ll sit on the pebble-cemented floor. Around us, students — some alone and contemplative, some flashy and in groups — flow in all directions as they manage the rocky, unleveled pavement. Street kids are around, and they can be persistent about your food. Some of them are the great grandkids of this lola who has sold banana-cue, kariyoka, turon and lumpia for at least 20 years now. True to her tenureship, she is a living library of stories about generations of students within this very area. And even if she never seems to change her tray and cover, I still buy from her. A lot do. So what do you think of UP? Isn’t it great here?

UP is far from fantastical portrayals of college life. The campus lacks streetlights, security and police officers. AC units are old and inefficient, etchings on wooden tables date back 10-20 years, and product sampling agents, music video ambush interviewers, random preachers, and bad-intentioned people can freely roam the campus like water is to cell osmosis. But if you ask a student or a teacher along the hallway, they will most probably say that everything is fine! At the very least, the most important resources like journal subscriptions, staff and teacher benefits, university-based funding are kept at a working standard. Issues like heavy teaching loads and large class sizes, lack of student lounges, bowling instructors who don’t issue receipts, robberies every other month, killings every other year…it just doesn’t bother everyone as much! But who am I to say, right?

Says my friend in Econ, “People think that Econ students have more rich students than the other colleges, but that’s not really true. They only think that way because everyone in Econ dresses nicely, which I think is the effect of having a nice building and tissue and soap in the bathroom. Did you know Econ students pay 5% more per unit, just to have that? Sometimes I go to Palma Hall and MAN, there has got to be, like, at least a minimum dress code. It’s like they just rolled right out from the bed.” And I agree. But not everyone does.

Oftentimes, quorum and consultation matters in UP, and it’s been key to moving the university forward. For example, the passage of the Standardized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program or STFAP was hauled by the board of regents for several terms due to persistent rallying by the students to keep the tuition fee pegged. But it had been so long since the 1960s, and UP needed so much money to keep itself alive. Alas, the last straw pushed the painful resolution to raise the unit tuition from 300 PHP to a graded range up to 1500 PHP per unit. Though the poorest UPCAT passer will put together some money to get to UP on the first few weeks of classes, he or she won’t last long when financial aid and stipends take too long to get to the bank.

Occasionally, one will pick up some nifty fact about UP. For example, my brother met some middle-aged Singaporean nationals who had something nice to say about UP, where they finished their undergrad. They recalled how they could take one look at the university and ruefully admit how such an institution could never exist in “backwards Singapore.” In another instance, an Australian visitor mentioned that the UP Diliman campus wasn’t a campus. “This is a city!” he said. It is possible that the original planners of the university had something bigger in mind when they founded the university. To become the best in all of Asia, perhaps?

In spite of the plight of the UP community, the snubbed annual budget, the fault of whoever is the president of any year (oh it’s just an old and repetitive vinyl record), UP is still subsidized enough to still be…the number 1 university in the country; this is driven largely by the enormous amount of research and publications it churns out. What explains this? The way I see it, there seems to be this national perception that UP is the best place to go to for training in popular occupations: medicine, law, engineering, pure and applied scientific research, and business. Even less populated arts courses such as language studies, social sciences (not including Psychology, obviously), music and design are regarded by industry professionals as the country’s standard. So, at the grassroots level, the smartest and most bookish students from every school of every town and province practically dream of going to the university. So what you get is a nerd herd that makes the public university comparable to Ateneo de Manila University, which is like the country’s Harvard.

I think there is much to be said about the amount of compensatory effort put forth by students who have less, in order to capitalize on their only valuable intelligence, and by students who have more, in order to make sense of why they chose to burn bridges by not going to…other universities. It’s just the burning desire in every person here.

It’s cripplingly satisfying to acknowledge that the scholars of UP are indeed indebted to the nation. But then again…says who? Such an idea is merely a perceived romanticization. UP is just a reality: cement, trees, backpacks and classes. All imaginations, whether romantic or socially scientific, are just musings of your professors and their horrendous stacks of readings waiting to be risographed at the xerox. Besides, buildings don’t eat. But you do. Now, nourish yourself.

Lantern Parade

Couple + SG

Bahay ng Alumni

UP Carillon

Eng'g/Music sign

"Roots" UP Fair