Holding the line at the Duterte Youth rally

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The Duterte Youth group first formed a line in Luneta on Nov. 25. Their leader, Ronald Cardema (not in photo) stated on Nov. 30: "Ang gusto lang naman natin, we find common ground." Photo by GELOY CONCEPCION

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — At 5 p.m. on Bonifacio Day, a jampacked MRT train slowly made its way to Santolan station as it traversed EDSA. The distance between Santolan and Ortigas is the longest, as any commuter would know, and on Nov. 30, an idle passenger and window-gazer facing east should notice the steady trickle of black shirts making their way to the People Power Monument. That day, they protest the Marcos burial anew.

A few feet away as seen from the moving train — at Gate 4 of Camp Aguinaldo — a small group mostly clad in red held a long tarpaulin. It states: “DUTERTE YOUTH: We support President Duterte and the Supreme Court.” They were also in Luneta on the 25th, forming a single line clutching a succinct and straightforward message, a simple antithesis to the myriad of humorous witticisms which found their way to the protesters’ placards just next door.

Ronald Cardema, the 30-year-old chairman of the Duterte Youth group, does not worry about numbers. As of 5:40 p.m., the supporters of the president and the Supreme Court, at least in Gate 4, did not exceed 30. Around 11 of them held the tarpaulin, with others loitered around the area, participating in chants of “Duterte! Duterte!” Some of them, Cardema said, attended the rally that day at Mendiola. More were on the way. He said what was important was the fact that their presence divides attention — media attention, specifically.

Ang gusto lang naman natin, we find common ground,” Cardema says. “I recognize that there were atrocities during Martial Law. Ang ayaw ko lang, they portray Marcos as 100 percent evil.”

Duterte Youth Rally - 8 A Duterte supporter wears a shirt expressing the desire for peace in the country through the burial of former President Ferdinand Marcos. Photo by GELOY CONCEPCION  

At the outset, Cardema is keenly aware of the comparisons the group has earned with Nazi Germany’s own Hitler Youth. “That happened in a different generation, a different continent, in a different context. Gawa ba noon, bawal na i-attach ‘yung youth sa pangalan ng presidente ng ibang bansa?” He asks, “What if Duterte Youth can really mobilize and do something great for the country? Wala naman silang patent sa name. Lahat ng bansa, may youth.”

From this distance, there is only a muffled noise to be heard from the monument. But each protest-goer alighting from Santolan station must pass through Gate 4, which comes alive with shouts of “Mahiya naman kayo sa balat niyo!” and “Magkano ang inyong prinsipyo?” every time someone walks by. There were no physical confrontations, but a few against whom these words were directed would raise their fists, or make the thumbs-down sign, or otherwise overpower the allegations with loud boos. Most ignored.

“He did wrong things,” Cardema continues about the older Marcos. “But he did something good naman. He was a UP student leader, he fought the Japanese …. He became congressman, senator, senate president, commander-in-chief of the AFP. Most of the laws we’re still using right now are from his time. Most of the infrastructure na matibay pa, nag-e-exist pa kasi matibay during his time.”

“I recognize that there were atrocities during Martial Law. Ang ayaw ko lang, they portray Marcos as 100 percent evil.”

For Cardema, the former president now buried in the heroes’ cemetery only laid out the policy to combat communism in declaring Martial Law. “The government officials who implemented the policy, madami sila. Eh nagkandaloko-loko na doon,” he explains. “‘Yung mga nang-rape mismo, nang-torture, pumatay, mga majority of them are still alive. ‘Di natin alam kung sino sila. ‘Di natin alam kung nasaan sila. Dapat mahanap natin sila, lahat ng nagkasala, dalin natin sila sa hustisya.

Kasi ganyan lang mangyayari every time. In the future administrations, may pinapatay, may ginagahasa, sisi lang tayo sa isang tao. It will happen again. ‘Yung sinasabi sa kabila na ‘never again,’ hangga’t di natin hinahanap ‘yung nag-perpetrate talaga, yumaman, nanggahasa, pumatay, nang-torture, hangga’t di natin sila hinahanap, eh mangyayari’t mangyayari yan. Kasi ang gagawin ng future generations, ituturo lang sa isang tao.

“If you want justice,” he adds, “let’s be united in finding everybody who perpetrated those crimes.”

As Cardema stood at the end of the line holding the tarpaulin, his companions, some of which he only met that day, advised passersby: “’Wag kayo magpauto sa mga dilawan!” The small crowd was a mixed bag: aside from members of Duterte Youth, who campaigned for the president last May, some heeded the call online to assemble at 3 p.m. at Gate 3 of Camp Aguinaldo. (They moved to Gate 4 because it was hot, and there was no shade at Gate 3.) Some are Marcos loyalists, and there is a 19-year old holding up a sign: “No war in anger has ever won.”

Duterte Youth Rally Darlene Shane Sampang (left) and Grace Go (right) stand in front of Gate 4 of Camp Aguinaldo to support President Duterte's decision to bury former President Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. Photos by GELOY CONCEPCION

Darlene Shane Sampang, the 19-year-old Business Administration student from De La Salle Araneta University, hails from Malabon, but took a bus and rode the MRT to stand alone with her placard in EDSA. She is the only young person in the counter-rally of sorts, and her expression is stoic, her stance firm, as she holds up her sign.

Kanta po iyon ni Selena Gomez, part siya ng lyrics ng ‘Kill Them with Kindness,’” she says of her sign. “Mag-ra-rally kami, mag-ra-rally sila, ang nangyayari, nagpapalitan lang, nag-re-revenge lang, ‘di talaga siya matatapos kung ganoon lang talaga.”

Kung tutuusin, wala namang isa sa ating may kapangyarihang mag-rewrite ng history. Tsaka ‘di naman natin ni-re-rewrite ‘yung history. Hindi natin binubura lahat ng ginawa ni Marcos sa bayan, hindi namin ‘yun malilimutan. Pero kailangan natin mag-forgive at mag-move forward. Kasi kung napako lang tayo doon, wala tayong mararating.

On the question of apologies, Sampang asserts that the Marcos family has apologized many times. “Bat sila ganun mag-demand ng apology, pero sila mismo ‘di sila marunong mag-forgive?”

Alam ko ‘yung pinaglalaban ko, nasa batas ‘yun. Nakasulat na ‘yun, nilagdaan na ‘yun, kaya matapang ako na pumupunta dito.

The chants on this part of EDSA, if weakened by numbers, were not any less strong. A passionate man, wearing a shirt bearing the colors of the Philippine flag, loudly asked anti-Marcos protesters: What about Hacienda Luisita? What of the drug problem? What of the Mendiola massacre? What of the Liberal Party’s faults? Another, in pink, implores those in black to think about how they are being used by those who are “yellow.”

Grace Go, a 58-year-old woman who describes herself as a Marcos loyalist from Laoag, Ilocos Norte, is wearing a red shirt. She joined the group of Duterte and Marcos supporters in calling out a nun — there were several groups of them — who was apparently on her way to go home from the anti-Marcos rally. “Ay sister, masama iyang ginagawa ninyo!” “Bumalik ka dito, kami ang nagpapakain sa ‘yo!

“Alam ko ‘yung pinaglalaban ko, nasa batas ‘yun. Nakasulat na ‘yun, nilagdaan na ‘yun, kaya matapang ako na pumupunta dito.”

“We just want to have unity,” Go said earlier. “'Di naman totoo ‘yung mga sinasabi nila. Kung naging diktador man si Apo, which is, we don’t consider that also, it was for the betterment of the country na nag-declare siya ng Martial Law. Kasi ayaw naman natin na sakupin tayo ng komunista.”

She stops in mid-thought and recognizes my surname. “Bueno?” The surname traces its roots from the north, and as she recognizes my heritage, she reasons how her own “partially” supports the decision to bury Marcos in the heroes’ cemetery.

I tell her the crowd in the monument is in the thousands. “Of course!” She exclaims. “Kasi hinahakot naman sila eh, alam naman natin ‘yun. Suportado ng kampo ng schools, sa church. Tingnan mo naman ‘yung mga andoon, estudyante. Atsaka ‘yung iba diyan, bayad. Kami naman, ‘di naman kami bayad dito. Maraming nagsasabi sa amin [na bayad sila]. Marami din kaming kasama na ki-no-convince nila na sumama doon.

Diyan, may makikita kang oust Duterte, ibagsak si Duterte,” Go says, shifting her gaze a few feet away. “Bat ganoon? ‘Diba deceit ‘yan, diba panloloko ‘yan? ‘Di tama ‘yun. Kaya kung sino man nag-organize niyan, pwede ‘yan sampahan ng sedition.”

On the other hand, she prays, still, that no one infiltrates the larger crowd and causes harm. “Kahit magkakaiba ang point of view natin, Pilipino pa rin tayo. ‘Wag naman dumating sa ganoon. Kahit sabihin mo mayaman ‘yan, mahirap ‘yan, ang buhay niyan mahalaga. Magyayakyak na lang tayo lahat sa Facebook, magdadakdak na lang tayo hanggang umaga, hanggang sa mawalan ka ng boses, pero magkasakitan, it’s a big no-no.”

Duterte Youth Rally Supporters, whether young or old, hold up the tarpaulin for the Duterte Youth rally, a few steps away from the People Power Monument. Photo by GELOY CONCEPCION

Go has her own placard written on bond paper, which, in the other crowd, might be scandalous enough to cause an uproar. It says: “Marcos tunay na bayani.” He is the only president who has truly cared for the people, Go says, aside from Duterte, who has done so much in such a short period of time, and aside from Macapagal-Arroyo, who was only put down by the media. “’Di ba tinutuloy lang nilang lahat [‘yung mga projects ni Marcos]? Na-foresee na niyang lahat iyon eh. Go to SGV [the auditing firm]. Makikita mo doon paano nila binigyan ng budget ‘yung mga projects. Nandoon ang mga blueprints. That is what I know. Pero I’m not so sure kung true.”

"Kahit magkakaiba ang point of view natin, Pilipino pa rin tayo."

There was an instance when Go’s voice, first calm, became laden with anger. “Bat yang mga Martial Law victims, ngakngak nang ngakngak na Martial Law victims sila? Paano naman ‘yung biniktima nila bago mag-Martial Law? Ang pamilya ko, biktima ng NPA. Kaya nag-Martial Law. Grabe ang pinatay nilang mga tao noong araw, mga nasa kanayunan. ‘Yung mga NPA noong araw, ‘di sa Laoag ito, mga kamag-anak ko sa Zambales. Ang mga NPA noong araw, ipitin nila ‘yung mga magsasaka. Patayin nila, barilin nila sila. Nakawin nila ‘yung mga bigas … rape-in nila ‘yung mga babae. Nasaan ‘yung justice para sa kanila?”

Nag-file na ‘yan ng kaso,” she says of the Martial Law victims. “Nabigyan na sila. Ano pa ‘yung sinasabi nilang justice? Hindi ko maintindihan kung anong justice pa ang sinasabi nila. Panloloko na iyan eh.

The cries of the enthusiastic group with Go continued well after sunset. At one point: “Ipaglalaban namin ang pangulo sa aming kamatayan!” Cardema said the group planned to disperse at around 6:30 p.m., probably, but past the mid hour, the group picketed in front of the gate still.

Only a few steps away is another narrative. A stage is set up, with thousands singing along to “Handog ng Pilipino sa Mundo.” Thousands of placards decrying the dictator and his family. In black, they seem to move as one.

At Gate 4, they hold the line.