The night she growled
By Emmanuelle


It was a long night; she went without sleep so she could talk with her close military and civilian advisers and preside over an emergency cabinet meeting at two in the morning. That day, February 24, 2006, she appeared on television to proclaim a state of emergency and demanded obedience to all decrees and orders “promulgated by me personally”, claiming an alliance of soldiers, opposition politicians and communist rebels were plotting to overthrow her.

 It was a long night; I, too, went without sleep. I had no small country to run, just this slight body which refuses to behave as normally as it should. Sometimes, the heart rebels; sometimes the immunity system becomes hypersensitive and thus, over-reacts. Whenever one or the other happens, hospital admissions almost always stamp “for confinement” on the chart.

Thus, on that same long night, as history repeated itself for the umpteenth time – really an absurdity! – my reality ran parallel to her who, sleepless, walked the halls and grounds of Malacañang. I, too, walked the halls and grounds – of Philippine General Hospital.  

Both institutions, by the way, were built from the blood and sweat and dreams of the Filipino people, by the Filipino people, for the Filipino people. There is no problem to this definition, is there?

Here, at this sickly side of this world, battles to win over life and death situations continue, no matter how unstable the political situation in the outside world may seem to be. Nurses and laboratory technicians – in white or pastel colors with 3-ply face masks – busily pad through the wards as if it were daylight, armed with their usual weapons – thermometers, BP apparatus, pills here, shots (to the arm, to the butt, to IV’s) there. Resident doctors interview or calm patients before scheduled medical procedures or operations at early morning.  Watchers watch, or are in turn watched by those they watch over. The same scene is played around the free wards at the ground floor or up the elevator to the infirmaries or isolation rooms where the air is softer to the throat.

Routines were as usual that long night – if you call saving lives, curing illnesses, soothing pains as routines. Politics was for the daytime people – the hospital administration; those who decide, map-out and beg for a fair share of the national budget, that excellent health services may still be available free or cheap to the people.

Almost no one took notice of the impending “emergency rule that spooked the peso, stocks, friends and foes”.  Except for the extra-tight security that prevailed at the hospital gates and at the lobby that night. As in all the government institutions. To keep out the people, from harming the people. Who has the capacity to harm? Who was fearful of being harmed?

When in old Manila, UP-PGH and the streets around are my jogging ground – from pre, to college, to post. As it was my father’s. It is where I keep in touch with the asphalt and the grime of this existence. Those who are familiar with this environ will agree with me – it is really very toxic. And if one survives the pollution and the germs – one will survive anything anywhere. Even her growls, her bites.

This is the true state of the nation. Survive this, and you survive all the rest of the unrest. By the way, Baywalk and Malate night, are just a few minutes jog to over there.


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