Note: I am re-blogging this article that I submitted as my Christmas story assignment in 2008. This article first appeared on Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro Daily where I worked as one of the two-member reportorial team (the other reporter was Annabelle Ricalde) under then Editor-in-Chief Froilan Gallardo. — Cong B. Corrales
“Dili mi mga peste,” was to be their battle cry.
IT HAD RAINED all afternoon that day, cold and soggy, she tried to push the thought out of her mind.
She had been tossing and turning on her banig most of the night. Somehow she could not rest easy, all the more—sleep. She felt as if two thousand crickets were sniveling from all directions.
Finally, she sat up and gaped blankly at a portion of a lit parol that managed to sneak its multi-hued lights into their rip-ridden tent.
Alas! Sleep still eluded her.
The night, conversely, was deafeningly quiet. As expected, no cargo trucks passed the road that could have easily engulfed them with dust and petrol fumes. Even the stars that night seemed to shine brighter than she had gazed them for the past month.
But, like her thoughts that night, the draft of the chilly December breeze that crept into their makeshift shelter, was an unwelcome interruption that made slumber for her even more difficult.
Except for their assigned night-watch and her, all of their members were fast asleep—albeit cramped inside their 4×2 meter-shelter.
It was the eve of the 24th of December, and it was her first time to be away from home on such an important evening. Evenings like these are meant to be spent with kin and loved ones. Not this year, at least for Gina and her neighbors.
“Really, I don’t mind spending my Christmas Eve here, away from my family,” blurted Gina.
Home for Gina and her neighbors is Purok 3, Lower Sirib, Calinan, Davao city.
Gina and her neighbors have been encamped just beside the street—over a canal—a few meters from the Court of Appeals here in Cagayan de Oro city. Her group, Mamamayan Ayaw sa Aerial Spray, are on a drive to defend their right to life and healthy environment. Theirs is a basic struggle for sobriety amidst chaotic social structures.
You see, from where Gina lived, near a banana plantation, have been constantly sprayed—along with the bananas—with agro-chemicals.
Gina suffered skin rashes. These worsen, she observed, when the plane that sprayed the agro-chemicals meet crosswinds where the agro-chemicals would definitely drift unto Gina’s neighborhood.
Her other neighbors had it much worse. Many suffered from pulmonary diseases while some mothers gave birth to sickly children. The aerial spraying in the little community beside the banana plantation has adversely affected their way of life.
Theirs is a community of peasants and agri-workers. Their well-being is their only capital for their livelihood—toiling the earth.
Long ago, three years to be exact, they won a battle when the local legislature in their city enacted an ordinance banning the practice of aerial spraying in banana plantations.
When the banana growers questioned the legality of the ordinance in a regional trial court, Gina and her neighbors won yet another battle. The circuit court ruled that there was nothing wrong with the ordinance and that it even upheld the constitutional right of every person to life and a healthy environment.
But the banana growers, having all the resources at their disposal, lodged a question on the constitutionality of the city ordinance to a higher court—Court of Appeals.
It was becoming clear to Gina that they may have won some battles but the banana growers would not easily give up the war.
At that instant, Gina and her neighbors decided that they have had enough of the aerial spraying.
“Dili mi mga peste,” was to be their battle cry.
They decided to take their struggle a notch higher. They decided to come here where the appellate court holds its office.
When they arrived in Cagayan de Oro city, they immediately went to the Court of Appeals and set up camp a few meters away.
After more than a month, Gina and her neighbors had been shouted and glared at, pushed and shoved, harassed and arrested, promised and lied at. But the struggle continues, Gina vowed.
She did not mind having to spend this year’s Christmas Eve away from her home. She did not mind the dust and petrol fumes every time a cargo truck passes their encampment. Gina does not even mind that they have to cramp themselves in their makeshift shelter by the road whenever they have to eat, hold a meeting or sleep.
It was not because she was cold and soggy that night. It was not because of the draft in their makeshift shelter every time the chilly December breeze blew that she could not sleep that night.
Gina did not mind being away from her kin this Christmas Eve because as she reasoned: “What we are doing here is for all of us, so that this thing that has been slowly killing us will be stopped.”
What bugged her this year’s Christmas Eve was her realization that the environment including its inhabitants are being raised to the altar of greed and profit and yet it takes so agonizingly slow for “learned” individuals to see what is right in front of their noses.
Gina could not sleep thinking that as the rights of the people are being trampled wantonly; the supposed vanguards of truth and justice are as lame as their excuses and counter proposals.
It is already fourteen past two in the early morn of Christmas day but sleep still evaded Gina.
Hence, Gina made a solemn oath on her very first Christmas Eve alone, without kin but with kindred spirits, to continue the struggle not only for her rights but more so the rights of those who are downtrodden. Those who have been stripped of their dignity and opportunity by the very people who have sworn to serve them.
What started for Gina as a struggle for her right to life has blossomed into a warm and resolute fervor to serve the people.
Unexpectedly, Gina yawned.
She smirked when she finally felt sleepy—probably weakened by her internal debate that seemingly long dreary evening.
She felt relieved as she laid her head to sleep thinking that tomorrow will, yet, be another day of struggle and that she should be well-rested if she was to continue to struggle for our rights and justice for all.