Love from your activist daughter

Papa, we never had the chance to meet, so let me introduce myself. I am your posthumous child. Four months before I was born and a few days short of Ate’s birthday, you fell victim to a tragic death. Authorities claimed that it was related to your work. In lieu of a party cake, my sisters waited for Mama as she went through the protocol of identifying what was left of you. In the years that followed, Mama single-handedly raised us. It has been 26 years but justice is still elusive.

You left our hearts seared with scars that remain unhealed and our minds haunted by questions that remain unanswered. But I am still so grateful for the life that you left us.

Just last week, Auntie Tin informed us that the caretaker of our family home in Cagayan was often seeing a man in a white barong during the wee hours. You must be visiting us. We no longer stay there, Papa. Many things have changed since you left.

We have moved to Mama’s hometown. We rarely visit our family home now. Maybe because it is the only place that still gives us the leeway to mourn. It reminds us of what a perfect family we could have been.

Mama is still the supportive mother that she has always been. She is now retired from work and is happily taking care of your eldest granddaughters, our lovely twins Sinag and Tala.

Sometimes, miracles really come in pairs! Ate Jewel is still the brilliant but shy girl. She is now a lawyer. Ate Kotch is still the witty girl. She does well in her career as a public servant. Mama, with the help of our relatives, raised us with so much love, provided us with a comfortable life, and gave us the best education.

I guess there is only one thing that has not changed after all these years: Life will never be the same without you.

Sometimes I wonder how it would be if you were around. As a child, I grew up envying classmates whenever their fathers came to collect them after classes. I became a student leader in college and I always wished I could ask you how activism worked during your generation. In law school I burn the midnight oil studying and I always wish you were there to enlighten me in my taxation law subjects.

Every Sunday it has been my duty to drive the family cars to the nearest car care centers. I usually queue with fathers who talk cars. I would go home wondering whether we’d have the same verdict over the new model of Forester Subaru or the first diesel engine sedan of Hyundai. Even just waking up in the morning and drinking coffee together—I wonder how sublime that could be!

Despite this longing, fate is still good because it turned your absence into virtues. Your absence taught me that there is a bigger family outside my own. At a young age, I have come to realize the constant existence of injustice in the world. I have embraced the life of activism. I spend days immersing with farmers, union workers, political prisoners, and indigenous people. I met my quasi-fathers in the countryside, picket lines, and in mobilizations. I  call them “Tatang,” “Tay,” “Itay,” or “Amang.”

I met a lumad father who sought refuge in Manila after trucks and armored personnel carriers rolled into their ancestral lands. He wiped his tears as he recalled how large mining corporations had abused natural bounty and fueled militarization in their region. I met a union leader who lost his job after organizing a strike to protest unfair labor practices. He complained of terrible and inhumane working conditions in their factory — foul smell, 14-hour shifts, and threats of fire. I met a construction worker who builds condominiums, expressways, and sewage systems but cannot even afford a decent home because he earns below minimum wage.

I met “ikot” and “toki” drivers in UP Diliman who lamented the jeepney phaseout as the university bids to privatize the transportation system. They have been working as drivers their entire lives and they cannot afford to continue their livelihood because modernized jeepneys cost millions. I met a farmer in Hacienda Luisita who lost his son during the infamous massacre. He told me that decades of protest have not given them justice because of their lack of resources to pursue the case. His

take-home pay plunged to as low as P9.50 a week despite the Supreme Court ruling in 2012 ordering the government

to distribute hectares of land to the farm workers. I met a political prisoner who was arrested while attending to his humble farm in Laguna. He was accused of supporting the rebels because of his political beliefs. His military captors inflicted grave human rights violations on him and threatened to kill his family if he resisted admitting crimes and trumped-up charges.

I can see you in them — a father who struggles and works hard to provide for his children. You lived and died with dignity. They live with dignity as social ills slowly kill them.

Another thing you had in common with them is the quest for justice, maybe in another form. I promise to seek it for you as I also wish to seek it for them. In God’s time and with God’s grace, I know that I will become a lawyer like you. I may not be able to go after your murderers because the crime has already prescribed. But I believe that I can find justice for your death by finding justice for others, and by being a good child of the nation.

I thought of you on Father’s Day, Papa! Sana po, proud ka na isa akong mabuting anak ng bayan.

* * *

Amme Agudo, 26, is a public administration graduate of the University of the Philippines Diliman.

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