TAKE time and smell the billboards.
For four consecutive days, I recently commuted from Silang, Cavite to Diliman, Quezon City to take exams. Daily, that was approximately six hours of travel by car, bus, jeepney, and MRT trains to sit for an exam taking four hours.
I survive Manila by commuting via the Manila Metro Rail Transit (MRT) System, which feeds the Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (Edsa) with about 650,000 passengers every day, according to 2012-2013 data.
More than half a million people “captured” like livestock transported from the farm to the abattoir makes the Abenida irresistible for every street hawker, from the merchants of everlasting youth to the political chameleons of utopia.
I am not one of the cattle plugged in to their smart phones during these Edsa “flights”. I am more bovine, napping even while standing. My favorite MRT activity, though, is to urban-gaze. Even whizzing past, the giant billboards of Edsa exude a potency more mind-bending than a hallucinogen.
This week, the billboards have nearly succeeded at convincing me to buy an overpriced set of triangles (“It’s SUMMER. LiberYAYte yourself!”), as well as use my vote to put the public at the mercy of a mass murderer and bald-faced liar (“TRUST me. LiberYAYte the nation!”).
Trusting a bikini and a politician marks a deficit of sanity, I shout to myself with a bullhorn. But every time I pass their billboards, Nadine winks at me and Bato smiles as if we both share the private joke behind the War on Drugs.
This week, if my brain wasn’t standing-room-only (yeah, Gramsci, Foucault, and Fraser, get your butts off poor Habermas; step out, Heidegger, and bring National Socialism with you), I might have succumbed to a buy-in of these bikini dreams.
Edsa knocks sense in me. Not the Abenida but the great Filipino after which it is named. Don Panyong was a multifaceted genius who defied the conventions of his time to serve Filipinos, including future generations. The First Filipino Academician was a giant of the Golden Age of Fil-Hispanic literature but as the journalist using the penname of “G. Solon,” he co-founded and edited newspapers opposing the Spanish colonizers.
Gregorio Zaide wrote that Don Panyong’s Filipiniana collection was unrivalled, the fruit of the scholar’s indefatigable search across many nations. After he died, his heirs sold the collection to the government for P19,250, an act of patriotism benefitting scholarship re-imagining the narratives constituting the Filipino.
More than an urban nightmare, today’s Edsa reminds us that the struggle to liberate the Filipino continues to saturate our worlds, the everyday as well as the imaginary.
* First published in the March 31, 2019 issue of the Sunday editorial page column of the SunStar Cebu’s “Matamata”