Chasing the finish line

by John Remil Isaga

Sirens wailed and panicked screams tore through the late-afternoon sky.

Hundreds of people ran with a purpose – to get away, to hide, to help other people in need. In the midst of all the chaos, however, a unifying goal stands – to break free and emerge victorious.

While it may sound like a scenario from another mainstream dystopian film, the action-packed scenes are actually from the second Great Lean Run held in the University of the Philippines, Diliman, Nov. 12.

Named after slipper-wearing student activist and former UP Diliman University Council Chairperson Lean Alejandro, the race is meant for runners to relive real-life horrors faced by citizens during Martial Law as well as raise awareness and incite action for the youth who were not yet alive to experience the atrocities of former President Ferdinand Marcos’ rule.

Accompanied with sirens and recordings of riotous crowds blasting through large speakers, participants are tasked to climb makeshift walls, outrun people guised as police officers and evade the torrents of water cannons, among other obstacles reminiscent of a dark period in Philippine history.

For Great Lean Run participant Zaira Baniaga, the event makes its attendees reflect on encounters within the Martial Law set-up once the race is over.

“Mas naa-appreciate mo [ang mga bagay na] dapat ipagpasalamat mo sa lipunan ngayon na ibinasura noong panahon ng Martial Law,” said Baniaga.

Aside from reliving the horrors of Martial Law, the race also aims to apply fear and pressure as well as promote teamwork among the runners, similar to the time of Marcos’s dictatorship where people were forced to work together in order to survive as the rights to life, liberty and property were constantly being threatened.

In the race, these rights are concretized in the form of three ribbons representing life, liberty, property.

Much like the Martial Law days, they are also under constant threat to be ripped away at any moment from the runners by the event’s organizers.

Failure to keep a ribbon intact means the runners failed survive the race and qualify for a prize, effectively stating that they are dead for the remainder of the event.

As Baniaga recounted the difficulties she faced during the race, particularly during the wall climbing obstacle, she thought: “Yung nasa Martial Law kayang mga tao naakyat nila yun? Kung hindi, siguro na-detain sila.”

While it is uncalled for to blame the runners for taking the event lightly, the Great Lean Run indicates that it is just not possible to fully replicate the true horror that loomed far and wide during Martial Law.

Faux police officers robbing runners of their ribbons are far cries from the military that has been responsible for more than a thousand enforced disappearances and 34,000 recorded torture victims.

Makeshift walls cannot replace prison cells curtailing the freedom of 70,000 illegally arrested individuals who opposed the tyranny of a despot.

Boisterous recordings cannot speak for the tallied 3,240 victims of summary executions who have been silenced under the guise of a society of peace and order.

While the organizers have done a laudable job in making the race as realistic as possible, a glaring irony remains by the end of the race.

For the runners, a finish line awaits them at the end of the event after they have overcome the toil of exhausting obstacles laid out for them throughout the race’s course.

Yet for the real Martial Law victims who lived and died fighting for justice against the human rights violations they have endured, there is no definitive end to their suffering.

With the Supreme Court ruling in favor of Marcos’s burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (LNMB), victims of the former president’s authoritarian rule are now met with cheers – cheers from the rejoicing children of a dictator who is now branded a hero.

Winning by nine votes against five, the decision to bury Marcos at the LNMB qualifies him to be worthy of inspiration and emulation of this generation and of generations still unborn, as per Republic Act 289, Sec. I.

For Martial Law survivors, such verdict only puts them further away from the end of their own races.

“Parang isang masamang panaginip ‘to, na yung taong isinuka na ng bayan ay tatanghaling bayani.” said Sen. Francis Pangilinan, a proud student activist during the Martial Law years.

“Pero hindi pa to tapos, lalaban tayo. ‘Di bayani ang isang diktador,”

For now, the dead may have outran the living, but those who have not forgotten will continue battle the odds thrown at them despite a 9-5 decision and the threat of historical revisionism.

While there are still those willing to relive the horrors of a period some Filipinos have forgotten, those who remember and fight will continue to march or run, even.

Those who remember and fight will keep chasing the finish line.

Author: TNP

The Official Student Publication of the UP College of Mass Communication.