Text by Katrina Stuart Santiago
Seventy-five years on, Katrina Stuart Santiago, great-niece to Nita H. Umali, attempts to reply to her aunt's question "Just where are we?" published a few days before the United States granted independence to the Philippines on July 4, 1946. Both journalists speak their mind, one from a past generation, the other actively working today.
Is what we know of the certainty of light. As in the impulse to unite on shared battles, the ones so crucial they survive the passage of time, are embraced across generations, as it was brought to bear on that moment 75 years ago, when the Philippine flag flew highest in the air for the first time.
Is what we know of our capacity to create light. Despite, or because of fear. Spreading photocopied stories on the real state of the nation; supporting a free press that bites incessantly, draws blood unfailingly; living off a lush grapevine of narratives passed surreptitiously at gatherings. Until the voices grew louder to the point of paralysis: a boycott of wants, needs, cravings—all sacrifice, maybe rebellion—aimed squarely at the corrupt and wealthy. We practiced and won on civil disobedience 35 years ago, a citizenry discovering its collective power.
Is what we know of carrying a torch. For revolutions that we fashion ourselves. Bright enough to overthrow a dictator, or unseat a President, or take back our freedoms.
Is what we know of waning light. As new generations grew into democracy, with little appreciation for the battles fought and lives sacrificed; as freedom began to be seen as entitlement, with little understanding of what it demands, how it is nurtured, who it must cradle. Here is the decay of the present: where justice and rights are skewed to serve a violently dysfunctional system, now deeply entrenched, borne of the power and wealth that so defined nation and its independence 75 years ago. Bound to it, inextricably. Controlled by it, (in)definitely.
Is what we know of blinding light. In a country preoccupied with the constant search for heroes, we take the next person who will promise the blaze of change, the brilliance of liberation. We are at the mercy of a pendulum that shifts from bad to worse, disinformation to propaganda, falsity to deceit. Because the only way this blinding light can survive is if it keeps us unseeing—deaf and dumb, stupefied and numbed. Kept within the space of the unfulfilled, propped up by the words we want to hear. Here where media is just as blindly fumbling through its own institutional darkness, the loudest voice wins.
Is what we know of light. As love for the shadows that, now familiar, might lend itself to faith. Faith in the fact that knowing the darkness—sharp angles of light included—will allow us to map out our movements in hope. Hope, that despite the discordant voices and political divides, we can build towards a lucid brightness, the kind that allows us to see where we are, given where we come from, towards where we need to go. And we might start with walking on unsteady feet, and we might take our time finding our bearings, but we will forge through.
Because what we know for sure about this darkness is that it will always only promise to deliver the light that will never come.