THAT question was put to me the first Easter season after martial law was imposed—the darkest moment of a dark period in our life as a nation when it looked like there was no way out of the utter hopelessness that was the New Society. It was no less than Ninoy Aquino himself who asked the question. And it is one that comes back now and again to haunt us like a perduring nightmare as we lurch as a nation from crisis to crisis brought about by the bad politics that has been our lot these past few years.
The day Ninoy asked me the question was the first and only time I met him in the flesh. I can’t remember now how I phrased my answer exactly, only that I confidently told him there would be a resurrection. And I meant not only the kind that Christ promised to all who believe in him but the rising too of the nation from the death of democracy we were all suffering from then. He seemed rather skeptical at my answer, and I remember telling myself I would be too if I had undergone the traumatic experience he had had in the jails of the New Society.
He and Senator Pepe Diokno were among the very first ones taken in and dumped in prison the day martial law came into effect on September 22, 1972.
The Dioknos had asked me if I could go over to the prison camp the senator and Ninoy were being held in and say Mass for the family. I did, and Ninoy was allowed to join us. Both prisoners were under heavy guard, and their watchers—I wondered why they had to be as ostentatiously armed as they were that morning when all they had before them were totally harmless civilians—they watched us assiduously and heard everything that was said during and after the Mass, including the question and the answer about the resurrection. We talked freely knowing they were all ears.
It took 13 years for the resurrection of the nation to take place at EDSA, and only then because Ninoy had to be killed first. That morning we didn’t know our rising was going to be contingent on his dying.
It’s now 23 years since that resurrection and conditions in the nation today force us to feel as though we were immured once again in a dark tomb. So Ninoy’s question comes back to haunt us like a bad dream: “Will there be a resurrection?”
As in 1973, I can confidently say yes, there will be one. Not once, but again and again. Just as there will be other entombments, other deaths, that we will go through as a people.
Whence this confidence? It is from what the PCP II—the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines—says about us Filipinos being a basically decent people as I quoted in my last column. Sooner or later, we will wake up, as we did in 1986, and start doing something in earnest about our evil situation. It need not be another EDSA—the overthrowing, peaceful as the manner might be, of a bankrupt political order. There are many forms that our waking up will take. But for now, the hope is it will be in the upcoming elections next year as the agitation builds up against the kind of politics that continues to keep us in thrall.
But there is something else besides that decency that I know will carry us through. We do have another solid characteristic as a people that I’m confident will help bring about that hoped for resurrection: our native resilience—our ability to bounce back after misfortunes and death-dealing disasters. Earthly, natural disasters like tsunamis and earthquakes and super-typhoons. Man-made disasters too, like oppressive kleptocracies, such as we had a generation ago, such as we have even now in the rampant corruption that scars our life today, all sorts of evil life-conditions. These are no match for that resiliency I speak of.
I like to think it comes—like the decency that the PCP II speaks of—from our Christian faith. And this is what gives us hope.
Because as a Christian people, we are a people of the resurrection. A people of hope. A people that strongly believes no matter what kind of death throes we may be undergoing even now, there will be a rising from the dead. It’s the same kind of hope that the Pope in his Easter message says the world today desperately needs in the face of the enormous problems confronting nations everywhere.
“Will there be a resurrection?” As I said, I can’t remember at this remove in time precisely how I phrased my answer to Ninoy’s rather skeptical question. But the gist of it I know was exactly as I’ve just written. And if I can say so with confidence, it is from faith in the Son of Man who did rise from the dead and promised that we, as individuals and as communities, would do the same, repeating, replicating, the mystery of Easter morning in our lives. In big and small ways.
The joy of Easter, its power, its renewed life, continue to be ours as a people.