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Step aside, boys; Girl incoming

By Joel Pablo Salud Published Jul 28, 2021 4:25 pm Updated Jul 28, 2021 4:59 pm

What a day that was. 

The morning of July 26 arrived with the glum anticipation of yet another State of the Nation Address (SONA). It was to be the President’s final report to a public largely shattered from all the empty promises which he gave for the last five years.

As a journalist, I felt compelled, no, coerced into the lion’s lair without so much as a choice. I had felt this before, but not as intense. The whole time I was having breakfast, I felt hoodwinked into covering a powerful personage whose words were no better than roadkill.

But I knew my job requires the most stringent observation. In fact, I couldn’t find any logical excuse not to lend my ears to the Chief Executive. As guardians of the national memory, it is the job of the journalist to parse the smoke and polish the mirrors of anything which may prove misleading, irrelevant or embellished. 

President Duterte during his sixth and final State of the Nation Address. (Malacanang photo)

As I trooped to my writing table that day, I had wondered: what possible thing would he be saying this time, enough to convince me that his last few months in office—to say little of the past five years—were worth all the struggle. 

Should his former addresses be the benchmark of what to expect, it was almost certain that the last one wouldn’t be any different. The well-nigh predictable nature of the President’s pet peeves would again raise their ugly heads: his so-called “hatred” for drugs (which many find bogus in the main), the animosity against ABS-CBN, and the profanities which have been largely commonplace in his speeches. 

Hence, I braced myself for the worse. Should the SONA go as I had predicted, I prepped up my tablet for yet another rerun of a Netflix favorite. I figured: better a B-movie than a bad speech. I had had enough of hollow promises, of black lies and gaslighting. I was up to my nose in claims where there was nothing to claim. 

It would’ve been better for my dawdling mental health to simply sit back and watch my jalapeños grow inch by painstaking inch while playing Johann Sebastian Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in C Minor. But conscience got the better of me, thus my change of mind. 

I told myself, hell, it’s his last. Give the guy one last break. It would no doubt be a swan song where the melody would probably croak in a matter of minutes. Now that’s something I gotta hear.

There’s nothing wrong in dreaming on and dreaming big, why not? But you have to want it so bad that you couldn't care less if you bleed.

Four o’clock arrived and everything went as I had foretold. Dull, redundant, if at all a decent adjective were to be put to good use. Took a while before the threats were unleashed, but they were there, biding their time in the sidelights. 

After two hours and a half of ramblings I wouldn’t wish on anyone’s ears, not even my worst enemies, the SONA finally lost momentum due to bladder problems. Thank God, nature was on our side that day.

Disconsolate, largely crestfallen, I gave up. What little hope I had to see this nation get back on its feet just went poof! I switched off my laptop and strolled to where my eldest daughter was equally disconsolate because my grandson was running a slight fever. I stared into the little boy’s eyes and feared for his future.

As I slumped in bed to see what latest Korean telenovela my wife was busy watching, I fell asleep. I haven’t been this exhausted for all of 57 years. Prior to slipping into the abyss, I doubted if I can write another word the next day. I have said everything there is to say about tyranny and corruption. Man, I need a vacation.

Minutes later, I woke up to the ringtone of my Facebook account. Someone had posted a message on my Messenger, saying that our weightlifter in the Tokyo Olympics, Hidilyn Diaz, just bagged the gold for the Women's 55kg Group A category. 

In close to a hundred years, it was the Philippines’ first.

Call it an adrenalin rush, call it childlike excitement, call it what you may. But right then and there I leapt from the bed to my laptop in seconds. And this regardless of my arthritis. On Facebook, I saw post after post congratulating Diaz for a job well done. Not only did she win the gold, but she likewise broke two Olympic records while she was at it. 

It has been so long since I felt this proud in being Filipino. For the past five years, we've been thrashed, lied to, slapped with all sorts of profanity. Our dignity seized, rights crushed, lives snuffed. 

And then in one fell swoop came Hidilyn Diaz and turned our embattled souls around. I was so happy I couldn't even describe it. She won, broke an Olympic record, and kicked China's behind. 

This same Hidilyn Diaz whom they accused of wanting to oust Duterte in a cock-and-bull matrix in 2019. The same Hidilyn Diaz the powers that be failed to support. The same Hidilyn Diaz who was afraid for her family’ life. 

By lifting that weight, Hidilyn Diaz also lifted the shadow that has been haunting us for the past five years. I thanked God for her victory, and for the renewed strength I felt in my bones that night. It was too awesome that it all felt strange.

We're not out of the woods, not just yet. But this renewed strength I received from that single winning event (which I hope you also felt) should carry us through in the next couple of months prior to 2022.  

Hidilyn's gold medal in the 55-kg weightlifting was a historic first for the Philippines. (AFP)

Hidilyn Diaz, I later discovered, once dreamed of bagging the gold. During her long and tedious practice runs, she straddled between faith and doubt in her capacity to do it. Torn and bruised from lifting untold weights, her hands began to tremble, but not enough to push her to a corner.

Dreams, as anyone who has seen them come true will tell you, do not come easy. There’s nothing wrong in dreaming on and dreaming big, why not? But you have to want it so bad that you couldn't care less if you bleed.

She reminded me the words of William Ernest Henley’s Invictus: 

In the fell clutch of circumstance
      I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
      My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
      Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

She taught me an old lesson in courage. That waiting for one second more, hurling one more blow to the face of what life gives you, can mean all the difference.