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The hills we must climb

By JOANNE RAE M. RAMIREZ, The Philippine STAR Published Jan 26, 2021 5:00 am

A 22-year-old girl descended from slaves stole the show at the inauguration of US President Joe Biden, arguably easing out power women Vice President Kamala Harris, J. Lo and Lady Gagafrom the spotlight of the next day’s news. Perhaps, only Biden himself was not overshadowed by the power of the words of national youth poet laureate Amanda Gorman, who told America, nay, the universe:

When day comes, we step out of the shade of flame and unafraid.

The new dawn balloons as we free it.

For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it.

If only we’re brave enough to be it.

Gorman, the daughter of a middle school teacher, was invited to recite a poem at the inauguration at the request of First Lady Jill Biden, who had seen her give a reading at the Library of Congress.

Woman’s intuition, indeed, for the headlines the following day would be simply adoring. “Amanda Gorman stuns with powerful poem,” “Amanda Gorman stole the show at Biden inauguration,” “Anderson Cooper left speechless in interview with Amanda Gorman” and many more.

In an interview with CNN’s Cooper, who, like her, once had a speech impediment, Amanda said after the scene-stealing recitation of her poem “The Hill We Climb” at the inauguration, “I feel just so overjoyed and so grateful and so humbled. I came here to do the best with the poem that I could and to just see the support that’s been pouring out. I literally can’t absorb it all, so I’ll be processing it for a while.”

Amanda, the youngest person to become an inaugural poet, was halfway through the crafting of her poem when the storming of the US Capitol took place on Jan. 6.

She told Cooper that the incident “energized me even more to believe that much more firmly in a message of hope and humility and feeling. I felt like that was the type of poem that I needed to write and it was the type of poem that the country in the world needed to hear.”

Of the now-famous last words of the inaugural poem she wrote, Amanda said: “We need to realize that hope isn’t something that we ask of others, it’s something that we have to demand from ourselves. And that’s what I wanted to point out.” 

The hill we climbed

The inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th president of the United States on the steps of the Capitol seemed iffy at first — filmmaker Ramona S. Diaz told me on inauguration eve, “still holding my breath, won’t exhale till noon Eastern (standard time.)”

Well, all those who held their breath till Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris took their oaths lived to see the moment, and then some. For at 12 noon exhale they did.

 Corazon Aquino takes her oath before Supreme Court Justice Claudio Teehankee at the Club Filipino in Greenhills on Feb. 25, 1986. She would have been 88 years old yesterday, Jan. 25. Photo by Val Rodriguez

The fear that a peaceful transfer of power would not come to pass is a familiar feeling among Filipinos. We had climbed our own hills, so to speak, before. Especially in 1986, when two presidential candidates, Ferdinand Marcos and Corazon Aquino, took their oaths on the same day, Feb. 25, 1986, the culmination of the three-day EDSA people power revolution.

For those who were not yet born at the time, and those who don’t quite remember anymore, here is how inauguration day went, in the words of Cory (as quoted in the book “To Love Another Day”), who would have turned 88 yesterday if she had not succumbed to colon cancer in 2009:

“Tuesday morning (Feb. 25, 1986), Father (Joaquin) Bernas, Father Catalino Arevalo, Father Guido Arguelles, and Jimmy Ongpincame to my house, together with two generals. The generals were trying to convince me to change the venue of the oath-taking ceremony. They thought they would be able to provide me with better security in (Camp) Crame. I felt, however, that it would be best to have it in a civilian venue and told them that I had already announced it would be in Club Filipino. Besides, I reasoned, it would be difficult to get Crame considering the huge crowds gathered there. The general told me that they could make arrangements for me to be flown there by helicopter. But, no, I did not want that and declined…

“While I was getting dressed, I heard the sound of gunfire. Shooting had broken out in Channel 9, one of the television stations near our house. I think it was an encounter between remnants of the forces still supportive of the Marcos administration and the soldiers that had turned over to our side. That was very alarming, although I remember Jimmy trying to ease the tension by telling me not to worry because he and his son, Apa, who was also there, would act as my bulletproof shields.

“From my house on Times Street, I went to my sister’s house in Wack Wack and from there proceeded to Club Filipino. An overflowing crowd had assembled there. Teddy Boy Locsin told me that I was, apparently, expected to read from a prepared speech, and so he wrote a brief message on the back of a telegram and a paper napkin and handed these to me. For the rest of the speech, I simply extemporized, saying that we should all reconcile for the good of the Filipino people…

We need to realize that hope isn’t something that we ask of others, it’s something that we have to demand from ourselves. And that’s what I wanted to point out.

“All in all, it was a very singular and unique oath-taking ceremony because, when I took my oath of office, the de facto president was still Marcos, who was still in Malacañang…

“That afternoon, US Ambassador (Stephen) Bosworth called. He told me they were trying to work through Marcos’ sons-in-law, Tommy Manotoc and Greggy Araneta, to try to convince him to leave the country…

“That evening, Ambassador Bosworth called to say that the Marcoses had finally left Malacañang, and that they were on their way to the [US] embassy enroute to Clark [Air Base]. Before they reached Clark, Ambassador Bosworth called again and said that Marcos was asking if they could go to Paoay, in Ilocos, instead. I asked if he was in danger of dying because if he were, I thought I should let the man die in his own country. Ambassador Bosworth, however, said that Marcos was not in danger of dying, only very tired. In that case, I said, let him spend the night in Clark, but the following morning, he must go.

“Later when the Marcoses had reached Honolulu, it was discovered that Marcos had brought with him P27 million in cash. Imagine what he could have done with that sum! I guess he was really wanting to go to Paoay so he could gather his loyal troops and retake Malacañang.

“The night the Marcoses left, there were such joyous celebrations in the streets.

“And at nine o’clock that evening of Feb. 25, I guess I became President.”

Banner photo from AP.