THE recent arrest of eight persons participating in a rally outside the gates of the University of the Philippines (UP) Cebu made me suddenly remember Noy Usting.
Uniformed and non-uniformed members of the Cebu City Police Office (CCPO) detained seven members of cause-oriented groups and one pedestrian for violating the general community quarantine (GCQ) protocols specified in section 4 of the Omnibus Guidelines released by the Inter-agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.
A SunStar Cebu team reported on June 6 that the Police Regional Office (PRO) 7 director, Police Brigadier General Albert Ignatius Ferro, said the rallyists endangered the public by illegally gathering in a pandemic and possibly infecting others.
What if the police had waited for the rallyists to finish airing their protest against the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 and then, in an orderly fashion, transported all the participants for testing of coronavirus disease (Covid-19) before pressing charges, if any? They could have netted the whole caboodle, instead of just eight fingerlings.
Would being detained for joining a mass assembly be the best way to jump the queue for Covid-19 testing in this country?
Thus, the hot spectacle outside the UP Cebu gates, with all the officers hardly dressed appropriately to listen and endure until the protests ended. Weighed down by high-powered firearms and what must be the next-gen anti-riot full-body OOTD (probably also anti-Covid-19 since the troops did not practice physical distancing, unlike the rallyists), any being inside that unwieldy carapace would be human in his or her response to the ensuing “hot pursuit” and “assault against persons in authority” that Ferro accused the rallyists of instigating.
Noy Usting would have handled the situation differently. A member of the university’s maintenance team when I was an undergraduate, Noy Usting joined many of our rallies and sit-ins. Sometimes, with a broom in hand, he paused and stood at the periphery. Or he sat down among us, smiling to acknowledge greetings but never disrupting the attention of people listening to the speaker.
Joining us in those rallies did not have any material impact on his life. Noy Usting’s silent presence, though, concretized for my fellow students and I what being in UP means, what being subsidized by the taxpayers obligated us to, why it matters to discuss issues many choose to unsee.
In the reckoning of the world, the late Noy Usting was a man of no power. Of one thing, though, I am convinced: he had civility, a quality that evaporates in the presence of power. Thus, we settle for posture.