THE water canon hits me like a crashing wave upon the rocks. It feels like one of Manny Pacquiao’s punches, multiplied tenfold. I am thrown metres from the picket line, grazing my elbows. My school uniform is blasted up to my neck and Sister Mary’s veil flies into the air like a paper plane, falling in a limp dishevelled heap to the ground.
The stale air is permeated by horrified shrieks. Mud flecks everybody’s skin and clothes indiscriminately and the world becomes a whole lot more brown. We become like a clump of reeds flattened by a typhoon. Eventually water stops streaming at us. Elders from the Baranganian tribe shiver, and rise slowly, looking frazzled as they come to terms with what has just hit them. My schoolmates from San Pedro Calungsod High School in Southern Philippines scuttle away to escape the possibility of more fire hosing, but I stay with Sister Mary, our principal. As the leader of Kabacan Altar Boys Club, I feel I am second in rank after her, representing our school at this rally.
I sweep my palm down my face so I can see better. Sister Mary and I move to the Acacia trees well away from the line of policemen with helmets, shields and batons. People follow us. Our broken placards, crumpled banners and torn signs are left behind like soaked trash.
‘Those police are cruel,’ Sister Mary mumbles, drying her face and dabbing her grazed elbow with a handkerchief. She looks different from what I am used to seeing her at school, as if she’s been stripped of her dignity as a person. I like Sister Mary as a teacher. She used to cheer on our basketball team last season, but I admire her more now, standing up for those who don’t have a voice in society. ‘I can’t believe they’re doing this to us, tormenting us and wrecking our land.’ She shakes her head, staring at the police who look like aliens in front of the dispersed Barangan tribe and locals in the town plaza.
‘Bastards!’ I shake my head.
Her lips curl before she lets out a series of decided nods that seem to have been hauled from her angry gut.
The protest leader yells, ‘Dili ninyo kami mapildi! You can’t beat us! Bad karma will storm down on you, money-hungry lot!’ His face bursts with rage. ‘Red Life Mining, you’ve brought us down. Red Death Mining, leave our town!’
The crowd holds hands and repeats after their leader in staccato: ‘Red Life Mining, you’ve brought us down. Red Death Mining, leave our town!’