One of the things I do very early in the morning when I wake up is to read the local news posted in the Internet. I don’t read everything and most of the times I just end up skimming through the mass of headlines lined up on my screen.
Like any other morning, I also went over all the headlines last Monday morning. One item that caught my attention was the news of an armed encounter between the military and alleged communist insurgents. It was titled “3 killed in Negros Oriental clash.” Not that I felt it was something special, I am after all, like most people in this information-saturated society, desensitized to most accounts of violence. It was the proximity of the said event, the conflict occurring only an island away from Cebu, that “seduced” me to read the article anyway.
When I read the news item, I was surprised. I was shocked for I personally knew one of the names listed as casualties in the encounter.
The front page of the local paper’s hard copy version even carried a different headline of the same story, “Cebu student killed in clash.” I knew Rachelle Mae Palang from two years ago when I was still chairman of the UP Cebu Student Council and later on with the Kabataan Partylist for the 2007 Elections.
Rachelle Mae was a stout, bubbly, but outspoken nursing student who was editor of Velez College’s school publication, Vital Signs. She was also an officer of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) – a national organization of campus journalists.
Needless to say, reading the news was depressing. After all, we were together in several causes – especially those related to students’ rights and the educational system.
The last time we saw each other was during the opening of the school year in 2007 at the Arts and Sciences Lobby of the UP Cebu College. She was returning the book about how to write press releases that I lent her.
I cannot say that the military’s insistence on Rachelle’s brandishing of long arms in Negros is true. After all, it is characteristic for contenders of any armed conflict to ornament the truth for their own ends. The news of her unexpected death makes me sad. She was only twenty one.
But what if the military is right: what if Rachelle really carried an M-16 rifle? This hypothesis leads us to question what made her forgo a successful career ahead of her to go to the countryside and take up arms against the State. What made some of today’s youth give up on peaceful means for the attainment of social change?
The lamentable state of the nation is such that our youth either, like most, join the diaspora to other lands or, like a few, are led to believe that the only solution is heading for the hills. ■