It all started peacefully.
People were starting to converge along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City early Monday morning, a few hours before the State of the Nation Address.
Street vendors were selling kwek-kwek (quail eggs), bottled water and other drinks while kids were roaming around the car-free Commonwealth Avenue looking for coins dropped by passing vehicles the previous days.
What set the scene apart from an ordinary day along the busy highway: container trucks and barbed wires were in place, signs of of things to come.
On the other side of the fenced area, policemen were lying on the road resting. Some of them had been posted there since two days ago.
At around 11:00 a.m., a big group of activists arrived near Ever Gotesco Mall. The protests began.
Activists hurriedly removed the metal fence on the island, allowing them to bypass the police barricade. Anti-riot policemen from the other side of the road ran and tried to block them, but the protesters pushed through.
There was one policeman who flashed a peace sign to the protesters, asking them to remain calm. He urged activists to hold a dialogue instead of resorting to violence.
And then chaos began.
On one side, policemen blocked and pushed protesters away. On the other, the activists told the first line of security that they wanted to go near Batasan Complex.
Rocks were thrown and people were hit with truncheons and shields. Most of the members of the media stayed on top of a dump truck to give them a good vantage view, while some remained in the middle, sandwiched by the clashing protesters and policemen.
It was a long and tiring dispersal. According to reports, at least 50 were injured in the clashes.
But amid the chaos, my lens caught a scene I thought I would never see during a dispersal.
A foreign protester was berating a policeman asking him why they were hurting the people. “Why are you doing this to us? Why are you hurting us?!”
The officer simply stood his ground. “I am a policeman, I’m just doing my job.”
He said his job was to maintain peace and order. He said they were given orders and they had to follow.
Suddenly, the police officer cried.
The foreigner kept on shouting at this officer. But the policeman couldn’t stop crying. He was trying to hold his tears, but he couldn’t.
Another round of clashes erupted. The policemen were still trying to push and shove the protesters away. The crying cop simply stood his ground. He was still holding his shield firmly. Still weeping, sobbing.
Later, I approached the policeman and asked him his name. He said he is Joselito. A quick glance at his name tag revealed he is policeman Joselito Sevilla.
He said he is a private, and his uniform patch showed he is from the Marikina police unit.
Asked why he cried, he only said: “Sa gutom at pagod. Walang tulog. Walang pahinga. Dalawang araw na kami naka-deploy dito. Tapos ganito, nagkakagulo.”
It was also PO1 Sevilla’s first dispersal assignment.
I finally understood him. No sleep. No food. No rest. And he came face-to-face with protesters whose goal was to break the police line.
Sevilla was physically and emotionally exhausted.
But he was following orders. He was just doing his job not to let protesters get near the Batasan Complex.
He did not hurt the protesters, even if some were already throwing rocks and hitting cops with wooden sticks.
Finally, some protesters noticed him, too: a policeman, whom they expected to retaliate, was in front of them, holding his shield firmly, weeping.
And then they started to console PO1 Sevilla. A man held his shoulder, telling him that everything would be alright. Another woman comforted him, as she tried to give him a handkerchief to wipe his tears.
Amid the chaos, these two protesters hugged PO1 Sevilla and assured him everything would be fine.
Seconds later, other policemen noticed what was happening and they moved PO1 Sevilla away from the front lines, away from the activists.
I was caught in the middle and I couldn’t find him anymore. He was gone.
Show of strength
State forces, especially policemen, are expected to be firm and not show emotions. What PO1 Sevilla did was not what was expected of him.
Did the other anti-riot policemen remove him from the front line?
This incident only shows we are all human beings. It is not bad to show weakness by crying; that we can still do our job, stand our ground, but still be peaceful and not hurt another human being; that two opposing groups can still show compassion as shown by the man and woman who hugged PO1 Sevilla.
Hours after the violent protests, I reviewed my set of photos taken during the day. I smiled when I saw the photo of the policeman flashing the peace sign before the dispersal. It was PO1 Joselito Sevilla.