September 10, 2011

Where were you on 9/11?

(Photo from the Intel Hub.)

I WAS, not surprisingly, burning the midnight oil at the office (I was still working as associate editor at Manila Standard then), and advancing some of my pages for the next issue.

As I was busy editing news pieces, the young proofreaders and layout artists who were glued to CNN, suddenly shouted, "Ma'am! Me plane na nag-crash sa Twin Towers!" I hurriedly arose from my seat and went over to the TV and saw the smoke billowing from one of the towers. Immediately I thought, and said aloud, "Terrorist yan."

(I don't know why I was so sure about it. The initial reports were saying it was a possible accident. But somehow I knew this was not just some airline pilot who suddenly lost control over his plane. The sky was just so blue, and the sun so bright, how could anyone fly a plane accidentally into the towers? And of all places, in New York's World Trade Center?!)

Even before I had the chance to text/call my editor in chief Jullie Yap Daza about what had just happened, the second plane crashed into the other tower. It was like watching a movie, and for some reason, today, it has become a slow-motion visual in my mind's eye. It was totally unbelievable, and yet I saw it happening right before my eyes. It chilled me. And of course, it confirmed my initial belief that this was the work of terrorists.

I immediately checked our wires for the stories that we would use, because for sure, we would have to remat the front page w/c had already been put to bed about an hour before. Everything after that was a blur. I was just running on automatic, and I remember Ms. Jullie and our publisher Andy del Rosario, rushing into the office not soon after, and managing the remat of the front page. (We later learned another plane also had crashed into the Pentagon and at a field in Pennsylvania - check the BBC Timeline of events here. I watched the two towers finally come crashing down, and it just silently shook me. "Why? Why? Why?" I thought to myself. It was just too terrible to watch and yet we were all glued to the TV.)

I finally went home to my flat very late in the evening, switched on the aircon and TV, and after a quick bath and change into my night clothes, settled into my bed. I kept switching channels between CNN and the BBC trying to find out more of what had just happened, and more importantly, who did it and why. I just kept absorbing all the reports and images being broadcast. I said a silent prayer for all the lives that had been lost, for sure there were many, because it was a work day, and it was morning in New York.

I don't know what time I finally slept, but I knew I still had the TV on, and when I woke up, the same images of the towers w/ the billowing smoke, w/c then finally came crashing down were still looping, then the other crashes at the Pentagon and Pennsylvania, but with a different news presenter this time. He/she - I don't remember anymore who was annotating the broadcast – was repeating the same reports and information we had already by then published in our paper that morning.

It would be a very weird week, and a few months. People just couldn't stop talking about it. We may not have been there in NY (or in Washington DC) where the unfortunate attacks happened, but the images remained vivid in our heads. Somehow, I too felt a sense of loss and was very disturbed about what happened. We were entering a strange phase in our lives as global citizens.

(Then US President Bush is told of the second plane that crashes into the WTC. Photo by Getty Images)

I later learned that a media colleague was still waiting word about her sister who was working at the Twin Towers at that time the planes crashed into them. I wrote in my column that I hoped that she would only receive good news about her sister. But in my mind I thought, I wished her and her family the courage to accept whatever result from their search may turn up.

A few months after, I was reading that security measures at the US airports were beefed up, w/ racial profiling at its extreme. Anyone who looked Middle Eastern was being asked to step to one side for further checking. Even some Filipinos had experienced some dustups w/ the US Immigration upon arriving at US airports as well.

(I had traveled to London only a few months after 9/11, and I was surprised that things were different at the Heathrow airport. After clearing immigration almost immediately upon landing, my media group was out the terminal. The only reminder of the terrorist attacks in the US, was the constant annoucement on the PA system as we were heading back to Manila after a week, for us to make sure we had our luggages w/ us all the time. I don't know if the situation is still the same there today since the terrorist bombings over there.)

After the attacks in the US, our malls and hotels went into hyperdrive - employing their own brand of security measures (the magic patpat for the malls, the bomb-sniffing K9 for the hotels). To this day, the practice continues and it's already automatic for us to just open our handbags, whenever we enter a department store and we pass through the establishment's security check.

10 years after, we have X-ray machines deployed in major airport terminals in our country. Whenever we take trips, we have to be at the airport at least 3 hrs before departure - for international flights - and two hours for domestic flights. Airline insurance surcharges have risen...but yes, we still keep flying.

We are more aware of our surroundings, eyeing bags or containers left to a side with suspicion, we constantly look at the people around us (of course, this is also to protect us from pickpockets), and treat security guards w/ more respect.

The 9/11 terrorist attacks may have changed all of us, making us take more precautions wherever we go, but we keep going. We have resumed our lives and our usual activities, but we still manage to enjoy ourselves and what the world has to offer us. And because of that, I know these evil terrorists have lost. We have suffered, but we keep moving forward.

Thank you Lord, for giving us the grace and courage to keep on living.


(NY firefighters raise the American flag at Ground Zero. Photo from the Cleveland Seniors.

According to TV5's news web site, Filipinos are among the least trusted nationalities since the US govt beefed up security policies after 9/11, often experiencing ethnic profiling. Read Interaksyon's special report "10 years after 9/11" here.

ABS-CBN News also has its own reports on the 9/11 anniversary on its website. Read here how they are commemmorating the event.

Here is also an interesting story from the New York Times, on Muslims coming of age in the decade after 9/11 : The 9/11 Decade.

As we all know, the situation in the Middle East has dramatically changed since 9/11 - I don't know if it is for the better. Former strongman Saddam Hussein of Iraq was captured and executed, Iran has become a rising power in the region, and just recently, Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the 9/11 and other global terrorist attacks has been captured and killed as well, thanks to the leadership of US President Barack Obama.

We all hope that the latter would've weakened the Al Qaeda and its affiliates - but even today, New Yorkers have been alerted to a possible attack. Here in the Philippines, the authorities too are on heightened alert.

Pls. pray that tomorrow's 10th anniversary rites for 9/11 will be quiet and peaceful, and for the eternal repose of the souls of those who had perished.

(Aerial view of the Ground Zero Memorial by Raja Ramchandra.)

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