Sitting through a morning class. Coming home from school. Extended on night duty. Roused from bed.
Filipinos recall how they found out across different time zones ten years ago that the iconic World Trade Center Towers in New York were attacked.
It’s a connection they share with the United States and the rest of the global village that paused this week to remember.
“The sun was on full-dial. I was indolently shuffling through my notes… when I heard a panic-stricken voice yelling from across the hall–‘A plane just hit the World Trade Center’.”
Jeff Canoy‘s American History class that morning was interrupted by the cry. His professor soon got a call and turned on a television set. The channel trained live on the burning Tower 1.
In a college writeup he resurrected online, Jeff remembered the confusion, questions, tears, and hysteria that gripped him and his classmates as they grappled with the reality and gravity of what they had hoped was only a film.
They were ordered to keep calm and remain seated in their class as word came that a plane had hit the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., just near their place in Maryland.
Jeff, now with ABS-CBN, reported on September 10 how Filipino activists observed the 10th anniversary of the attacks.
“…Right after September 11, the general cry heard across the world was that ‘we will never forget’,” Jeff wrote the next day.
“Ten years later, it seems like we haven’t.”
The day that…
9/11 was one of the rare moments that connected, changed, and defined a generation.
“Where were you and what were you doing when you heard it?” This question people ask each other in later years immortalizes those moments.
The events vary per country, all span a slice in time, but reverberate in their impact–emotional or historical.
Our own Pinoy parents tell stories of where they were when they heard Pres. Ferdinand Marcos had declared martial law in 1972 and that Sen. Ninoy Aquino was shot in 1983.
Many more proudly recount where they were at EDSA during the People Power revolt that later ensued to topple Marcos.
Few, however, are those events that bind the entire world.
When Diana, Princess of Wales died in a Paris road mishap in 1997, grief from all over poured out for the British royal. The royal family’s authority over merely a few territories was merely symbolic, yet the stylish Diana had captured the admiration of many.
Pearl Harbor was another, in that the Japanese surprise invasion dragged the United States and Asia into World War 2, making it a true world war.
The similarities tagged 9/11 the Pearl Harbor of the 21st century.
But the “day which will live in infamy” wrung the world less emotionally than 9/11, because a technology already taken for granted by the 1990s was absent.
That advent, live television coverage, was indelibly part of many recollections of 9/11.
An internet archive dug up 3,000 hours of telecasts from 20 stations–chronicling the minutes before the planes hit to days after the towers fell. They hope revisiting the multinational coverages may offer more context to our still-developing retrospect of the attacks.
Eight time zones away that day, I was riding home from school with my dad.
On the wheel, he asked me, “Alam mo yung tower sa New York? (You know the tower in New York?)“
“Yung Empire State Building?”
“Yun ata. Pinasabog. (I think that’s it. It was bombed.)“
Only until we arrived and found the TV already opened to CNN did we see smoke from something other than a bomb blast billow from a tower that was not the Empire State Building.
The internet was a toddler back in 2001, and social media was hardly a forethought.
Older school mates shared this week on Facebook–one trend absent then–how they watched the second plane hit the second tower on TV monitors at our campus while waiting for their parents to fetch them.
We lived then in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. As the perpetrators were slowly revealed to be Middle Easterners led by Saudi-born Osama Bin Laden, fears grew that the US would retaliate here with another Operation Desert Storm.
Many Filipino workers like my father were displaced from the Persian Gulf region with the 1991 invasion. Dad returned only a year after, bringing us with him to the now-settling peace of the Kingdom.
The US soon led assaults on Afghanistan and Iraq but they failed to disturb us in Saudi. Their conduct and aftermath did shake already-volatile feelings in the Middle East towards America.
Yet in the days after 9/11, many Arabs rose to sympathize with the Americans.
Across ages, borders
Indeed, 9/11 also differed from Diana and Pearl Harbor in the technicolor of identities and nationalities among the 3,000 people who lost their lives. Twenty Filipino names were read out loud on Ground Zero.
The world witnessed it, and the world related. Yet even those who did not see felt the loss.
A Kenyan who saw the towers fall went back to Africa and led his Maasai tribe to offer 14 cows, considered the tribes’ most precious properties, as a “handkerchief to wipe the tears” of America.
For many people who saw but lost no one in the attacks, 9/11 was an eye-opener to the world.
9/11 was the day innocence was lost for the Millennials–the generation of ’90s kids that came of age at the turn of the century.
Sixteen grade-schoolers, now teenagers, recall the rare circumstance of being with then Pres. George W. Bush at a Florida schoolroom when he was told the second plane had hit the World Trade Center.
While they then interpreted Bush’s look as needing to use the bathroom, some of the teens now found they “all matured maybe a little bit.”
In Manila, Rachel Hermosura was stirred from sleep to the “terrible sight” on TV. Rach wrote in her blog this week that she and her family could not get back to sleep as they were shocked with the images they saw.
The local TV newsrooms were then scrambling to make sense of the continuing flow of facts and what it meant for the Philippines. Breaking news patched calls with Pinoys abroad, while switching on to the syndicated live feed.
Rowen Ruedas, one of our senior ENG van engineers at ABS-CBN recalls all our technical field teams were put on standby that night. Vans were sent to the US Embassy, Malacanang Palace, and the homes of those who had relatives in New York.
Some locations went live on the late-night newscast, others stood guard for possible attacks on establishments–the Philippines being a staunch US ally.
The wait was in vain. None struck.
The dots that connected the Philippines with 9/11 came out later. Journalists like Maria Ressa traced the plot (“so fantastic no one paid attention”) to Al-Qaeda agents who found refuge here.
As one idea precipitated 9/11, the attacks sowed their own seeds among those who saw them.
“(It) made me care more about what was happening in the world,” Rach wrote. “(In) hindsight, the 9/11 attacks were among the main reasons why I wanted to be a journalist.”
“I wanted (people) to realize there are things that may be happening from as far as New York but can make a big impact to us in Manila.”
The “Attack on America” dominated classroom talk the next day. Rach’s English teacher had them write their impressions with a message to the victims.
Back in my high school at Saudi, our social studies classes began with a current events update from a chosen student.
Raymond Lopez, an upperclassman who watched 9/11 unfold at the school waiting area, recalled: “The next day would be my schedule.. so that became my report.”
I was annoyed when my classmate who had his turn recited some irrelevant story likely picked up from TV Patrol the night before.
Our course was Philippine history, so we usually reported news from home.
But no one could ignore the story that affected everyone in the world. It took our teacher, Ma’am Nelva Basabe, to bring it up and spark a discussion among eager students, myself one of them.
A week later, I took my eagerness to English class and wrote a multi-anchor news script on what we already knew about the attacks for a newscasting project.
It was one of my most fulfilling assignments then, and it allowed me a glimpse of the career I wanted to pursue.
Our stories from the week that began it all detail the shock we shared with the world thanks to a disaster we all saw on live TV.
Similar yet each one unique, they make up a picture of how we were all forever changed by one September morning–before it altered how we now see the world.