The Kind of Story I Would Like to Write

Your Life Under The Next Dictator

You still believe that it’s only the ‘bad guys’ that will be hurt and somehow that is miraculously determined by vigilantes with guns

It’s Monday morning and you are late for work because your kid’s yaya didn’t make it to your house in time. Her son disappeared over the weekend while out with his friends, and she doesn’t know where he is.

You’re not worried, he’s always been a troublemaker anyway. Rumor has it he even smokes outside his house.

You are rushing because you’ll miss the mass transit bus that replaced the cars in major thoroughfares. You have a car but you can only use it around your neighborhood. You have to be careful because of the traffic enforcers you heard are very strict. You’ve seen by the look on their faces that they really don’t mess around.

You’ll be fine. The streets aren’t congested after the president eliminated traffic by his strict regulation of vehicles. The public transport systems are affordable, and they are clean – thanks to the no littering, no smoking, and no gum-chewing ordinances in all public places.

Foreign investments are up because peace and order is evident. The crime rate is close to zero. All employees are versed in business math. Economic progress is unprecedented, and the president has made the Philippines great again, as he promised. At least that’s how it’s portrayed by media, whose positivity has been so refreshing, right?

You expected this. You voted for him. Despite his detractors who accused him of becoming another violent dictator, you knew he would follow through. He would clean up the Philippines’ act.

A cleaned up act

One look at the city shows it. There are no street children, no vendors, no panhandlers, not even smokers. The streets are tidy enough for you to eat off them. There isn’t even a blaring horn to startle you, not even a misplaced signal light.

On your ride you pass the statue of Ferdinand Marcos who was declared a hero by presidential decree. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is now the president’s advisor. Bongbong Marcos is the vice president. It makes sense. The culture of this administration is in his blood.

Even the newspapers have no crimes to report. Everything seems fine and dandy thanks to a presidential memo to media on “positive” news. You ignore the rumors that defiant news reporters are being detained somewhere outside Manila, same with emergency room doctors who report violent crimes. Serves them right for creating trouble, you think. Things are really better when only the good things are publicized.

“Puro kriminal lang yung mga nakakulong (Only criminals are jailed),” say your like-minded friends. You agree. After all, your chosen candidate said he will eliminate crime no matter what, and not to expect him to follow the rules. He’s just keeping his promise and you can’t fault him for that.

You forget that this already happened 40 years ago, because you only heard stories and never studied martial law.

“Kailangan nating ng disiplina (We need discipline),” you insisted to those who disagreed with you in 2016, even if they all warned that this “disciplinarian” president would cause citizens doom.

There is no doom as far as you’re concerned. The birth rate and unplanned pregnancies are down due to the president’s aggressive population control initiatives. The church first opposed this, until the cardinal disappeared when he spoke up about the immorality of contraception and armed guards watched the content of homilies during mass.

Proud of your decision

You’re proud of your decision to vote for a brave and proactive man. He’s developed initiatives his opponents and former incumbents could only dream of. You were right all along that an iron fist is what the Philippines needed. People follow a strong leader. Citizens are disciplined if there are consequences. You are glad that petty thieves are removed from the streets. You don’t really care where they end up, much less if they’re alive.

After a day of work you get back home without traffic to be able to spend time with your son – something unheard of before this administration when city traffic made it impossible to get home in time. The boy talks about the day’s school civic lesson about the president’s “Citizen Justice System,” where civilians are allowed to arrest, detain, and turn over offenders for community leaders to punish as they wish. You remind your boy how important it is to be good or else suffer the consequences of misbehaving. You warn him that “bad guys” are killed like the president wanted, and it doesn’t matter how and why.

You fall asleep quickly and without worry of locking your doors or activating your security alarm. It’s so quiet outside and you don’t remember the last time anyone reported any break-ins or other crimes. You’ve slept soundly like this for a couple of years, without worry for yourself or your family night after night.

But this time, at 1:30 am, you are shaken from your sleep because your brother was arrested for breaking the curfew. Your mother is hysterical and wants you to find him, but forbids you to leave the house before morning lest you be arrested as well.

You insist on leaving because you’re only looking for your brother and not doing anything wrong. There are cops patrolling everywhere, and soldiers man checkpoints. You get stopped by a plainclothes man with an AK-47, and you think that’s a good thing. You can ask for help finding your brother – a teenager who was probably just late coming home from studying in a classmate’s house – and maybe explain his side.

“Where do you think you’re going?” he says.

“I’m looking for my brother who was just arrested for breaking the curfew,” you say. A simple explanation should lead you to him in no time.

“So you’re breaking the curfew as well?” he responds, sizing you up, nodding at his fellow enforcers in some kind of code they’ve developed doing this night after night.

“No, I just–”

“Get in the van,” he says, pointing his gun barrel at a police vehicle nearby. You turn your head to find more armed men behind you. Lacking alternatives, you oblige.

The van is filled with street kids, homeless people, and those like you who were out after dark. The ones who are quiet are resigned. The ones who were angry have been beaten up. A guard silences anyone who makes a stir.

“You can’t do this, you can’t arrest me for nothing,” you say.

“President’s orders,” he says, making room for one more by his side.

You look in the corner where a teenage boy lies lifeless on the floor. You take a seat and calm yourself, confident this will all be cleared up in no time. You’re not a criminal. You’re a good citizen. You’ve never even so much as littered or passed a red light.

You believe someone will eventually listen to your explanation, lead you to your brother, and you’ll both have a good laugh.

But what if that doesn’t happen? Who will look for you? Will anyone even know where you’ve been taken? Will anyone be brave enough to report your abduction or death? Is there a newspaper that will question your arrest, or a lawyer who will fight for your rights?

Due process?

In the back of your mind you hear the warnings of those who mentioned terms you ignored when you pledged your full support for your president: due process, summary execution, death squad. You shrug it off, still believing those were all exaggerations. A noble leader cannot possibly allow injustice under his administration. Surely, like God, the president is all-knowing and has eyes on every single “law enforcer” of the hundred thousand he has appointed to maintain order on the ground. Of course they’re all good, conscientious, and not corrupt. Of course they are specialists on wrong and right. The president said so. He is always right.

You relent and believe for a second that you’ll be fine.

“Excuse me, sir–” you say one last time.

“Shut up or I’ll shut you up,” he says, cocking his gun.

You don’t understand. You fully supported rounding up the undesirables in society and dumping them in Manila Bay. When your president bragged about the thousands he killed to eliminate criminality, you believed it was hyperbole and that he didn’t really kill anyone. He was just so convincing that he scared people into behaving. Those were just rumors that hundreds disappeared because of the anti-crime initiatives in his hometown.

You appreciated the cleaned up streets and the visible peace that your idol has created. It’s a system that works in favor of those who follow the law, like you do. As long as you were good, you believed, you would never be harmed.

Surely there’s another way around this misunderstanding. This cannot be happening. Abducting an upright citizen like you cannot be in your idol’s plans.

You want to speak up, but who will listen? You did approve of the rounding up of journalists who portrayed your beloved president in a negative light.

You didn’t realize that giving power to anyone to arrest, detain and execute without due process means that any person may be taken on a whim. There is no paper trail to track their whereabouts, what crime they committed and what punishment is suitable for them. There is no accountability for the loss of life or serious injury. There is no press to report wrongdoings. There are no lawyers and judges brave enough to go against an administration that has abolished Congress to ensure power for as long as they want.

You keep your fingers crossed as the children in your van of “criminals” start crying. “Inosente rin po kami (We’re innocent too),” they say to you, but the guard tells them all to shut up.

“Lahat kayo kriminal (You’re all criminals),” he says, giving you a special glance. You know you’re not a criminal and you have done nothing wrong, so you want to say it out loud. You scout the streets for anyone you can yell at who will listen to you, to hear what you say and help get you out of the danger of being a wrongly accused passenger in this van.

Peace and order

But alas, the streets are empty due to the curfew. It is quiet, crimeless, and very peaceful. No undesirables. No lowlifes. No troublemakers. No whistleblowers. No one could hear you even if you screamed or if you were shot in the head in plain sight.

The van speeds up to take you to your final destination. You still believe that it’s only the “bad guys” that will be hurt and that somehow this is miraculously determined by vigilantes with guns without need for investigations or trials. Your beloved president cannot possibly allow injustice, and determining the fairness of executions is solely a divine act.

You voted for this, so you should be proud. This is how the president made the Philippines “great” again, and you fully supported it. Now it’s your turn to pay the price that others have paid before you when you claimed this is what we needed. You didn’t care about the lives previously snuffed because you were content in thinking that they were guilty and deserved death because they’ve been “bad.”

Congratulations on being part and product of making the Philippines great again. Don’t even say you were not warned. 

 ***
Yep … I have shamelessly cut and pasted Shakira Sison’s Rappler article in my blog.
She is an award-winning Filipino writer and I greatly admire her works.
As of this time, this story has garnered 111 comments in the Rappler website. The tone of the comments range from throught-ful to defensive to stupid to outright bitchy.
But hey, freedom-of-expression and all that jazz, right? Something we so take for granted in this messy “democracy” of ours 🙂
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A Continuing Past

“The past is not dead. It’s not even past.” William Faulkner, a dead white American novelist. From the novel, Requiem for a Nun.

“The past is past.” Bongbong Marcos, real-life son of a dead Filipino dictator. In an interview.

RequiemForANun

***

There should be a right way of remembering. Some protocol to acknowledge and/or forgive the past without bogging us down in grudges and arguments.

I say this because I live in a country that has never known how to use the past. We are like that rodent in the cage that keeps on going around in circles.

The son of a dictator insists that the past is the past and we must move on and leave it behind. How so Mr. Marcos? How does a nation that was robbed and mutilated  by your father’s regime do that exactly?

Maybe, for Filipinos, Martial Law is the equivalent of the Civil War for Americans. In many ways, it is a topic that divides us. There are two narratives of Martial Law in my country, and it depends on who is doing the remembering.

According to you and your supporters, it was a golden age when people were disciplined, the economy was great and the leadership was able and competent.

According to me and others who hold the same views: Martial Law was one of the worst things that happened to our country — when corruption was institutionalized; when Ferdinand, Imelda and the cronies robbed us blind; when people were killed by the thousands for expressing their views and when the country’s economy went down to the pits.

I wish for a time traveling machine, something like in that Michael J. Fox  movie that I was so fond of way back in 1989.

I wish to observe the past first-hand and have my friends who are pro-Marcos do so as well. We will go back to 1980, perhaps, the year  I was born and check the veracity of certain claims.

Like: presidential decree arrests, Imelda’s infrastructure projects, arrested and tortured activists, the so-called enforced discipline in the streets, the peace in the countryside, the corruption in the military, the desaparecidos, the food stability and the green revolution, the squatter  colonies and the rise of Smokey Mountain …

Can one narrative be completely right and the other completely wrong? Or are they both correct, different facets of the same prism?

How do we learn from the past if we cannot even agree on  what it consisted of?

If martial law was so wonderful ....

If martial law was so wonderful ….

 

... then why did the 1986 People Power happen?

… then why did the 1986 People Power happen?

 

 

***

Reading Lists:

http://www.fhm.com.ph/daily-reads/news/bongbong-marcos-family-elections-vice-president

http://www.spot.ph/newsfeatures/the-latest-news-features/64010/ferdinand-bongbong-marcos-mythology

http://www.slyejoyserrano.com/myths-about-marcos/

http://www.rappler.com/thought-leaders/12780-the-ghosts-of-martial-law?cp_rap_source=ymlScrolly#cxrecs_s

 

Creating (Super)heroes

After watching Ironman 3 for the 2nd time, I got to contemplating about heroes.

My country is not short on creatures who can rightly take their place with the Avengers. The only problem was, our heroes had the tendency to die.

Iron_Man_3.pg

Or they disappear. “Desaparecidos” is a Spanish word that was also used in Latin American countries (most notably, Argentina) where subversives had a habit of doing a Harry Potter and apparating to god-knows-where. Most probably to their graves, but who can say, for the dead have left no trace. Except for the memories they left behind.

They die and we forget them.

That is my country’s curse.

 

***

 

In general, we hated History — even in elementary. It was just a bunch of dates and names of dead people to memorize.

A person very dear to me, just took her tests for the Licensure Examination for Teachers (LET) yesterday. I am crossing my fingers that she will pass. My country need more teachers; the kind who will tell stories instead of badgering their students to memorize “facts”.

Stan Lee will probably agree with me on this when I say that the Marvel Superheroes would have had no fans if the American kids who patronized their comics were shot by someone like Gen. Jacob Smith or were disappeared.

 

General Jacob H. Smith's infamous order "Kill Everyone Over Ten" was the caption in the New York Journal cartoon on May 5, 1902. The Old Glory draped an American shield on which a vulture replaced the bald eagle. The caption at the bottom proclaimed, "Criminals Because They Were Born Ten Years Before We Took the Philippines" -- Image and text from Wikipedia

General Jacob H. Smith’s infamous order “Kill Everyone Over Ten” was the caption in the New York Journal cartoon on May 5, 1902. The Old Glory draped an American shield on which a vulture replaced the bald eagle. The caption at the bottom proclaimed, “Criminals Because They Were Born Ten Years Before We Took the Philippines”
— Image and text from Wikipedia

 

To Remember

From Benjamin Pimentel’s article in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, 12 Sept 2012

Feeling Lenin. Marcos frozen after death. With Imelda, who's face was frozen into eternal youth (probably courtesy of botox). Picture from http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/277872/marcos-regimes-criminal-legacies-continue-to-harm-filipinos-fdc

Feeling Lenin. Marcos frozen after death. With Imelda, whose face was frozen into eternal youth (probably courtesy of botox). Picture from http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/277872/marcos-regimes-criminal-legacies-continue-to-harm-filipinos-fdc

‘What was the point of getting rid of Marcos? Look at how there’s still so much corruption and injustice in Philippine society after all these years.’

We joined the fight to get rid of a tyrant. And guess what – we won. And you won.

I know it’s hard to believe …

But trust me: it was much, much worse back then. It was a much scarier, more violent time, when even the mildest criticism of government, of Marcos, of Imelda, could land you in jail or even get you killed.

Look at it this way. Some of you don’t like the current president. And you probably even joined the fad of Noynoying, making fun of the guy, calling him all sorts of names. You know what would have happened to you if you had tried a stunt like that during the Marcos years?

Marcos’s allies want you to forget that. They want you to see the long struggle against dictatorship, and the uprising that finally brought it down as wasted effort.

Which is really an absurd view if you think about it. It’s like telling our heroes and those who waged past struggles in our history that everything that happened, everything they did was a waste.

It’s like telling Jose Rizal, “You know those novels and essays and poems you wrote, including that last one you composed shortly before you were shot to death by the Spaniards, all that was a waste of time. For look at how messed up the country is right now.”

You’ll hear it from those who simply don’t like democracy, who find it inconvenient because it keeps them from acquiring more wealth and more power.

You’ll hear from those who just can’t stand ideas they don’t agree with, who arrogantly think they have all the answers and must therefore have all the power.

They’ll present themselves as the nation’s saviors based on twisted claims. Some would point to their military discipline and experience.  Others would claim to have the correct political line base on historical truths. Some would claim to have god on their side.

Don’t trust the liars and the bullies. Democracy can be messy and chaotic. But the alternatives are even messier. They create a false, deceptive sense of “peace and order.”

A delusion.

Photo attribution: koreanewsonline.blogspot.com

Photo attribution: koreanewsonline.blogspot.com

***

Uncle N and his wife are die-hard Marcos fans.

Not surprising, because they worked under Apo himself and Apo’s beauteous, shoe-obsessed wife.

When I would visit Uncle N, he would rant about how the current media would distort the memory of his idol. My uncle is Ilocano, as I am (well, partly, at least).

It’s difficult to argue with tribal (and familial) loyalty. I see Nancy Binay and I think, darn — she must love her dad so much to take all this flak from just about every Filipino who can still remember how to use his/her brain.

Maybe the problem is not that we can’t remember.

Maybe the problem is that we couldn’t transcend ourselves.

"Persistence of Memory" by Salvador Dali

“Persistence of Memory” by Salvador Dali

***

Reporter to Pope Francis: “Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?”

Pope stares at reporter in silence. The reporter  asks him if he may ask this question. The Pope nods and replies: “I do not know what might be the most fitting description…. I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.”

Read more from this website — http://www.thinkingfaith.org/articles/20130919_1.htm

Alternate Realities (or Alice Thinks “Deep Thoughts” While Typhoon Odette Rages in Region II)

So suppose this is all a dream, and this life is not really my life but the life inside a dream which is inside a dream ad infinitum. Hey  I watched that movie!  Leo was there and the ending was so groan-inducing, the whole movie-house just expelled a collective “Arrrgh” when the screen faded and that spinning top kept on spinning.

The best reality would be the one where  my father stayed and didn’t marry his white American wife. I think I have 2 siblings but, I barely know them … one of them friended me on Facebook. I will still have to decide what to do about that.

A better reality would be the one where my mother was not such a fragile dimwit that she would die of cancer when I was only 12.

I am not saying this reality is completely shitty. No, of course not. Lola and Auntie Cherry would raise their eyebrows at me if I said that. So, no Lola, Auntie, my alternate-reality-musings have nothing to do with you, not at all. Though, if I were to re-script your life grandma, I would have made it so that Lolo did not consume as much pork fat and beef as he had; since now we know that his cholesterol-bingeing probably was the main reason why he had that stroke.

***

It’s raining outside; there is actually a typhoon (again) and the winds are literally howling. The weird thing is, sometimes the sun would peek a little and it will all be shiny and warm, but the rain won’t stop.

The tikbalang.  Image from www.pxleyes.com

The tikbalang. Image from http://www.pxleyes.com

Why is that, I wonder? Lolo said — before he had the stroke — that when it rains while the sun is shining, that means that tikbalangs are getting married. Tikbalangs are local monsters/demons, sort of a cross between horse and human — like centaurs; only, tikbalangs have the head of a horse and the body of a human, something like that.

***

Last night, he called the house.

Which is crazy because I didn’t give him my home number. Kim most probably is the culprit and she will have to answer to me when I get back to Manila.

So there was chatting, small talk, yada, yada. No … not phone sex, pleeasee! He’s not that type of  guy (ha ha, or so I think!)

He said that, tomorrow is September 21, anniversary of Martial Law. 

martial law decraled

The President, who married a First Lady with an obsession for shoes, put my country under Martial Law in 1972. In fairness to Marcos — and other monsters like Sauron and Hitler — were it not for them, the Fellowship of the Ring, the state of Israel and People Power would probably have been confined to an alternate reality. Or maybe not, who knows?

I said, and so?

There’s going to be this concert in the Folk Arts Theater, around 7. And would I like to go?

With you?

No, with Noel Cabangon. For god’s sake. Of course, with me.

If my alternate self was listening — the one who would willingly drop her panties if Jonas asked her to at  this moment — she would have screamed and shaken me ten times by now for giving him such a hard time. My alternate self doesn’t believe in playing hard to get.  Well, tough shit! She’s not the one in charge.

Okay, I say, I’ll arrive in my apartment this afternoon, hopefully, if there won’t be any flooding.

He said that there is some drizzle and winds in Taft Avenue but the chances of heavy rainfall is just about 20%.

Said who?

PAGASA.

I see. And then I decided to be frank. It’s easy to do that when you’re on the phone and several provinces away. Just to be clear here, is this like a 4th date?

Alice, you are the one who is fixated on labels. You can call it anything you want.

I thought I could see him rolling his eyes on the other side of the phone.

And I couldn’t help it, but I had to smile — just when the rusty roof of our kitchen gave in to the rushing winds of the oncoming storm and flew to god-knows-where.

Crying for Edjop

LRT 1, Roosevelt station

because they killed Edgar Jopson

(who has the same 1st name as G)

when he was only 34! (the same age as me)

He was not a perfect man

(what man is perfect, anyway?)

as Joy would attest

but she loved him

(she must have,

how else can one explain the 3 kids?)

Someone loved him

but they killed him anyway.

Tortured and maimed,  his molars pulled out

before they cut off his

tongue

Did he tell them what they wanted?

I don’t know,

will never know now

what he said. Exactly.

EDJOP

***

Today in history:  President Benigno Aquino III  will deliver his  State of the Nation Address to the Filipino people.

I am expecting heavy traffic. Thank God for trains!