This Means War

I was supposed to leave Facebook forever.

I was disappointed with the social media platform, and my disgust started when Mark Zuckerberg defended his company’s decision to not to take any action on a controversial post by US President Donald Trump that glorified violence, when Trump posted, “when the looting begins, the shooting begins,” which many people interpreted as a call for violence in nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd. And while Twitter, courtesy of its CEO Jack Dorsey, put a warning label over the tweet, flagging it as violent content that broke the company’s policies, Zuckerberg declined to take any action on a similar post on his site.

And then there was the news of Facebook cracking down on posts slamming the anti-terror bill.

Now comes the creation of dummy accounts by paid trolls, against those who have been vocal about Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

And so, in my disappointment, I already requested for the permanent deletion of both my Facebook accounts.

But guess what? I changed my mind.

Why?

If we leave, they win. We lose.

Because now, now is not the time to be disappointed. Now, now is the time to get mad. Now is the time to get mad AND to get even.

And when I’m mad, I write. That’s the only thing I know how to do well. And that’s what I am going to do and do regularly, from now on.

So expect more long-form content on this blog: essays and criticism on Duterte and his administration, which will promptly be posted and shared on both my Facebook accounts.

Because, make no mistake about it:

This means war. But not a war against the virus going around and spreading in this pandemic. This is a war against something more insidious, something more vicious.

This is a war against those in power who think they are free to take away our freedom and liberties, those in power who think they are free to take our lives, a war against those in power who hide behind a faceless army of killers in motorcycles, an army of killers in uniform, an army of paid online trolls.

This is a war against those in power who think they are free to take away our voices.

Because, make no mistake about it:

If we’re silent, they win. We lose.

For now, though, I’ll leave you a beautiful write-up by Conrado de Quiros, on why he writes. It’s a longish excerpt from the prologue of his second book, Dance of the Dunces.

***

Writing is hazardous to health. This is so because crooks and murderers, who may or may not read Plato, agree that the poet has no place in the Republic. Many of them think poetry is a communist front, and the poet has no place on earth. Prey to hunger and the attentions of the intelligence community, the writer can only cry out before the Department of Environment and National Resources, “Never mind the trees – save the writer!”

But if not for fame, fortune, and health, why does one write? Why does any reasonably sane man write?

Quite seriously, one writes because one must.

Jose Diokno once said that human rights are not something one has, they are something one is. They are essential to his being. Without them, he not only ceases to live well, he ceases to live at all. The same thing may be said about writing. It is not really something one does. It is something one is.

Writing, of course, is always writing about something. I’ve often been asked about why I write about the things I do. I write about them because, like Mount Everest, they are there. This is not a facetious answer. It is not always easy to see, or acknowledge, the thereness of things. The mind reels at the sight of unimaginable horror – of villagers who flee from burning houses and forage in forests, of children who die from mortar fire or grow old before their time, of wives who seek their husbands and find their heads floating in rivers. The mind reels at the sight of unimaginable horror, and imagines it is not there.

To see the thereness of mountains is not merely to see the tangle of green that mats their slopes and the mists that cling to their peaks. It is to see the cunning cut of rock and stone, the rivers that roil in the rain, and the slime that has gathered in the footpaths. Yet, for all this, it is to climb the mountain anway, at risk to life and limb.

Why does one do it? Why does one climb the mountain? Because he must. He does not do it for fame or fortune or health. He does it out of – despair: Because not to do so would be to disappear from the face of the earth as surely as from “salvaging,” or melt like Salvador Dali’s liquid watches.

One climbs mountains because they are there. But, in the end, mountains are there because one has climbed them, if only in one’s dreams.

Of course, writing is a choice too, as life is a choice. But it is the choice, to use another metaphor, of the tragic hero. It is the choice of Hector to fight or not to fight Achilles. Hector knows, as he broods over his fate on the eve of battle, that he will bite the dust. He knows that Achilles is invincible and seethes with rage at the death of his friend Patroclus. He knows that when the sun falls next day, his body will burn at the funeral pyre while Andromache grieves before it. But he emerges from the gates of Troy anway, his head held proudly before his enemy, his armor glinting in the sun.

Some call this a tragic flaw, a flaw in character that makes one do what he does – in a tragedy, to do so before the jaws of catastrophe. It is the compulsion that drives one to face his destiny, or destruction. But how gloriously! To stand on victory in the hour of seeming defeat. To laugh in the wind and cry, like Dylan Thomas, that death shall have no dominion!

Writing is a tragic flaw, too.

I do not mean by this only that writing hurls you into the catastrophe of death or detention, although, heaven knows, these are quite real consummations in these times. I mean that writing brings you to face the truth of your own world and of your own self. I mean that it brings you to face the unimaginable horrors of your own land and the even more unimaginable horrors of your own life. I mean that it brings you to look at the bloodstained face of humanity – and know that to turn away is to be turned into a pillar of salt.

I mean that writing brings you to face the truth. And truth is the greatest catastrophe of all.

The alternative is silence, a silence deep and elemental. There are, says the author of Silences – whose name I cannot now recall, as my copy of it is in transit – silences and silences. There is the pregnant silence of a writer whose mind is as the earth lying fallow in the sun to prepare for planting. There is the bitter silence of a man who must work for a living instead of write. And there is the silence of Rimbaud, the silence of a poet who squandered his gifts as a young man and chose to be silent. In old age, he would discover the ache of wanting to say things again, and discover, too, that through a pall of silence he had lost the very gift of utterance. Even dogs keen, they would cry out at death’s door. How can men be silent, and not despair?

One writes because one must. As it is with human rights, writing is not an amenity of civilization, like tea. It is a source of life itself, like air. Just as well, one writes about things because one must. In the end, we do not really choose what to write. They choose us. They are there. We cannot choose to write only about the bright and cheerful in the thought that the spirit is set free only by them. The spirit cannot soar to the heavens on leaden wings, however it imagines that they are feathers. Or it cannot do so on fluff kept together by wax, as Icarus found out while falling into the sea.

The spirit soars to the heavens by looking at all that is there, by reviling the vile and revelling at the marvelous, by facing the truth of its world and itself, as Edmund Hilary once faced Mount Everest and Hector, Achilles, finding hope in despair, victory in defeat, life in death, by paring reality to the bone and dispelling the vapors of illusion, all the while telling the author of this voyage, this seeking, this confrontation, the terrible truth of its own being, “You are neither god nor devil, priest nor soldier, bird nor snake:

“Writer ka lang pala.”

(Conrado de Quiros, 1991)

Some Deaths Are Sadder Than Others

(Published as a Facebook Note on March 13, 2019)

My heart goes out to the family of Christine Silawan, the girl who was killed and mutilated in Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu, a few days ago. I haven’t personally experienced a loved one (God forbid) falling victim to a heinous crime, and it would be foolish to say that I know what the victim’s family is feeling right now.

Just as it would be foolish for me to say that I know the feeling of people who’ve had their innocent loved ones jailed or even executed (many years ago, when the death penalty was still in place in the Philippines). And God forbid, as well, I experience an innocent loved one spend his or her entire life in prison or, worse, get executed wrongfully.

It’s in the air. This growing clamor to bring back the death penalty in the Philippines.

But with a faulty justice system that can’t even arrest Imelda Marcos or jail plunderers (plunder is punishable by death, by the way, if capital punishment were to be reinstated) like Jinggoy Estrada, Bong Revilla, Juan Ponce Enrile, and their ilk? With a police force that doesn’t mind resorting to shortcuts—like in the case of the killing of Kian delos Santos, wherein three policemen were found guilty of his murder? With the number of wrongfully accused in Philippine prisons right now who can’t even get their day in court?

And lest we forget: it’s easier to round up suspects from the slums of Tondo and Batasan Hills and Payatas than it is from the upscale neighborhoods of Forbes Park, Corinthian Gardens, and Bel-Air.

Don’t get me wrong; I think heinous crimes shouldn’t go unpunished. But sounds to me like there’s gonna be a lot of poor people ending up dead again. This time in a more “humane” way of lethal injection as opposed to getting shot “tokhang” style in a dark alley. I guess this is what the middle class in the Philippines wants right now? Whatever happens to the poor, they deserve it, as long as those drug-addled murderers and rapists from the slums don’t go around killing and raping our children?

The same slums, by the way, where our househelp and carpenters and electricians and plumbers and drivers—and THEIR CHILDREN—have lived their entire lives?

This is the problem I see with the knee-jerk reaction in recent days of clamoring to shoot poison into the veins of criminals. Fix and strengthen this flawed Philippine justice system first. Make sure, first, that MAJORITY of our cops aren’t criminals themselves (again, the Kian delos Santos case, anyone? Or that case of Philippine cops who kidnapped and murdered and “cremated” a South Korean businessman while trying to extort money from his wife? Or the recent cases of cops getting caught with drugs in their possession? Etc., etc., etc.?). It’s not an easy fix, it’s not a shortcut, but isn’t doing the right thing better than resorting to easy fixes and shortcuts?

I learned my lesson the hard way regarding easy fixes and shortcuts—I voted for Rodrigo Duterte, the king of easy fixes and shortcuts. This is a guy who, in 2016 while running for president, asked us to kill him if he couldn’t curb heinous crimes and illegal drugs within the first six months of his administration. I’m ashamed that I voted for him, but I’m not ashamed to admit that I was WRONG in voting for him.

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to be in the shoes of the executioner tasked to slam home that syringe’s plunger, especially if I’m not sure that the convicted is 100% guilty. That would be, you know, nothing short of murder.

We all hate MURDER, right? And we should—murder in any shape or form. Murder IS a HEINOUS CRIME.

Speaking of hating murder and rape and all sorts of heinous crimes, this is why we haven’t killed Duterte yet, isn’t it? Even though he specifically dared us to. (In jest or in earnest, who knows anymore with him?) Even though drugs are still rampant in the Philippines, even though rape still happens, even though there are still people running around killing young girls and skinning off their faces. Even though alleged drug lord Peter Lim is currently nowhere to be found, presumably in hiding, and Duterte still has the audacity to tell everyone that he’d kill Lim, his cosponsor at a wedding.

No, regardless of how Joma Sison and Kit Tatad have exaggerated his impending demise, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte is still alive and kicking—unlike that girl from Lapu-Lapu who had her face peeled off.

And that just makes me sad, truth be told.

After all, if those anti-crime “advocates” are to be believed, some deaths are sadder than others.