Saturday, January 16, 2021
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A matter of honor

Solidaridad Bookshop, 94th birthday of National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose

I believe we, Filipinos, deserve a break. A break from what, you ask? Well, a long break from the status quo. To those uninitiated with the Latin phrase, it means, in a sociological sense, our existing state of affairs, and the values and laws on which our life as a society is based upon.

In the Philippine context, one doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out what the status quo consists of: debilitating poverty; oppressive laws; a public transport system not even good for the dogs, to say little of humans; unfriendly environmental policies; anti-poor decrees; runaway criminality; general incompetence in government service; massive corruption in high places, to name a few.

This status quo cuts across all administrations, from the day Pangulong Emilio Aguinaldo sat as head of the Revolutionary Government to the incumbency of Rodrigo Roa Duterte.

With authors Kristian Sendon Cordero, En Villalis and Che Sarigumba at outgoing Czech ambassador Jaroslav Olša, Jr.’s farewell cocktails at the Rizal Ballroom of the Makati Shangri-La Hotel.

Recently, a question was posited by National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose during his 94th birthday bash at the Solidaridad Bookshop. At the roundtable where Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa and other authors of note once sat, there was former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, esteemed columnist Nelson Navarro, historian and law author Saul Hofileña Jr., Philippines Graphic literary editor Alma Anonas-Carpio, novelist and Pilipino Mirror lifestyle editor Che Sarigumba, novelist Mario Miclat, and me.

Manong Frankie, as we fondly call him, sat from across my chair, his usual quiet self. Then, from out of nowhere, he boomed: “Can anyone explain to me why a man the likes of Duterte—murderous, tyrannical, and far from being handsome—hold the allegiance of millions of Filipinos?” Or something to that effect.

Truth to tell, the question caught us all by surprise. I was at a loss for words. The question crashed into my head as no more than an unwelcome aftertaste to the sumptuous entrees served on the table.

When it was my turn to speak, I quipped that a serving of single malt might help me remember all that I have penned on the subject. Alas, despite my colleague Alma’s kindness (she got me a double shot of bourbon), my brain was too busy thinking of ways to ward off the arthritic pain in my shoulders and elbows that I missed answering Manong Frankie’s politically charged query.

At outgoing Czech ambassador Jaroslav Olša, Jr.’s farewell cocktails at the Rizal Ballroom of the Makati Shangri-La Hotel hours later, I had much time to mull over the question, Czech beer in hand. But then hobnobbing that night with fellow writers Kristian Sendon Cordero, En Villalis, Dean Francis Alfar, Lito Zulueta and John Jack Wigley, got in the way of my musing.

By the time my wife Che and I reached home, I slumped on the bed, hardly realizing I had not arrived at an acceptable answer. My last thought was, “I’m getting too old for this.”

Tuesday went by almost unnoticed. After several meetings inside and outside the newsroom, I rushed home to get this aging body its pain relievers late in the day. By the time Wednesday arrived I was so beat, so drained of strength–and so racked with pain–I could not lift a finger. I humbly begged off from a sales conference with our editorial and advertising team to get some rest.

Reading Polish-Lithuanian poet Czeslaw Milosz’ major prose work, “The Land of Ulro,” I chanced upon these words: “Wherever we have to do with the human mind and heart, equality is a fiction; inequality the general rule.”

Right then and there, it struck me. Inequality: our status quo. Our dire social condition. I immediately looked back at the time my colleague Alma and I interviewed then Davao City mayor Rodrigo Duterte at Davao’s Marco Polo. The two-and-a-half hour interview revolved around one promise: that he would change the status quo, by whatever means at his disposal.

Duterte, apparently, is the kind of President who’d dare venture into the fictive realms of the unknown. To where no man has gone before, or so says Star Trek. No one has ever tried breaking the status quo, at least not in this nation. Many have tried, even went to great lengths promising this and that. However, all fell shy of what was expected.

I realized suddenly how much of this promise, this effort to re-assess and thereafter reengineer our social status against the backdrop of oligarch rule, meant to the average Filipino. With Duterte’s rise to power, they were made to believe in the possibility of actual, tangible change.

That hope still rings aloud today for millions of Filipinos, but one too suddenly betrayed by ongoing corruption, runaway avarice, and murderous intents. Proof? The House of Representatives had just approved on second reading the draft Federal charter where extension of term limits is included.

If on third reading the draft Federal charter is given the green light, then our chance to choose our leaders in the 2019 May elections under the present Constitution would fizzle into nothing.

It is important to note that while Duterte may have changed our status quo to some measly extent, he has also introduced another, more terrifying social and political condition: the acceptability of tyranny and violence as a mode of government.

I fear, among many others, that his introduction of the death squads as a “legitimate” means to fight dissent and insurgency may wound our country beyond recovery. That is, if we leave it to the Fates to decide our destiny. But as our revolutionary legacy has shown, Filipinos have no use for the whims of the incarnations of providence.

Dissent, for the Filipino, is a matter of honor. G

 

 

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