People often have a misconception about progress, about moving on, about how today and tomorrow will always be better than the already receding past. This misconception sometimes comes hand in hand when a leadership is replaced by what appears to be a far better one, one that proclaims a new order. When there is disillusionment toward the past, the future always seems brighter and brimming with hope. There is an accompanying euphoria, a deafening celebration even, as nearly everyone is overcome by a singular energy emanating from an apparently bold new power.
In the case of the recent Philippine elections, facts show that the new leader was not actually swept into power by a majority vote. A much bigger voting population did not choose him, which partly reflects a fault in the electoral system that may need tweaking. For the record, it must be recognized that Mr. Duterte’s presidency was not an outright landslide victory as is often parroted by foreign media correspondents.
Mr. F. Sionil Jose, you welcomed and bestowed such glowing praises to this new order. I cannot help but disagree with you. Allow me to say this outright: your metaphors may be simple and clear, but none of them can ever bring back the lives of those who have been killed and will continue to be murdered under Duterte’s watch. Not a single one. But they don’t matter, do they? Not in your view that fits nicely in the pocket of the new power who, on each and every occasion, has said human rights do not matter and that they are a hindrance to progress.
You cheered when Duterte criticized (as if he were the first to do so) the Catholic Church – an institution that arguably has many faults as well as merits, which its own followers and long-time critics know well enough. His first outbursts made mythical were but toilet-related.
You called him an Indio or a commoner (because of his looks perhaps, or his way of speaking?), yet he is among the elite – bank accounts, if ever they are revealed, or funding during his campaign should clarify that. His reign in Davao City, infamous for the death squads of recent memory, is now securely extended in the hands of his children. Do tell us, Mr. F. Sionil Jose, what this amounts to.
Your statement on the country’s free media completely disregards the fact that the Philippines remains one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists. Surely any PEN member would know this. Those who fear exposure begin by branding the media as irresponsible and arrogant. Then they find other excuses such as allegations of being linked to some illegal activity. Not far down the line, the dark barrel of a gun.
The phrase “collateral damage” was coined by the CIA, as I’m pretty sure you are familiar with. It is nothing more than a lame excuse for murder that may as well sound like this: “We did not mean to kill the innocent, they were just caught in the crossfire. Sorry, sort of. Thank you for your understanding, your sacrifice.” Say that to the family of a victim and see how they react, I dare you. I’ll deliver you right to their doorstep.
That word, sacrifice, you invoked more than once, like a prayer. True sacrifice involves choosing to perform something that would normally be resisted. It involves giving up one’s own freedom in a way, with a complete understanding of the weight of that decision. But your idea of sacrifice here brings to mind a master telling its slave to choose either to be thrown into the fiery chasm of a volcano or to be fed to a wild beast.
There are far too many disturbing points in your article, but all of them boil down to what you said in your opening paragraph. You seem to have missed the very core of EDSA 1986, that momentous time in our country. The whole world was astounded when Filipinos from all levels of society – your belittled poor and the “privileged” and everyone else in between – came together and silenced the destructive power of guns. People knew the fragility of flesh yet they faced the brutality of the regime, believing their actions will awaken the inherent sense of humanity among the armed soldiers. Do you understand the true force in that?
Mr. F. Sionil Jose, you tried to justify surrendering human rights as part of the sacrifice that must be made so that a promised better way of life should come to fruition. I guess you mean only for the survivors, as the victims are of little value. The greater good, the bigger picture, that promise which, in Duterte’s twisted logic and in your claimed revolution, means bloodshed rising like a storm surge.
Although there are many hopeful plans by the Duterte government, these are in deep conflict with the essence of nation building which treasures each and every citizen, including those who may seem to be a lost cause. In passing, you mentioned the case of Venezuela as a warning without recognizing how the people of that country continue to fend off the imperialist moves of your benefactors. It may do you some good to read other views of what has happened in that country.
Our very constitution states in many ways: each human life is precious and must be respected.
Human rights, Mr. F. Sionil Jose, cannot be set aside in this country of ours precisely because of its experience with dictatorship. Martial Law was a time when those who knew how to please certain masters were certain to benefit, while those who showed the slightest opposition due to their moral convictions were dealt with in various and devious ways. The violations began with so-called evils of society – the alleged criminals or drug lords – then moved on to student activists, the free media, then anyone else perceived to be opposed to the regime, or, for that matter, anyone who fell on the wrong side of a petty official or his goons. Investigations were rare, if at all. Everything and everyone was swept under the carpet. It was the New Society. Remember?
Similar events are taking place in this country. You do not just condone these, you sit up and applaud as people are silenced forever. It is so close to Martial Law, what with all the dead bodies turning up, except for two main differences: the dead are left to be seen and those who elected Mr Duterte (and horrifyingly even those who did not) see progress.
You and Mr Duterte, along with numerous others who these days clamor for more blood, need to read, at the very least, the UN Declaration on Human Rights. If it is too difficult to comprehend properly, I am sure there are individuals who would sacrifice their time to enlighten you.
The barrel of a gun seeks to plant fear in everyone’s minds. Not reason, not communication, not healing, not understanding, and definitely not the building of a nation. Every person becomes a possible target, at the mercy of the most petty killer.
This president sees no value in human rights. His response has repeatedly been “I really don’t care.” Where do we turn when we hear the howling of a hollow heart?
Being human means more than having gleaming new bridges of steel connecting islands, or a network of train lines that covers cities and provinces, or orderly streets swept clear of informal vendors, or emergency numbers for those in need of immediate assistance, or even silence in the dead of night.
Mr F. Sionil Jose, as one writer to another, we know we all seek to write imagined lives as if they were real to us. If we cannot believe them, their possibility of existence, then how can we convince a single reader? In order to achieve this, we seek the heart of a character, the world s/he sees, the voice of one that might be. We may even be thought of as mad as we laugh or grieve with them, as if they were real. I shouldn’t have to tell you to imagine what real people are beyond the page, yet I feel I need to after reading your article where you’ve discarded with a sense of humanity.
Being human means trying your very best to see each person as possessing the same rights you hold dear. It means looking at the details of a life with value, a life as if your own. To be human is to see the frailty as well as the possibility in each person that should never be so quickly extinguished and disregarded, silenced by a bullet and a sign on a piece of cardboard.
This one man’s order that brands anyone (for whatever reason) as unwelcome in the new order, and thus deserving a swift end, is a violation of this right, this life.
With each bullet, each drop of blood, monsters come to life, painted with the crudest brush. Let us not be led back to the days of scrawling on caves.