Risk and responsibility

While his assassination, questions about which remain open to this day, has transformed him into a martyr of democracy, Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr., the scion of a prominent clan in Tarlac, was by no means the passive or peaceable figure that the idea of martyrdom tends to conjure up—he was very much the opposite, in fact. As Cory, his own wife, once wryly remarked: “I know he’d die if we led a quiet life.” When he first entered public life as an assistant to President Ramon Magsaysay, he was, as he recounted to National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin, a “siga-siga“: cocky and tough, believing that offense was the best defense.

Such an attitude would serve him well as he rode his vaulting ambition all the way to the Senate, where he occupied a seat that was initially perilous. On account of his youth—at the time that the 1967 elections were held, he was 17 days short of 35 years, the minimum required age for a Senator—a protest was lodged with the Senate Electoral Tribunal in order to remove him from office. The tribunal eventually decided that the proper reckoning of age ought to begin on the day that the “the expression of the popular will” was ascertained—that is, the day that the final poll results were announced—and allowed him to keep his post. Long before the ruling was handed down, however, Ninoy had already formulated a strategy: attack President Ferdinand Marcos. “If I kept hitting at Marcos, any effort to get me kicked out of the Senate would become political persecution, pure and simple,” he said.

[Read the rest in The Pro Pinoy Project.]

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Mulling over “Kulô”

Art, all art, as the British writer Jeanette Winterson would remind us, is a foreign city, which is to say that it is fluent in tongues and steeped in traditions that inevitably require no small degree of adaptation and acclimatization on the part of those who seek a meaningful encounter with it. To behave as though art bore the onus of conforming to and confirming beliefs and expectations long held and cherished is to act like the boorish tourist who assumes, nay, demands that the locals speak his or her language, indicating a fatal combination of arrogance and ignorance that ought to be despaired at and deplored. And yet it is that very combination with which the past several days have been marked when one examines the clangorous—I hesitate to use the word “popular”—discourse that has erupted around the now-closed Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) exhibition “Kulô”, which, in addition to 31 other works of art intended to play off the convergence of the sesquicentennial of national hero Jose Rizal and the quadricentennial of the Pontifical and Royal University of Santo Tomas, features Poleteismo, an installation by Mideo Cruz that is both fulcrum and field for what been not so much a debate than a protracted shouting match, with terms yanked out of context for maximum incendiary effect: “blasphemy” and “terrorism” on the one hand, and “moralist hysteria” and “religious myopia” on the other.

[Read the rest in Interlineal.]

Honor vacui

Imelda Marcos kisses the coffin of her late husband, the dictator Ferdinand

That Vice President Jejomar Binay, who was tasked to confront the vexing question of where and how the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos should be laid to rest, has been quoted in Manila Bulletin as calling his recommendation to bury Marcos in Ilocos Norte with full military honors a “Solomonic solution” indicates, at the very least, that Binay’s understanding of the Bible is deficient in the extreme. Were he to review the relevant passages in the Old Testament, Binay would discover that the judgment of Solomon—who, by virtue of divine munificence, is supposed to be one of the wisest men in the world—does not result in a formulation that either satisfies or gives justice to no one.

According to the story, which is told in the first book of Kings, Solomon is asked to preside over a dispute between two women, each of whom claimed to be the mother of an infant. Both women lived in the same house, and each, within days of the other, had given birth to a boy. One of the babies, however, died in the night, prompting his mother to switch the corpse for the still-living son of the other woman, who was asleep. As there were no witnesses to the substitution, the women are reduced to trading accusations before the king.

After a moment, Solomon calls for a sword and orders that the remaining infant be cut in two, in order that each mother may receive half, thus settling the issue. It is when one of the women protests at the verdict that Solomon’s true intention is revealed: by threatening the destruction of the child, the king is able to determine which woman is the real mother—the one who would rather see her baby alive, if brought up in the care of another, than killed. “Give the living baby to the first woman. Do not kill him; she is his mother,” Solomon declares.

[Read the rest in the YCC Film Desk Tumblr.]

Round and round

While Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founding chairman Jose Maria Sison was studiously careful not to endorse a presidential candidate in a recent Bulalat interview—endorsement being, after all, a validation of the very system that the CPP and its various arms would see consigned to the dustbin of history—I find it worth noting that, between front-runners Noynoy Aquino and Manny Villar, Sison thought Villar had a “relatively better”, if “underplayed”, program, and that Villar, because of said program and the people around him, would be more likely to enter into serious peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).

The assessment itself is nothing new, considering that the CPP, in a statement issued to mark its 41st anniversary last December, said Villar seemed to be “the most patriotic and progressive insofar as he advocates the interests of Filipino businessmen, expresses sympathy for the workers and peasants and condemns human rights violations”. Of course, the CPP has also derided Villar for his bureaucrat capitalism, for being “the biggest among [former President] Estrada’s stooges“—are these remarks that belong to the dustbin of history as well?

In any case, the statements of Sison are interesting to me for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that it unfailingly leads me to the question, “What program?”

Granted, there was that much-vauntedmutual adoption” of platforms between the Nacionalista Party (NP) and the Makabayan coalition, but the resultant document was published in the NP web site only on February 20, several days after the official campaign period had started, and over two months after the same material was available on the Makabayan web site. Perhaps more importantly, can the document be found in Villar’s main campaign site? As of this writing, it cannot.

I wish to stress that, as I have pointed out elsewhere, Villar is utterly dismissive of platforms, and his dismissiveness is a matter of public record. In an interview with Ricky Carandang, he said, “Kasi yung mga plataporma, madaling sabihin ‘yan e. Pagagawa mo lang sa speechwriter mo ang mga plataporma mo, sasabihin mo ‘yan, me-memorize-in mo ‘yan, okay na.” Such a statement should strike no one as having come from a man who takes platforms in particular, and governance in general, with any gravity or sincerity.

This brings me to the second reason that I find Sison’s evaluation interesting: in claiming that Villar would be more amenable to negotiations with the NDFP—Aquino being supposedly surrounded by anti-communist and pseudo-progressive elements—Sison appears to have overlooked the fact that the NP is a former ally of, and is still friendly with, Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL), of which the honorary chairman is none other than former First Lady Imelda Marcos, the living half of the conjugal dictatorship that was once touted as the most effective recruiter for the CPP. Moreover, Villar and the Marcoses are on such good terms that they, along with the so-called solid North founded by the late dictator Ferdinand, will be voting for Villar.

Even if Sison later quibbles and says that he had, after all, been asked to pick between undesirable choices, his seeming willful blindness to the Marcosian specter and spectacle that is necessarily connected to the “relatively better” Villar, is disturbing.

Does Sison believe that delivering justice to a body politic that continues to suffer from the ravages of the Marcos regime is no longer the priority that it was? And what about the allegations of abuse against Villar himself—do not these matter? Has Sison yielded to the inevitability of a Villar-aided Marcos restoration? Or, as Business Mirror columnist Manuel Buencamino suggested some time ago, is the revolution indeed over?

Insofar as the concept of revolution implies the presence of a circle, closing with this quotation from Imelda Marcos may well be apropos: “My economic theory is that money was made round to go round. Money was made to encircle man so that he would blossom with many flowers. The whole trouble is, the center is money. All the heads of people thinking about money. All the hands of people reaching out for money. All their poor little bodies working for money. They are running in all directions for money.”

[This also appears in Filipino Voices.]