Fearful Symmetries

(Published 26th October 2014 in the Dumaguete MetroPost. Coincidentally, sir Sawi Aquino also had a literary title on the same issue, ‘riverun.’ )


Fearful Symmetries

Buglasan just ended, and it was roaring. Of course, I mean Amlan’s tiger, in the municipality’s own booth at Freedom Park. The feline, along with the camels that also attracted attention during the parade, are just sneak previews of the next big project from one of the province’s models for good local governance: what will perhaps be one of the biggest zoos in the country. But more on that when I get enough details.

Last week, Dr. Ike Oracion of Silliman’s Research and Development Center wrote in these pages part of a summary of a study on NegOr constituents’ views on the One Negros Region proposal.

Just by discussing quality of life, the study proves to already by eye opening: 69 percent of the respondents are unemployed, and two percent have never been employed.

In terms of perception, only eight percent think they’re not poor (a huge 54 percent think they are), and while 51 percent think their situation has not changed, 25 percent think they’re now worse off. And on comparing the two Negroses, a worrying 46 percent of Oriental Negrenses think of their own province as poorer than Negros Occidental. This is a province that does not think much of itself, and for good reason. The actual results of this crucial opinion poll will be eagerly awaited.

(Although I reiterate my suspicion that the No camp will rely purely on constituents’ ignorance and conservative resistance to change to get the vote, and I hope to proven wrong.)

It is quite surprising, really, that in spite of that more than half of the province thinking it’s poor, and more than half thinking no change has come, that the activism scene is worryingly stagnant in the Negros Oriental.

I come from Davao, and I’ve seen firsthand how students protest against everything – from Justice for the slain student Beng Hernandez to the blocking of Facebook in the Ateneo de Davao’s wifi. Heck, a friend of mine even got jailed for throwing a stone at a policeman while protesting for the rights of the urban poor.

When I came to Dumaguete, I came expecting even more student involvement, what with Silliman’s Martial Law past. But students here turned out to be dangerously-meek, and even when there was a need to stand up for themselves they remained passive.

Why don’t I see Sillimanians, or students from whatever university or college, rallying in front of Freedom Park demanding resolution for the fact that NegOr is one of the poorest provinces in the country?

Are we not standing up to fight for our rights because we are voiceless and poor (subaltern, to use the Gramscian term)? Or are we voiceless and poor because we don’t stand up and fight for our rights – complacent, to use the honest term?

And that takes us to Mong Kok, on the Kowloon Peninsula in Hong Kong. A great shopping district, well it was until the Hongkongers staged one of their demonstrations there. Protesters there demanding unscreened universal suffrage may well be in another planet from the famer in upland Guihulngan: typically affluent and stable Harry Kung is fighting for the right to vote without having his candidates screened by China; while manong Juan dela Cruz, who has the right to suffrage, nevertheless uses it to vote for the funniest candidate, and just laughs away the fact that his children have to make do with kamote, salt, and candlelight. All of a sudden Filipino optimism becomes sinister complacency.

And more evidence of collective Filipino stupidity: the case of Jennifer ‘Jerry’ Laude (observe the deliberate placing of names there – I respect self determination).

A veritable expert in gender studies in Silliman (I won’t quote her without permission) observed that Filipino social media sympathy to Jennifer was low, not because she was a transgender, but because she was killed while being unfaithful to her German boyfriend.

Impressive tolerance for the third gender, you may think, until you realize it’s just plain old chauvinism: we’re tolerant of men being unfaithful lovers, but for women (actual or otherwise), que horror!

But where we stop acting like civilized people and begin behaving like mobs out of a Medieval witchhunt is in how we treat the suspect, Pemberton. Poor guy’s already judged a murderer (homicide really, but what do we care?) by a whole country before the court’s verdict, and he has to deal with the fact that he was caught with a transgender woman – imagine the taunting in our homophobic and notoriously rat-friendly prisons!

And I daresay that the concept of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ is hardly taught in Philippine schools, for Pinoys it’s ‘guilty until proven innocent.’ Suspek = Salarin in Filipino popular legal consciousness.

A wonder, really, that in spite of this lynching tendency that China would envy, our justice system is still in the gutter.

And back in Binay’s Paradise: a televised debate between the Vice President and Senator Antonio Trillianes IV is in the making.

This square off, organized by the KBP and slated within the next two weeks, will inevitably be about the allegations thrown against Binay (you don’t see people in the Philippines debating on fiscal policy, do you?).

Now for the real politik here: this is a risky move on both sides. His reputation already tarnishing, Jejomar may suffer even more with this one – Trillianes The Fort, after all, has that no-nonsense image of fighting against bad governance that we see in Ping Lacson and Miriam Santiago (minus Ping’s Kuratong and Miriam’s looney vibe, plus a whole lot more sexy), and he could prove to be a devastating silver bullet for The Dark Lord.

But on the side of Operation SN 2016, this is more publicity for Nognog, and bad publicity, as we say in spin doctor academy, is still publicity. It’s not difficult for our Venerable Pandak, small and postcolonially-complexioned as he is, to look like the victim in a televised debate against a former military man (‘huwag po, mamang sundalo!’). And he might really go full frontal here (eew, Binay’s own words).

I suspect the Liberals had not much say here, seeing as Trillanes is a Nacionalista, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they have planned damage control already.

In any case, I wish Nognog all the luck with all this maneuvrings, may The Fort be with him.


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