AM WRITING this piece on the 100th birth anniversary of the dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos, which has been declared by President Rodrigo Duterte as a special nonworking holiday in the Ilocos region. Naturally, there was an uproar about it, because it comes in the heels of the grave insult of giving him a hero’s burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (LNMB) and the Supreme Court legitimizing the dastardly act. As if that weren’t enough, Duterte had to further make it official with a special holiday, which he justified as usual with his characteristic myopic sense of history. He sees only as far as the tip of his nose when he claims that there is nothing wrong with all the above because Marcos deserves it as a former president and as a beloved Ilocano hero. But what it really shows us is his own idolatry of the tyrant, which Konsyensya Dabaw has generously called a “fatal affinity.”
Last month, a poetry anthology edited by Alfred Yuson and Gemino Abad was launched in Manila: Bloodlust. Philippine Protest Poetry from Marcos to Duterte. It gathers 65 Filipino writers from across the country and abroad in an urgent “protest against the cavalier disregard of human rights and lives” that has come full circle from Marcos to “what we hope to be a brief tokhang tenure” by Duterte, as Yuson writes in the Introduction. It is not an easy book to read. One cannot simply breeze through poem after poem about the horrific and bloody situation we are facing in the country, characterized by police operations labeled “tokhang,” coined from the Cebuano “toktok” and “hangyo.”
As a migrant to Davao, one of the first Binisaya words I learned was “hangyo,” which I was taught to use when I’m trying to get a lower price for an item, as in the Filipino “tawad.” It always works at the market, where the magic word can shave off a few pesos, which can then go to jeepney fare. And I walk away feeling gratified at the act of kindness extended to me because of hangyo. Later, I would find out that it can mean “to plead,” which is a connotation not found in the Filipino. Tawad is to bargain, which implies a somewhat equal relationship between buyer and seller. Hangyo puts the buyer in a powerless position.
There goes the irony in Oplan Tokhang. In the past year of Duterte’s drug war, we have seen that the police officers are not out to hangyo the suspects to stop their drug activities. A speedy resolution is dealt by indiscriminate multiple gunshots, always fatal, with the suspects not even being able to beg for their lives. As Jose Dalisay Jr. has noted in a lecture cited by Yuson, the “very embodiment of courtesy and consideration” has turned into its opposite at least 13,000 times so far. This administration’s bloodlust is shameless. What makes it worse is that a whole segment of the Philippine population continues to applaud it, highlighting their lack of empathy for the victims, fueled by loyalty to their president.
I cannot understand how anyone cannot be moved to tears and rage by what is happening in and to our country, especially with the string of killings of our children. Yes, they are OUR children. Of all the hashtags about EJKs, the one that struck me most deeply was #AnakKoSiKian, which was quickly followed by #AnakKoSiCarl, then #AnakKoSiKulot, then #AnakKoSiVaughn. Even though they are not my children biologically, I feel the pain of their violent and senseless deaths. How many more of our children are we going to allow them to kill?
Is that OA? Overacting on my part? Some Duterte loyalists insist that they are safe because their children and other family members are not drug addicts or pushers, so all is well in their world. But the mounting evidence shows that the victims are not necessarily “drug personalities,” that the killings are meant to satisfy a “quota” set by the president himself who once said, “Maganda yun. Makapatay lang tayo ng another 32 every day, maybe we can fix what ails this country,” encouraging more killings. I am afraid for my own children. I am afraid for yours.
In his foreword to Bloodlust, Gemino Abad asks, “When we speak today of ‘human rights,’…what truth about our humanity dwells in that phrase?” He harkens back to Mandela and the word “ubuntu,” meaning, “I am because we are,” which requires imagination to understand. If you cannot see yourself in the thousands of victims of extrajudicial killings, you are incapable of humanity.
The anthology links Philippine protest poetry from Marcos to Duterte neatly and necessarily, but reading through the poems, and paying attention to what is happening today, one can see that Duterte’s style of leadership is in fact different from Marcos. It is worse.