Monday, December 21, 2009

Brief sermon about a future “Xmas” and happy new year

Our country may be in the Northern hemisphere of the tropics, but the winter solstice is not as heavily noticed here as it is in the more northern zones with winters, is it? Thus, in our country, any celebration on the 25th of Decembershould it be in reference to a solar deityought not to make any sense, as should not any other special tropical communion with nature anytime during the entire month of December. In ancient Rome, December 25th was celebrated as the birth of the solar deity the Unconquered Sun (Dies Natalis Solis Invicti) because that day was seen by the Julian calendar as when the duration of daylight first began to increase after the winter solstice. The winter solstice occurs sometime between December 21 and 22.

     Even before the post-winter solstice feast, the ancient Romans would already be celebrating the Brumalia festival, which was a copy of the Greeks’ Lenaia festival, lasting for one month and culminating on December 25. Brumalia was in honor of Bacchus, the god of drinking and merriment, with festivities often occurring on the eve of December 24. Note that in Latin the word bruma means “shortest day” or “winter solstice.”
     Yule or Yule-tide, meanwhile, was a pagan festival of the Germanic peoples, which lasted from late December to early January. The festival Yule or Jul was later placed on December 25 after the adoption of the Julian calendar in that part of ancient Europe.
     During the Yule season, the Germanic Druids brought into their homes evergreen trees to signal the oncoming plentiful fruitage in their groves. They hung apples and fruits on their tree, lit candles on it as symbol of the sun’s informing on photosynthesis. And as a way of saying goodbye to the wintry days as well as the year past, they burned the trees’ trunk parts in a ceremony called the Yule Log.
     Now, before we try and discuss how Emperor Constantines time may have appropriated the above Greek and Roman and Germanic feasts to merge with his newfound Christianity (the earliest Christian Christmas celebration having been traced to 330 AD during Constantine’s reign), lets consider first the birthplace of the God (or to the Arians, the god) of Christianity, Jesus of Nazareth.
     You see, a visit to Bethlehem, Palestine, in winter will tell you that temperatures could range from 1 to 13 degrees Celsius, and if we are therefore to follow the teachings of Christian fundamentalists it would indeed be hard to imagine shepherds and their sheep braving that freezing temperature to be with the stars above their sheep in the snowed-on rocks. Some of these preachers emphatically argue that December could not have been the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. But Mac McCarty, my Pentecostal preacher-friend, says that’s ethnocentric, offering that if one “knows anything about shepherds, especially in temperate zones and, worse, places like New Zealand,” he’d know that there is nothing at all strange about shepherds being out in 1-to-13-degrees-Celsius weather. “The colder the weather, the softer the wool!” he explains.
     Still, bearing that in mind and holding your arguments for a sec, let’s go back to Constantine. You see, the Bible was written after Constantine. In the Catholic Encyclopedia article on the Canon of the New Testament, the authors wrote: The idea of a complete and clear-cut canon of the New Testament existing from the beginning, that is, from Apostolic times, has no foundation in history. The Canon of the New Testament, like that of the Old, is the result of a development, of a process at once stimulated by disputes with doubters, both within and without the Church, and retarded by certain obscurities and natural hesitations, and which did not reach its final term until the dogmatic definition of the Tridentine Council.
     No wonder Oliver Cromwell abolished Christmas Day! It might also be noted that the earliest canonical Gospels, those of John and Mark, have no account of the nativity of Jesus, and the Tridentine Council would happen in the 16th century yet. Therefore, if the Emperor Constantine and early Christians had already proceeded with the symbolism associating the Nazarenes date of birth, presumably not known then, with the Yule season, for symbolic purposes or for purposes of pacifying the pagans and Roman religions celebrating Saturnalia and facilitating their assimilation into the new official religion of the Emperor, the decision would have been logical, considering that any implication—from any Gospel about Jesus birth as witnessed by shepherding shepherds—that it all occurred in summer had yet to be composed during that period of the declaration.
     So, it wouldnt have been those early Christians fault to have Jesus’ birthday pinned to this donkey of a date. It would instead be the fault of later Christian leaders, including the Council of Trent that was contemporary to the progress of the Christianization of the tropical New World, who allowed the thought to continue that Christmas occurred during winter.
     Fortunately, it has remained symbolic, surefor those who are able to experience the winter solstice, including Rome and Bethlehem. But even here in the tropics, in the centuries after the Thirty Years War and the religious expansion race in the Americas, late December could still be an apt symbolic spot for a messiahs birth, given that this season proceeds to the celebration of a New Year, complete here in our parts with the present tradition of hurling fireworks to the skies to meet a new dawn. Never mind that the Jesus birth in a new dawn context is often obscured by our quirky New Year celebrations and events, quirky as when Filipino Christians become Chinese Buddhists or Taoists on New Year’s Day, dangling those handy red feng shui books and round fruits.

Philippine Christmas Today
In truth, these days, the original context of our Christmas celebrations, like all other contexts in our countrys daily ceremonies, has been drowned out by a different religion called Christmas economics. The more elitist one’s Christmas economics is, the betterthat’s the new holiness. In fact, certain elitist formalities can be heard to scoff at the use of “Xmas” (considered vulgar) in favor of the more official and formal “Christmas,” never mind that “X” is the first letter of the word “Christ” in Greek (Χριστός) or that “Christmas” is actually the bastardized spelling of “Christ's Mass.
     In fact, Christmas doesn’t mean anything anymore other than a valued season for monetary fluidity and dynamic liquidity. Gifts exchange hands, or charity is activated with the potential for tax rebates, and streetside bankers’ loans are acquired for celebratory purposes, the food trade as well as the church trade both at a high. This economics’ exact parallel in Jesus’ time was the rapid one that occurred during the Passover, with hard-earned currencies exchanging hands near the temples to pay for the hefty sums Caiaphas extracted from the faithful’s cleansing of their feet at the Sanhedrin-sponsored Old Temple Jacuzzi pools.
     In our time, caroling has also become a vehicle for juvenile as well as organizational beggary, Christmas trees a symbol for Chinas and SM department stores’ plastic superiority, and the midnight mass—like any other Catholic mass celebration—an opportunity to pray for a new washing machine and to guffaw at the neighbors fashion sense as well as gossip on the beautiful and the ugly at church.
     But charity above all is loudly expressed, especially the Philippine elites charity events which have traditionally put a premium on giving and sharing over and above that other form of charity promoting the giving and sharing of the ability to give and share. In our market economics, that latter is called socialism and is deemed anti-Christian.
     Meanwhile, as I write this, Mayon Volcano is expressing its own season with Alert Level 4 hoisted upon the residents of Albay province, denying many Bicolano Christians the opportunity to share in the material holidays. But politicians on the campaign trail for the 2010 elections are promising the electorate with abstracts devoid of details, acting as the poverty-stricken nation’s new messiahs, and the recent involvement of the Arroyo government-coddled Ampatuan clan’s Maguindanao provincial dictatorship in a massacre case has—despite all the Judasian faux arrests and hypocritical speeches—yet to show real progress in bringing justice to the victims beyond Pontius Pilates white-, I mean, hand-washing. I say hypocritical speeches because those speeches from Malacañang Palace seem to deny having not made a similar effort to investigate the abduction and killing of Maguindanao teachers during the election of new senators for the Arroyo empire in 2007 AD. . . .
     And because Christmas has become an economic more than a religious festival in our country, those devoid of the privilege to share, because of a financial inability, won’t be able to share, and some are already despairing over this inability. So, now, I—being one of those with that inability—shall venture to share my thoughts about bringing back the old contexts for potential present evaluations, with the hope that perhaps I can help revitalize virtuous and valuable contexts for a more aware society, if that is possible.

Our country’s kowtowing to the traditions of the Northern Hemisphere is apt symbol of how colonized we are through our culture, and the only way by which a tropical Christian nation can counter-colonize an invasive Western Christian culture (along with its symbols) is to contextualize and then aptly and quickly re-contextualize (counter-contextualize) those same traditions. Let me offer some such ways of arriving at a potential re-contextualization:

1. The Jesus Christ Way
Firstly, the Christian context, which I already mentioned above but which we can repeat here: even with an awareness of the controversy surrounding the Nazarene’s birth during this month, placing his unknown birth’s celebration in this month can actually still be considered universally appropriate due to its proximity to New Year’s day, with all that day’s trappings in trying to meet a new dawn manifest as potential signifiers.
     Christmas can then be considered as a sort of season for thanking ones Lord for the year past as well as a season of prayers for a progressive year ahead. (Or should we delete those last five words and deny having anything in common with the prosperity theology of the Yoido Full Gospel Church?)
     In that case, all the present celebrations and traditions would have to be modified to fit into this re-contextualization. For instance, the Germanic Yule log (burning the evergreen Christmas tree’s trunk to say goodbye to the jungle ugliness of the past) can be incorporated into our Christian nation’s Christmas season activities in place of the now-maligned midnight-hour firecrackers that’s becoming more profitable to a nation of hospitals and Betadine manufacturers than to the larger luck-seeking nation. The log can also represent all the bad trees that fell on our paths during typhoons Ondoy (Ketsana) and Pepeng (Parma)—thus the necessary burning. Implementing this transformation in our customs can also prove itself beneficial to the country’s under-appreciated logging industry, which shall henceforth supply everyone with the necessary Yule logs for these prayer-celebrations for a bountiful year ahead.
     The only problem might be the newness of it, so perhaps instead of burning the logs some of us can burn plastic Christmas trees instead. Plastic-burning is after all more in tune with Filipino landfill management customs. A bigger ozone hole this transformation will contribute to the entire globe will render us more able to see a brighter Bethlehem star in the heavens, should such a Bethlehem star come back to within our view in a sort of second coming.
     As for those Christmas trees, the hung apples can be revived, especially since imported apples are now cheaper than locally-farmed but for-export mangoes, and thus would be the better symbol for the Philippines’ kowtowing to the WTO religion surrounding the heaven of economies of scale. We can light little electronic candles on these trees, all made in China, which by their being a fire hazard can already qualify them as the recurrent Filipino vehicle for clearing squatter zones to make way for prosperous industrial beauty. After all, we might take note that, by the proof of our prayers, divine blessings today are measured by the amount of industrial production and products that a country booms with at the expense of the Catholic Church-sponsored bloated surplus of workers in the population. Blessed are the not so meek.

2. The Bacchus Route
An alternative renovation of our Christmas habits can be coursed through the bringing in of the Roman Brumalia month-long bacchanalian celebration, which shall also culminate on the 25th of December. But, this time, not in honor of a god of drinking and merriment (Bacchus) but of God Himself as that mono-deity who has been able to provide our country with the materiel for our street corner or bar or terrace drinking binges and lightheaded merriment. In this regard, the sole governmental and business sector adaptation—apart from the beer fest-like celebrations—would be in requiring people to create a song that would praise God as the Christian God of Bountiful Alcohol that keeps this nation sane amidst all the carefree, drunken legalese in governance itself.
     The bacchanalian feast can commence on Andres Bonifacio Day in late November, which is just right considering our heroes are mostly martyrs like Jesus of Nazareth himself. The alcohol can then be presented as an alibi for the general cowardice that made the heroes martyrs in the first place, all in cognizance of the fact that any heroism gets sublimated into martyrdom when it leans on the support of a more popular cowardice or sleepiness among its neighbors.
     In that regard, consider the heroism of CNN Hero of the Year Efren Peñaflorida. By his example, the definition of heroism has become this: one that the government tolerates in his designing for himself those things that seem to work. For, surely, that heroism will get a medal from Malacañang, but that doesn’t mean that such heroism will be emulated or appropriated by, say, a prideful Department of Education that might merely understandably scoff at such heroic non-profit ways. Manny Pacquiao is a sports hero symbolizing hard work, dedication, and persistence, but that doesn’t mean our leaders will point to those symbolized virtues as more important than the symbol (or emblem).
     It’s the same with Jesus of Nazareth, who is now nothing more than a plastic child in a manger at SM department stores instead of the revolutionary irritant in his day’s conventional Jewish wisdom. Hooray! The symbol has become more important than what he/it symbolized. But that doesn’t have to be so, for behind the losses in all that symbology, he/it—Jesus—still symbolizes something. Except that, this time, the symbolism has become more lightheaded than utterly serious, more economics-serving than ethics-directed. Supposedly we’ll be happier that way, and maybe we are, drunken by the daze of a blind celebration.

3. Pagan Julian’s Guidance
Finally, we may opt for the continued use of the word Yule or Jul, which probably points to the “pagan” Roman emperor Julian. Its validity for Philippine use can be propounded thus: our Christian beliefs are often pagan beliefs, anyway, for we pray to sculptures as well as shiver in imagined salvation by the droplets of holy water culled from the convent’s faucet. We recognize more divine pleasure in touching the altar leaf than from understanding the pedantic parables of the Nazarene.
     I am not being ironic and saying this is bad, I am merely saying this is what we are all about. Thus, if we are to change anything it is easier to change the context instead of the people’s mentality. Thus, here, renovation would be by the simpler, though drastic, gradual easing out of the New Testament in our bibles in favor once again of the holier-than-thou ethnic ceremonies of the Old, with its clearer political-cum-nationalist (or war-friendly) contexts.
     So, in line with the worship of idols, and with the season’s ultimate culmination on New Year’s Day in its having done away with environment-unfriendly fireworks, a shift to the firing of guns in the air should be in order. This will be in celebration of our honesty and the renouncement of our old hypocrisy that had been saying, “we’re clean, we’re gunless, we’re a peaceful society.” A renewed firearm revelry in our Palestine will show the world these symbols of our courage, our idol Gun-Gods that have made us the best country in the world in the sport of executing journalists and NGO workers. We can by this idolatry regain our pre-Hispanic culture wherein datus ruled, claiming our divine wisdom back from the days when the whole archipelago was still a happy land of brave warlords.
     In fact, this transformation might even bring back the old religiosity, with everyone praying under the backhoe to such Ampatuan patriarch-like figures in Philippine leadership, mumbling simple words of prayer like, “Landlord, please hear our prayer.”

So, you see, re-contextualizing doesn’t mean changing our people’s ways to fit into the context of their actions, which is hard to do given our government’s education department’s often misappropriated funds. Re-contextualizing is easier when we merely change the meaning of the existing actions and objects themselves in order to make them fit into our ready and existing culture.
     So, thats it. Thats my essay-sermon for this season. Merry Christ’s Mass every one, including the masses always merry in their rebellion-free contentment, and a Happy New Gregorian Year ahead. May our population increase and multiply by Pope Gregory’s wish, as should the churches’ bounty in the year of our Lord (Jesus, the revolutionary theologian now mere plastic holy relic) twenty hundred and ten. By the way, that year-number can be written with the peso sign, that being the new sign of our daily cross in trying to fill the VAT, our holy grail offering to those Glorious Arroyo loans from China, the Red-Nosed Reins, Dear. [END]

Friday, December 11, 2009

A battle of faiths (or, In defense of journalism)

While debates in Congress continue on whether to revoke or uphold the Macapagal-Arroyo government’s declaration of martial law in Maguindanao, a martial rule that would presumably quell any massing of arms by loyalists of the Ampatuan clan (prime suspects in the Ampatuan massacre of 57 individuals), other Mindanao-based expressions keep coming in, adding themselves to the equation. This morning alone, December 11, 2009, TV news reported an attack by three men on a Philippine Army and national police convoy in Maguindanao, the abduction of a Basilan college vice president, and the kidnapping of schoolchildren and adults by an Agusan warlord’s CAFGU men. Although the last report mentioned an earlier release of the schoolchildren, as of this blog’s writing 57 adults are still being held hostage and government forces are reportedly “negotiating” with the warlord. Meanwhile, a Lanao del Sur representative and Macapagal-Arroyo ally belonging to the Dimaporo clan was at the Congressional hearing on the martial law declaration, testifying on a situation in a town in his province, requesting for the inclusion of his area in the scope of the Maguindanao state of martial law.

     Expect this new round of reports to be picked up once again by the critics of the Macapagal-Arroyo government in their ongoing display of a long-standing suspicion towards anything the Macapagal-Arroyo government decides to do, is planning to decide on, or is testing the waters for. Commission on Human Rights chair Leila de Lima conveyed her own fears that the nearing commencement of the trial at a Metro Manila court of one of the suspects in the Maguindanao massacre could be used as an alibi for declaring martial law in the metropolis, offering as rationale another supposed Ampatuan-supportive massing of arms. In fact, only days after the arrest of the prime suspect in the said massacre and his detention in the National Bureau of Investigation headquarters in Manila, a parked van near the said NBI compound was purportedly raided and found to contain muddied M16 rifles, presumably demonstrating an intent by some parties to rescue the said prime suspect. Was this already the starting ingredient for that martial-law-in-Manila stage of a martial-law-2009 recipe that de Lima fears would be fed into our media?

Critics’ Faith
The suspiciousness of Filipinos critical of the Macapagal-Arroyo government’s declaration is not entirely caused by memories of the martial law years under Ferdinand Marcos. After all, Philippine society has a very short memory; it doesn’t put a premium on its history, and even when it does it hardly puts a premium on the contexts of historical data and their continuing significance to the present (Jose Rizal is regarded as only important to the past and certainly not to the globalized present). Were these Marcos memories the sole ground for the present anti-Macapagal-Arroyo suspiciousness, the numbers of those expressing that suspiciousness would be decidedly small. Considering the masses of people who have shown up at rallies against the government through the years since the Hello Garci Scandal, I would say the suspiciousness has to be with the Macapagal-Arroyo government itself and towards Gloria Arroyo herself, not via a fear of a past almost forgot.
     Yes, it’s not because of Marcos’ use of martial law, which not many remember, that we fear some same declaration. Filipinos today wary of Gloria Arroyo and her martial law declaration in Maguindanao province are wary of it because of her recent past and continuing use of all the loopholes in the laws of our land and Constitution for pushing the legality of all her actions. They suspect now that the Maguindanao martial rule will not entirely be for the purpose of reining in the lost Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)-employed civilian volunteer army formerly at the beck and call of Datu Unsay municipality mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., the prime suspect in the above-mentioned massacre that triggered international outcry and the government’s late martial law declaration. They suspect that martial rule in Maguindanao could be “practice” for a gradual expanded one. Some even suspect the Ampatuan-Mangudadatu families’ escalating enmity was government-taunted, with one side supplied by arms from the Department of National Defense, so martial law can take place in the aftermath of whatever resultant violence, and consequently prolong Macapagal-Arroyo’s stay in power. After all, the Ampatuan clan, through its patriarch, the warlord and governor of the province, Andal Ampatuan Sr., along with his two sons, Andal Jr. and Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao governor Zaldy Ampatuan, and eighteen more Ampatuans in government posts including an energy undersecretary, are longtime favorite allies of Gloria Arroyo’s government. Unfortunate though the aliance may have turned out to be for her, the alliance and mutual trust was real, with support brimming with arms supplies and (seemingly now) funds for this poor province, funds that may have paid for the Ampatuans eighteen mansions scattered in Maguindanao, Davao City, and Makati City. But the government likes to claim that the Mangudadatus, victim-clan of the massacre, were also Macapagal-Arroyo allies, although it turns out that the Mangudadatu clan became the less favored clan; the massacre is now creating a breakdown of clan detente some pundits say wasnt allowed to happen during Cory Aquinos and Fidel Ramos time. (Is the present martial rule also a way of saving the Ampatuans from the multiple murder charges, sublimating all this deed onto a bailable and amnesty-friendly rebellion charge, as has been suggested by many a lawyer?)
     In the 2004 presidential election, the Hello Garci Scandal provoked by the incumbent president’s tapped phone call to Commission on Elections commissioner Virgilio Garcillano (“Garci”) resulted in a congressional investigation, hampered only by the said commissioner’s hiding, purportedly in Maguindanao. The president’s chief opponent, Fernando Poe Jr., got a zero vote in the province, “miraculously so” as critics put it, with voter turnout at an incredible 94%. In the 2007 senatorial elections, the administration’s twelve candidates swept the province, 12-0. After the unceasing report of vote rigging in the province, a fall guy was finally found in the person of provincial Comelec supervisor Lintang Bedol, who also figured in the Hello Garci case. He was charged with fraud but soon went missing; his person is still at large today. A teacher whistleblower, Musa Dimasidsing, was advised by family members to escape Maguindanao but was soon gunned down outside an Islamic school. Two other teachers on their way to Manila to testify on the alleged vote rigging were abducted in Cebu by armed men.
     We might also remember that in the “Oakwood mutiny” of Navy and Marine officers and their men in 2003, one of the mutineers’ complaints was the shortage of supplies and materiel purportedly being diverted by a gunrunning clique in the higher echelon of the AFto the highest bidders in the private sector. Fast forward to the present, and in the two weeks that the AFP raided houses and lots of the Ampatuan clan, even mortar rockets were recovered, buried underground or in septic tanks, or hidden inside thick concrete walls.
     The recovered weapons could well keep a marauding Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) battalion off Maguindanao. Unfortunately, reports came in by December 10 this year that the Ampatuan clan may have murdered even before the massacre at least 200 more people in the province who were not MILF people, and that these reports have actually been known by Mindanaoenes for a long time now. Some residents of Davao City, where the Ampatuans own a mansion in a hectare-wide block in a prime subdivision, now suspect some of the summary killings that happened in Davao City in 2008 may have involved the Ampatuans (one resident even swears that Aldan Jr. is a drug user who purchases his dose from a squatters area in the city). But, let’s be honest—the abuses of CAFGUs and civilian volunteer groups have long been a given among those living in areas where they are present, and governments since Ferdinand Marcos’ have been made aware of these abuses.
     But, hey, the abuses do not seem to be exclusive to CAFGUs. The legitimate armed forces and the national police themselves have long been held accountable by critics for the murder and disappearance of more than 1,300 individuals since 2001, many of whom were journalists or NGO workers on mere suspicion of being coddlers of leftist movements or being simply critics of the national government or local government officials. We might remember that one of the squealers on the Fertilizer Fund Scam of 2004, journalist Marlene Garcia-Esperat, soon disappeared. The scam involved then-agriculture undersecretary Jocelyn Bolante who allegedly diverted P728 million in fertilizer funds to the presidential campaign of Gloria Arroyo. We might also remember the abduction from the airport of witness Jun Lozada by Presidential Security Group men. Lozada was set to appear in a Senate hearing on the NBN-ZTE Scandal, and was only rescued from the PSG men by the tense media airing of his abduction at Manilas international airport; he was turned over to his wife the same night of his airport abduction, and to the nuns of La Salle Green Hills where Lozada’s family took refuge.
     We might remember further on the “2007 Glorietta Bombing” that killed eleven. At the height of the processing of the 2007 impeachment complaint against Gloria Arroyo, an explosion occurred at Glorietta Mall in Makati City, which explosion the police initially confirmed to be the result of a bombing (citing terrorism, due to the presence of C4 explosive components). Police authorities later recanted the report (citing methane explosion from a sewage tank as the cause). University of the Philippines chemical engineering professors and students disputed the possibility of a methane explosion, as did private investigators hired by the mall, the latter citing presence of the AFP-issue explosive’s components that the police investigation kept dismissing from then on. Later in November of that year, a Batasang Pambansa bombing occurred, killing a congressman’s driver.
     Critics of the Macapagal-Arroyo administration often point their fingers at then-National Security Adviser (now National Defense secretary) Norberto Gonzales whom they have long suspected (some say been aware) of being a terror-tactic specialist, along with then-Interior and Local Government secretary Ronaldo Puno. Many a critic have mentioned Puno as their suspect in the Rizal Day bombings in 2000 at the height of the impeachment proceedings against Joseph Estrada (under whose administration Puno was also serving the DILG secretary post). The purported architect of Marcos declaration of martial law (critics say Juan Ponce Enrile staged an ambush on his own person) is a staunch Macapagal-Arroyo ally and current Senate president ironically co-presiding the current Congressional joint session on Macapagal-Arroyo’s martial law declaration.
     Some journalists swear to the veracity of Gonzales’ and Punos involvement in terror tactics, as does Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago; but most can only rely on faith in the two’s evil, evidence to support the suspicion being elusive. Up to now, no proof of their involvement or testimony in relation to that involvement has been presented, whether in court or any other government office or the media.
     But this impression on the two can only be seen in relation to Gloria Arroyo’s (like Joseph Estrada’s before her) unbridled desire to prolong a stay in Malacañang, a desire that not a few times tried to force an attempt to change the Constitution through Macapagal-Arroyo’s sons and allies in Congress, happily thwarted though these were by the meager opposition at the time and by critics in the noisy media. Macapagal-Arroyo has made the now-undying impression on her person as a consummate liar, with no amount of lying by all the brilliant men around her (from Secretary Eduardo Ermita to Press Secretary Serge Remonde) able to bend the faith of many Filipinos regarding her person as a symbol of a superior PhD in Government Lying and Doublespeak attained atop all the corruption allegations that have clouded her credibility, her supposed loyalty to country and the Filipino nation, and her supposed godliness presented in many a photo-op shots where she has been in prayer mode. This belief in her lying habit is not entirely out of blind faith or as a result of black propaganda by the opposition. It is in fact faith that derives from her own consistent refusal to be transparent, refusing to show papers of any deals, all in the name of a divine statute called Executive Privilege.
     It is in this light that no one trusts her government now as her people announces (on her currently hiding person’s behalf) that the Maguindanao martial rule is not “practice” at all for a later Manila and national run. Arroyo’s critics can at least turn to press spokesperson Lorelei Fajardo and laud the young spokesperson’s honesty when she announced earlier that Macapagal-Arroyo will not abandon the Ampatuans even while they remain suspects.
     In all this Arroyoan dishonesty and propensity to lie through half-truths, we can say that the Macapagal-Arroyo government has actually started the murder of the journalism profession itself, and I’m not even talking about the arrest of the ABS-CBN journalists present at the Manila Peninsula rebellion of 2007 (later, the bus was called to return and arrest all journalists, so as not to make it appear that the government was targeting ABS-CBN journalism merely). All in all, by its constant spitting on the name and virtue of truth-seeking and investigations, we can give it to the Macapagal-Arroyo administration that it has done quite well in the manipulation of the human intellect, even abusing as it did its control of government channels, turning these into Lakas Kampi CMD official channels for the republic.

Apologists’ Faith
But take away the long-standing Macapagal-Arroyo critics who have decided to give the government the benefit of the doubt on the Maguindanao martial rule, critics like Teodoro Locsin, Jr., who may have turned things over in his head and come to believe that martial rule in Maguindanao may perhaps be right, along with others who have come to believe that this was the apt demonstration of government obeisance to international calls for swift justice to the massacre victims and the journalism profession.
     Take away those and there are still the blind loyalists of Gloria Arroyo’s government who are the prime demonstrators of strong faith operative among many in this country’s citizenry.
     My neighbor’s aunt, who has figured in two of my blogs (see blogs with the “My neighbor’s aunt” label), comes to mind once again. Just yesterday she was once again defending her president Macapagal-Arroyo against the conjectures of friends eating at her eatery, insisting that if the recent decisions of the Commission on Elections against two opposition-party governors in highly-populated provinces are products of a Comelec design to take control of those provinces in favor of ruling party governors, then we must castigate the Comelec instead and leave her president and her Malacañang out of it. Malacañang cannot have anything to do with these Comelec decisions to nullify the said governors’ election after all these years, with only five months running before the new elections, she says. The anti-Macapagal-Arroyo eatery customers were talking about how the Comelec may be looking at manipulating results in these provinces in favor of Lakas Kampi CMD candidates in the coming 2010 elections through the supervision of the newly-appointed governors, but my neighbor’s aunt says Malacañang cannot have anything to do with that, sounding so much like a PhD-in-journalism graduate working for National Broadcasting Network’s Channel 4 (otherwise known as the official Lakas Kampi CMD channel supported by taxpayers money).
     Every time a corruption anomaly jumps out in the media, my neighbor’s aunt has a recurring line weapon that says, “Malacañang and the president cannot be held responsible for the corruption happening around her. If we are to hang anyone, it would have to be the men around her, not her.”
     You might think this kind of thinking funny, albeit classic, which—I’m sad to say—is not logic exclusive to lazy minds but is rampant among many yuppies and students as well as pro-administration journalists with high IQs. It is not funny. It is precisely this kind of apologism reliant on faith that spits on any evidence laid on the table (whether this spitting is in communion with corruption or not) that has oiled the machines of Marcos loyalism, Erap Estrada loyalism, Gloria Arroyo loyalism, Ampatuan and other warlord loyalism, as well as the new loyalisms of the coming elections.
     Apologism by faith despising evidences of truth and journalism has become widespread in this country’s articulate intellection with an attached disgust for investigations. This apologism by faith is murdering journalism itself.

The Future Culture of Impunity
Only recently, a little debate ensued between two Noynoy Aquino supporters, with one supporter dressing down a fellow supporter for writing an open blog letter to his presidential candidate. It seems that the latter supporter was asking his candidate, Noynoy Aquino, to up the ante please so as to show his command of his own intelligence and leadership ability and so as not to allow hits on his being a mere puppet of people around him (including new people around him that used to come from the supposedly dirty Macapagal-Arroyo administration) to take momentum. The latter supporter obviously had faith in his presidential candidate’s abilities and sense of ethics but didn’t have faith in his campaign and the people at the helm of his campaign, thus the open letter. The latter supporter was not necessarily aiding the opposition, merely illustrating as well as exposing the agenda of the opposing parties on his candidate’s persona that these parties’ propaganda machines were now eager to launch (e.g. “Noynoy abnoy,” which read: abnormal Noynoy). In fact, while echoing the hits on his candidate’s person, he was also lambasting the opposing candidates.
     But the former supporter, taking offense at the open letter to his candidate, called the latter a “slacktivist,” which means a slacker activist whose support of social causes is limited to internet postings and petitions. This word is in fact an unfair liberal pejoration on intellection or self-examination inside liberalism or activism itself. The word is a slur by those with a claim to true activism against activist writing or even Internet use itself as a part of activism. The slur is a slur against Rizal in favor of Andres Bonifacio’s actions on the ground, Bonifacio’s adulation of Rizal notwithstanding. The slur is a slur against editorialists and bloggers in favor of rallyists, even as some rallyists appreciate the criticism of certain of their rallies by certain editorialists (even the criticism that many rallies displaying more of an organization’s banners than demand placards are looking more like a party-list parties’ campaign sortie than a rally for or against something). Or, “slacktivism” is a slur against journalism in favor of the “next level,” that is, Action.
     Therefore, the slur is a slur on the intellect and criticism of one’s own candidate or one’s self. It is, finally, a denunciation of the car break in favor of the accelerator. It is a joyous word raising the flag of blind faith. It is the activist’s new Nazi uniform. In its denunciation of thoughts in favor of sole “next level” action, the slur is practically trying to murder journalism itself.
     And so anti-“slacktivism” is the new apologism that ironically is the one aiming to battle it out with the apologism of the Gloria Arroyo loyalist (of which my neighbor’s aunt is only a minor entity), the Manny Villar-Danding Cojuangco loyalist, the Gibo Teodoro-Danding Cojuangco loyalist, the Erap loyalist bashing Noynoy alone (this loyalist will curse any theory that Erap is a Macapagal-Arroyo probe sent to divide the opposition vote in favor of Villar or, remotely, Gibo), and even Liberal Party loyalists for Noynoy Aquino. But loyalism is precisely what “slacktivism” wants to check! Slacktivism is one among a few vehicles that checks the psyche of actions and emotions when they begin to veer away from an original cause or intent! Slacktivism is what parallels action with its reflection! Slacktivism is intellection!
     As we approach the 2010 elections with no bills or reforms tackled or heatedly debated on the table, we are all only expected to rely on our faith in our singing and dancing candidates, content with their platforms and slogans devoid of detailed whys and hows.
     And given this cultural proposal of faith coming from many a man’s passion, I say we have, by that alone, lost any moral authority to denounce the Ampatuans, who did everything they did only out of blind faith in the new popular ethos of winning and winning big as an end in itself.
     Thus, assuming that the opposition’s Noynoy Aquino or Eddie Villanueva is to win over the administration’s Manny Villar or Gibo Teodoro or Dick Gordon or Erap Estrada, we can only rest assured that he (the new president) will still be surrounded by new anomalies, new powerful murders, new moves for power prolongation, and so on, care of the people who propelled him to power by their blind faith. And although it may be true that he himself may not be directly to blame for these new ills (should that blamelessness look true), given the greed of people or family and friends and corporate greed around him, I will not emulate my neighbor’s aunt’s way of thinking and will definitely hold the new president responsible for his lack of scruples or balls in his failures to put his foot down. I will, in short, emulate the self-examining or constantly measuring slacktivist.
     My fellow Filipinos, unless we get rid of this culture of apologism by faith, we will all have been Ampatuans ourselves, like my hating neighbor’s aunt, believing only in our virtues as we denounce our enemies’, denying our flaws as we hype up our enemies’ evil, cursing these most violently without check. Our love for truth is good. But the line between love and hate, as well as that between truth and lies by selective truth, is thin.
     The culture of impunity in this country cannot be redeemed by the sowing of more hatred between political faiths. It can only be solved by more intellection, freer intellection, un-manipulated intellection, and unbridled investigation, able to criticize everything and everyone, including one’s self and one’s party.
     If it is to be otherwise, we might as well be Macapagal-Arroyos and Ampatuans ourselves, sowing fear in our quest for the fulfillment of a utopia. [END]

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Southern social -isms

The election-related massacre of 58 people on a Maguindanao highway (the Philippine Daily Inquirer says 64 people), including 34 journalists, members of a gubernatorial candidate’s family, the candidate’s lawyers, aides, and motorists either mistakenly identified as part of the convoy or simply eliminated as possible witnesses (“collateral damage,” as military parlance goes), happened on a November 23, 2009 afternoon. In its aftermath, the tragedy dug out—or manifested in plain view—the variety of elite cultures and territorial beliefs within the omnibus Philippine political cultural spectrum, cultures and beliefs that have long ruled our archipelago with classic impunity. According to and a book titled RIDO: Clan Feuding and Conflict Management in Mindanao, there are currently 255 ongoing blood feuds in Maguindanao and 1,470 in the entire Muslim Mindanao provinces, revealing an entirely different nation of beliefs alien to Manila society with its belief in one law, the law of the land (in spite of laws being made to fit a ruling party’s desires by corrupt justices).

     These various micro-political beliefs, or -isms, must be fully brought to light, not only so they can provide us crucial clues on
towards an understanding ofthe motives and psychological forces that had been at play in the gruesome act of the Maguindanao massacre and similar killings in the months and years and decades past, but also they can lead us to ideas for taking the necessary steps in mitigating tensions, fixing quandaries, resolving conflicts, and checking the avarice, the avarice that is a clear and present danger to human existence not only in Mindanao but the rest of the country as well. That is to say, should we decide one day to do just that: try to mitigate tensions, resolve conflicts, mend wrecks, purge evil.
     Now, while our country’s leaders from the elite or new elite class are still trying to decide whether they as a collective want to be on top of these mending, many ask: what could have motivated the gruesome act of that which has internationally been touted as “the single deadliest event for journalists in history?
     Sure, there has been a rain of conjectures. Layman psychology offered us the possibility of a narcotic influence in the men who, in the act of inflicting harm, probably could not avoid doing something else beyond killing the bodies screaming in front of them. This is an understandable theory, considering the many cases of similar unhindered violence and mutilation due to drug-induced psychoses. But, given that, illegal drug intake alone cannot be the main rationale for the mass murder itself, taking into consideration the near-finesse of trying to get rid of the bodies after their murder. Other reports even state that the deed had been planned days in advance. So, . . . what could have been the other possible socio-political, filial, or personal motivations, not only for the killing but for the post-murder mutilation that should presuppose deep anger?
     Another offered view is the personal angle, namely, hatred for a family who may have inflicted hurt on a man or men within a chronology of painful words and insults, coursed through word of mouth orperhapsthe local media. Although possible, qua simple accumulated hatred, this psychology behind the murderous deed would necessitate confirmation by some deep and objective research into the history of the Ampatuan-Mangudadatu families’ enmity and feud, and by deep we mean deep into the families and their confessions and stories. Did one of them call one of the sons sissy, or something like that, for example, enough for one to want to plan on when and how to slit the others throat?
     Another angle offers jealousy as the culprit, involving a woman or women (or a man, for that matter). Why did an Ampatuan suspect display such deep hatred for the wife of a Mangudadatu as to lacerate and puncture her feminine parts even after death? But this angle, too, would require an intensive research (deeper than that for the insult angle), and immersion in the families, for it to be able to come up with a reliable documentation of stories and confessions.
     Finally, there is—apart from the temporary-insanity-due-to-drugs theory—the imaginative angle that proffers a non-drug-induced insanity as a likely explanation for the killing and subsequent mutilation and abuse of the murdered bodies. While psychological testing of one or two of the suspects is possible, it is—however—hard to imagine a collective insanity operating among a hundred armed men, although it is possible the mutilator was only one of them, not all of them.
     Whatever was the psychology behind the murderous act among the inflictors, my interest is really in the larger -isms that led to the act itself, by which I mean the social -isms that inspired or motivated the personal -isms or psychological defects among the involved that enabled them to do the deed.
     Now, in scanning these -isms I do not seek to pinpoint one as singularly responsible, but rather would like to imply interplay between the various -isms that—inadvertently or advertently—may have supported each other.
     It may be true that, as some analysts say, a balance was ruined (for instance, there is the proposition that the Macapagal-Arroyo administration may have favored the Ampatuans over the Mangudadatu clan that thus resulted in the one lording it over the other, with the other rebelling in turn). But I am less interested in the analyses of détente or mutual neutralization or the toleration of one party’s abuses or the nurture of this party’s -isms. . . . I am less interested in those specifics than with the drawing of the tree where hangs the long-standing fruits of this hierarchy of -isms functioning as a support system in the Philippine jungle we like to call Democracy.
     So, instead of trying to debate with pundits on what may have triggered the moment, let me just examine the larger history and web involving the various -isms at play.

1. A country of datus
Off the bat and quite quick in coming to mind is the idea of datu-ism, or the belief that a Mindanao datu family (a Southeast Asian ethnic-Moslem form of monarchy) has the full right to the control of an area’s affairs, inclusive of its lands, its industries, its natural resources, its laws.
     Now, what would be in conflict with this entrenched utopia? The obvious contest to a datu-ism would simply be one from another datu-istic entity, i.e. another datuist family, that might wish to challenge the ruling datu family’s reign, although still from within the same datu-ist belief or system rather than without.
     However, such a challenge may not be that simple. Such a challenge to a datu family’s datu-ist rule, albeit from within the datu-ist system, may also in fact be a challenge to datu-ism itself in the long run. A datu-ist entity’s challenge, for instance, may be intent on seeking reforms within datu-ism, or—even better—the gradual eradication of datu-ism itself. The reasons for such a direction may be various (chief of which might be “everlasting peace” and the concept of that -ism we love to call “democracy,” along with the latter’s accompaniment, “free enterprise”).
     But the datuist philosophy itself, whether confronted by a democratic challenge or not, is certainly enough farm for greed rooted in the belief. Thus, qua farm patch for the dreams of greed, it would not be hard to imagine this psychological setup as reason enough for a person (entrapped in this datuist utopia) to protect his domain and thus exact the deepest of hatreds towards those wishing to challenge the same domain and (possibly believed-to-be-divine) privilege.
     Confronted with this ideology in the field, then, we are now duty-bound to ask whether, for one reason or another, we wish to allow datuism to continue to exist in Mindanao or not. And corollary to this question to our leaders is the necessary query as to whether a form of datuism in the Christian parts of the country exists also—among self-appointed Christian “datus” in certain provinces—or not, and to what extent these “datuisms” are practiced in terms of how they use violence or grave threats to achieve objectives. After all, not a few Filipinos may testify to the rampant presence of these “datus” all over the country.

2. Datuism vs. Islamism
Islamism is, of course, long reputed in this country to be easy in resorting to violence to service its mission to achieve an Islamist region, or at least momentarily to attain funds for its protracted mission to form an Islamist nation. After all, Islamism without violence would perhaps be a contradiction in terms if jihad is a requisite to achieving a necessary Islamization. As a religious crusade, therefore, Islamisms recourse to violence or armed struggle is not surprising but self-explanatory, in the same way that it is not surprising to see unorganized armies of the American conservative right (consisting of fundamentalist Christians known to their liberal friends as Christo-fascists) every so often finding it righteous to inflict bodily harm on such American social enemies as abortionists, gays, feminists, and blacks.
     But Islamism is a controversial term, and some personalities described as Islamists shirk from the tag due to its associations with violence and terrorism. We are using the term here to refer to the belief among certain Moslems that there can be no ideal separation of church and state in a territory, given that its ideal is the very opposing concept—that is, the marriage of Islamic and state laws within a claimed territory or geographical unit. Corollary to this idealization is Islamization through jihad or any other form of forcing the issue.
     Though datuism may be mainly Moslem-based in Mindanao, in the same way that monarchies in the Mideast are Moslem, Islamism is an enemy of datuism, and vice versa. This is so because although the religion of datus is often Islam, datus are not necessarily devout Moslems but may only be using religion as an alibi to promote certain personal or filial interests, in the same manner that some Christian sects pretend to be followers of the landless nomad Jesus of Nazareth to be able to dupe their followers into donating a hefty percentage of their real estate sales to their church.
     There are proposals of analysis to the effect that Nur Misuari’s renewed rebellion after his Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) leadership stint was precisely due to a Macapagal-Arroyo-sponsored return to datuism within such territories as Maguindanao. If that is true and correct, then Misuari’s neo-rebellion can be deemed justified (or at least understood), since by that Arroyoan sponsorship the ARMM rationale would have to be redefined from being for an autonomous Islamist region to being for an autonomous Moslem datuist region or compendium of datuist regions.

3. Federalist warlordism
But, of course, that picture proposing a conflict between two interests among the Moslem Mindanao elite may be too simple. For interwoven into the complex thread is a national patronage system that has its own complex of -isms. Part of the complexity of political relationships and affiliations is the patronage system involving the electoral process, among other processes, corrupt and/or not.
     We have, of course, heard of the federal system. Now, while the Philippines is not a federalized country, the federal system of political patronage has long been in place.
     In the federalized system of electoral processing, a set of national leaders is supposed to be patrons of a set of local leaders, Mindanao datus or Visayan or Iloco or Bicol warlords though they may be. Those in the latter level return the patronage promise to deliver votes through thorough and perfectly legal campaigning and/or through extra-legal means (threats or even assassinations should it be necessary).
     In this type of democratic process, votes (numbers) become more important than voters (people), and thus would perfectly regard warlordism as an ideal if not a necessity. In this social system, therefore, it is normal to hear reports of canvassers, teachers, watchers, campaigners, or even journalists disappearing, or at least being threatened with the disappearance of either their own persons or their families’.
     This -ism in Philippine society is a classic and has long entrenched superior clans and dynasties in many parts of the country and practically promoted (consciously or subconsciously) violence as the rule more than the exception—although as much as possible delivered discreetly, away from an unwavering journalistic glare. Again, these local warlords are made possible not by themselves alone but through a Philippine type of warlordic federalism. It may be worth noting that the federal or central regard for a journalist, for instance a reporter covering a Department of Agriculture national fertilizer-fund scam, is usually seen as the inspiration or model for the regard for a local journalist, say, for instance, a Leyte broadcaster who mentioned someones illegal logging of native forests in Samar that could inundate towns with floods.
     But despite the assassination of journalists, this federalist warlordism can also be considered as one of the systemic reasons why the Philippine archipelago has continued to remain a nation, or as one country, instead of as several island-nations governed by different warlords. In fact, a warlord from Isabela can even borrow space in Samar for a certain period of time while his logging concession lasts. Datus and warlords can be friends, in the same way that intra-royal marriages were resorted to in Europe from the period of Ancient Antiquity to Early Modern Europe in order to maintain the peace.

4. International Capitalism
But federalized warlordism is not possible without goods dangled by a national or federal center. And that federal center, though reliant on goods from its local entities, is much more reliant on goodies from abroad.
     These international goodies may take the form of weapons aid from a certain country or certain countries, delivered in the name of keeping in check two external -isms that dream of entering the territories of the status quo—Islamism and/or communism.
     These internationally-derived goodies may also take the form of loan packages for projects that make sense (farm-to-market roads) to projects that dont (an auditorium at a far edge of a city), the rationales for which are either contractor- or supplier-determined (instead of need-determined) or otherwise season-determined (say, the election season). In the first rationale, the benefits to the local warlord (or simple, mild-mannered politician with secret kidnap-and-torture goons) is in terms of hefty commissions. In the latter rationale, the benefit is either for commissions or electoral image-building or—at best—both.
     In return for the international loan package from abroad, both national/federal warlordism (with borrowed elements from the Armed Forces of the Philippines as their own private warriors) and local warlordism (with Civilian Volunteer Organizations [CVOs] for warrior units) may then deliver to the national/federal level the very reason why the loans were approved in the first place: natural resources for international capitalism.
     But notice that warlordism cannot be content with police for warriors, demanding CVOs with high-powered ammunition. The reason for this discontent with a simple police force is simple. A contest often does not derive from mere citizens or journalists, who are usually puny targets for easily contrived “accidents,” and which police can take care of. The enemy may be real competitors who are aware of the natural resources at play, whether these be oil in Sulu or nickel in Palawan or silicon in Maguindanao (totally beyond the meager value of the provinces plywood industry thats not really worth killing journalists and other datuists for).
     In Mindanao, these contesting groups would include the Islamists and the Davao-provinces-based communists who consider each other Mindanaos anti-foreigner liberationists.

5. The corollary alibi
Yes, apart from the conspicuous Islamists are the obscure Mindanaoene Communists.
     But, you know, the Islamists and the communists are really part of the overall equation. While their presence provides voices of resistance against international corporate expansionism, it also presents a rationale for the perpetuation of militarist arrangements that in turn feed on datuisms and federalized warlordism.

@ @ @

So what is left to the general populace?
     The general populace has its journalists who, though necessarily operating from within a corporate setup, are required by the competition of the journalism trade to be non-partisan, objective, or freedom-conscious. Unfortunately the -ism of journalism runs counter to the tenets of datuism, federalized warlordism, and international corporate expansionism. Thus it often finds itself an easy and juicy target for the Philippine sport of truth assassination.
     Now, speaking of truths or truisms, there are also the citizens themselves, led sometimes by civil society groups or NGOs. The NGOs, whose purposes in life are to solicit funding for a project they can think of, projects that range from digging safe drinking-water wells for rural barangays to supplying villages with solar-powered generators for an environment-friendly future, also may have well-meaning civil society directions that could be in conflict with the interests of datuism and federalized warlordism and international corporate expansionism: for instance, certain mercury droplets coming from an international corporate expansionist mining exploration with toxic substances killing fishes in an NGO-funded local fishpond livelihood project would lead to a ripe situation for a conflict. The government can only be expected to side with the international corporate expansionist, for the obvious reason that it has to maintain the everybody-happy status quo of the Philippine social -isms equation.
     Now, given these conflicts with the interests of the eternal Philippine triangle involving the local warlordist and the federal warlordist and the international expansionist, it is also no surprise to find the local NGO and journalism trade threatened by the unforgiving hatred of the triangle, mostly involving people who don’t like to be disturbed by truth problems while they’re enjoying their 18-hole golf game fantasies, complete with fantastic piña coladas in a dreamy afternoon mist.
     Would they think twice about killing people in the name of their utopia?
     Hell, in the Philippine social -ism we love to call Democracy, voters are important, yes. But they’re no more important than the votes. [END]