Monday, November 23, 2009

Riding on the croak of frog politics

In my last blog, I spoke of seven types of writers and their various approaches to politicians in our time, especially in this election season. I also likened writer-critics to dwarfs and the subject-politician—in the last three paragraphs of that blog—to bullfrogs. Let me start this new blog here by revisiting those three paragraphs:
     “There is … a third kind of (critical) dwarf that is neither a writer of passion nor a wrecking machine absent emotion. He/she believes in his/her candidate and tasks him/herself the closer examination of his/her candidate’s opponents. Otherwise he/she has no candidate at all, yet would still task him/herself the destruction of those leading the polls. He/she approaches a subject not with the theorizing eye of a scientist but with the lens of a biology student excited with a first microscope, looking at his/her gluttonous-bullfrog-of-a-politician catch.
     “… I find that there is method to this madness of practicing journalistic opinion-making that zeroes in on an object and dissects that object to make sure it is a bullfrog (or some other elusive frog able to jump from one ideology to the next). The conclusion that the writer and the readers get is that we are fortunate to have that object exposed as that kind of frog born into a family of gluttons. Yellow, (it might be), whatever that means, but still a bullfrog. This somehow evades the possibility that if only one started with a para-journalistic approach of considering a hypothesis first, then perhaps the writer might have avoided focusing on an object but rather on the whole garden of potential objects who might all be of interest to the hypothesis. We must not hurry and crash into an object on the road that we suddenly discovered by some epiphany to have the appearance of a frog. We must be certain first that we, along with our alternative favored candidates, are not frogs or frog-friendly ourselves equally to blame for the frogfulness in our fields. Then, we might discover our favored candidate the bigger, greedier bullfrog.”
     And so, to demonstrate that I haven’t hung all frogs out to dry, I added:
     “Corollary to that hypothesis above might be a more admirable modesty of self-examination that asks oneself whether the theory that one holds, that all frogs are evil, for instance, is such a sound theory. Or should we all be croaking like journalists and bloggers unconsciously hired, virtually useful as wrecking machines, in being able to select our prey with the poison of articulateness? We might as well put down our silly pens and tongues and allow ourselves to be used as snakes.”
     My point in the blog was, of course, obvious—bullfrogs being famous in the art of gustatory adventurism and the sport of extending the capacity thresholds among acquisitive eating machines. And, yes, true, I was also touching on the general frog ability to jump from one stone to the next, and even to stones beyond.
     But my main point was for the “dwarf critic” to examine the politician born into a bullfrog family and study the details of his individual existence instead of blanketing his entire general species with a large green net of judgmental labeling as if he is for some obsolete laboratory detention in jars.

In this here blog, however, my theme is to explain my use of the frog as symbol for the average politician. No, not just that, but to confirm an exactitude in my equating the professional politician with the characteristics of the bullfrog: gluttony, along with convenient party-hopping (leapfrogging the old party loyalty), which in fact are neither new nor shocking customs anymore.
     This confirmation was helped by none other than my internet social network of close friends, who inadvertently helped me in my insistence. They shocked me, in fact. In the aftermath of my request to painter Marcel Antonio to lend me an illustration study for my last blog’s last section (the yellow frog there and the frog and car mishap pic), my internet social network—cc:’d by Marcel A. with the new pictures in their inboxes—found a rain of excitement in the idea of frogs itself, qua frogs, as apt subject for the times. So, in the resulting Facebook Messages discussion, the idea led to a thread of fact offerings, communal creative proposals and individual displays of creativity leapfrogging metaphorical impositions. Independent now of my blog’s intentions, the frog became a free agent.
     Everyone was ecstatic, as though the frog of Calaveras County had found its way into that post-postmodern blue-and-white-scape called Facebook, renewed as a once-again curious specimen in front of this 21st-century view with the electronic mouse.
     In my case, dumbfounded and overwhelmed by the informed comments that flooded the highway that cut between all the forests of intent, excitement found a different path. While my friends, the installation artist Alan Rivera and preacher/musician/freelance editor Mac McCarty, rediscovered the frog as worthy subject for a Pixar-like mythology or further deep lore, I looked in amazement at the diverse facts and characteristics of the amphibian (both the real and the mythological), and discovered how surprisingly precise it is as the pundit’s symbol (even perhaps to the exacting critic of mixed metaphors) for the kings of the unkempt garden of Philippine politics.
     And so, nudged on as a spy fly, I took off. Inspired by a croaking epiphany, I appropriated my friends’ explorations and investigations of this new prince of the blue-and-white-scape of Facebook to form my metaphor for the blue-red-white-and-yellow-scape of current Philippine political history spooks:

It started, of course, with installation artist Alan R.’s curiosity about a frog he saw in his toilet bowl one night that appeared to him at first as a cobra’s head, jolting his instincts. But this reminded painter and naturalist Ronald Achacoso of American mythologist Joseph Campbell’s “reading—in The Hero with a Thousand Faces—of the lowly frog as guardian of old wells and as a sort of a conduit to the subterranean realm. Its amphibious nature,” continued Ronald A., “suggests it’s neither here nor there and the toilet is the descent into the bowel or sewers of the subconscious.”
     Now, although some politicians carry the reputation of the cobra’s poison, thus to be avoided in the jungle of discussions, such political animals may be a small percentage. Sure, according to Ronald A., there’s such a frog as the cane toad, whose venom has been used to pacify the hungry pests on the sugarcane fields of Australia. But they are not to be found in the sugarcane fields of Negros, Tarlac, or Batangas, to frighten the sugarcane workers. They are not to be found among the plywood factories of Maguindanao. Or are they? Politicians of like mind would, I’d like to think, simply hire a cobra to do such dirty work as the biting of human flesh, while they sit luxuriantly in the vacation waters of dolphins as the plan is being fulfilled in their remote marshland.
     However, despite my belief in the rarity of Ronald A.’s cane toad politician, I believe that many a politician in our country is indeed a guardian of old wells, a frog watching those traditional sources of our town’s water and wealth, staring expressionlessly in the eye any flying liberal or progressive view on frogland’s comfortable, long-held conservatism.
     By conservatism, I do not just mean the Mark Cojuangco kind of belief that says farming and electricity is only possible with giant World Bank-funded corporate dams overlooking towns downstream. I also mean the view that we are doomed as a nation without an unending waterfall of foreign debt. That corporate banking-friendly conservative view (or fiscal policy liberal view, for that matter) has stayed with nary a blink on the pond of Philippine political thinking. The view that we will collapse with lessened foreign investment, too, creates the old mental fence around our well, never mind the economics of ants that seeks to strengthen internal investment and rampant small and medium business entrepreneurship in order to build a giant hill of libertarian cooperation.
     This frog-conservatism’s croaks are not surprising, given that credit and investment influx means more citizens’ mosquito blood feeding the poisonous saliva of the glutton bullfrogs’ tongues. The mosquito citizens are salivating over the thought of blood and money, too, of course, culled from their employment, blood and money which they would mostly enjoy on the cheap consumption of backyard puto and dinuguan, but the primary beneficiaries of the Expanded Value Added Tax and the sovereign debt get fat at the golf course on the mosquitoes’ sweat, their money for nothing, an ecological vision created by foreign creditors’ and investors’ culture of gifting the frogs’ tongues with the fruit of the mosquitoes’ souls. So much so that the lowly mosquito citizens of our republic have become both our biggest Business Process Outsourcing as well as OFW assets.
     Sure, those mosquitoes sent abroad become a bit wealthy at the foreign exchange, but at what cost? Some mosquito families are ransacked by the dengue fevers of rapist mosquitoes and robber mosquitoes and wife- or husband-stealing mosquitoes who in their suicidal thirst care not about death by police summary executions but for that meager short-term satiety in the daily buzz of mosquitoes raring anything for survival and sex in the Philippine jungle. And who cares for the mosquito-eat-mosquito city culture? Not the frogs, who have gone obese on the affordable sweatshop fruits of the mosquito overpopulation and would only leave the garden’s ecological balance to intermittent crime and road or ship mishaps. Our kingly frogs merely stand stout and sleepy at the sides, alternately feasting on the blood of a few mosquitoes and mosquitoes’ daughters or sons when hungry, writing all insects’ fates into the bowels of existence at the rate of their own cheap lives.

Ronald A. brings in another frog characteristic, naming the name of a foreign politician-cum-green-activist in the process. “If you remember, (former US Vice President) Al Gore drew an analogy between us and the environment on the peculiar nature of frogs, in his docu film An Inconvenient Truth. If you plop a frog in a kettle of hot water, it will immediately jump out; but if you immerse it in the same kettle and gradually raise the heat, it would boil to death. Also, frogs are the fastest disappearing vertebrates in the last few decades—I forget my facts, but I think if the trend continues half the species will be gone in a few years, and nobody really knows why. But, like the canary in a coal mine, they are indicators of climate change. The golden toad is the most celebrated or lamented example since it is one of the most spectacular animals to have vanished in recent memory.”
     True enough, the politician is rarely a visionary. And even if science is to soon debunk that frog characteristic Ronald A. talked about, true enough the politician is content with status quo; he will almost always wait like a frog under a hotel-café leaf in the rain for disasters to strike before he designs a more efficient disaster coordinating council, before he bears in mind to keep the disaster relief coffers filled and not use money in it for any frog-hopping adventures to other swamps. And even when disasters strike, he will only (out of a croaking habit) blame things and people other than his own majestic frogness for the disaster, thus continuing the spiral of waiting for yet another, bigger disaster of the same kind, which may finally make him decide to adapt to the new ways of the urban or provincial jungle. But, of course, when he decides to throw in the green towel to Greenpeace or the WWF or the foreign prince Al Gore, it would already have been too late.
     And then there are the likes of the golden frog Ferdinand Marcos, who refused to heed the law of fate, until his own disaster struck, bringing down with it his gold standard.

Ronald A. also introduced an entirely new frog, one from a novel, Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? He says, “sa original ng Bladerunner (na ‘to) ni Dick, frogs are the most sacred creatures.” Probably, but Wikipedia could only confirm the presence of a toad in the novel which turns out to be an artificial one which was fed electronic mosquitoes.
     This reminds me of the many politicians in our swamp who look sacred. You see them in church, where they close their eyes and speak almost in tongues. They kiss religious leaders’ hands, if they’re not religious leaders themselves. Or they call on their God of Hate, which they claim to be of a religion. But some of us in the forest know that their sacredness is artificial. As robots of the Greed Program programmed into their green circuits, they and their artificiality, as we all know, can only lead them to treat the mosquitoes that feed them like mere toys of electronics: their sub-robots. 

From Wall Street in New York, finance economist Peter Casimiro chimed in, expressing awe at the developing thread, almost as if he was watching a giant spider spinning its web in our garden. He mentioned, in his turn, “The Frog Prince.” Again, Wikipedia cautions us that although the frog in this story turns into a prince after being kissed by a princess, as though a frog can change and become holy after marriage to a nun, that version is modern. In short, bastardized, most likely by mercantilist lords, perhaps to make it appear that their frogness can change if a lass shows them love.
     For, in point of fact, the original version as told by the brothers Grimm allowed the frog’s transformation only after the princess threw this frog against a wall in disgust. Now that is realistic, as against the fantastic. In other early versions, even, Wikipedia says, “it was sufficient for the frog to spend the night on the princess’s pillow.” Now, that could be the sexist version referencing promiscuous female frogs, although there are not a few intelligent queenly ladies who married politician frogs for their children’s future’s sake and managed the frog in turn.

Finance economist Peter C. then talked about a coincidence. He was watching Nat Geo earlier, he said, and—lo and behold—the wood/tree frog of the American Northeast, which can survive frozen (“yes, literally”) for long periods of time and then, come spring, thaws out and restarts its heart, was being featured. “Of course big pharma is on to this for years na pala. Imagine the implications—seeing a bunch of reconstituted old farts croaking in the park benches, haha!”
     The same with the politician. When the forest gets cold feet at his all-too-obvious ways, his party may simply put him in the freezer, so to speak, during that cold season in his fortunes. Or, an enemy ruling party might even freeze his assets, due to a long-known crime, to prevent him from running. But believe you me, in the Philippine jungle, he is certain to have his spring time. A deal with a toad, perhaps, to provide for his amnesty, which only frogs and toads can afford to do. Other animals who have committed the same crime as that committed by the frog would not be accorded the same privilege in our garden forest.
     Some politicians also welcome ice being thrown at them. They exploit this as weapon to come back with for a time of vengeance, thawing the ice with warm cries of denial and claims of “politically-motivated” accusations. Their hearts, able to thaw ice despite their own coldness, beat again to the drums of election croaking, hopping on a party like a lost martyr who rose again from the cold swamps of guilt.

Writer/environmental activist Sylvia Mayuga was, as always, seeing the positive angle to the frog, which from the ecological point of view might be quite acceptable (Hitler, from the ecological point of view, is as acceptable as the cobra and the bear): “This is really something! Marcel, you and Jo tapped into the deepest layer of our unconscious with the frog. He belongs to what’s called ‘the reptilian brain’, with snakes, ‘gators and other reptiles. They represent that part of collective human memory rooted to the primal ooze we all oozed from. It’s got the strongest instinct for species survival, seems to pass on genetic improvement from memory of biological adaptation through millennia since the first amphibian tried climbing those trees, then gradually evolved limbs for ambulation. Walking on its own two feet, in other words. Etcetera. Fascinating sequence recreated by Loren Eisely.”
     To Sylv’s positive view of the frog as a human being I see the negative. I see the politician emerging, a frog. He with a reptilian brain, like the snake, has refused to evolve with the introduction of the human concepts of humanism, Christian or Islamic humility, sympathy, love, equity, fairness, et cetera. His blood has remained cold. His thoughts of survival circle only around himself and his family and (perhaps) few royal friends. Once a fish, swimming with the sharks, he has evolved enough to walk the earth, heartless as a zombie, becoming landlord stealing his servants’ industriousness or manufacturing lord stealing engineers’ ideas, content to sit around like a cockfighter in the morning trying out his collection of spurs, waiting on the hard-working explorations of the mosquitoes and flies among the trees, the miserable lot. He rules the underbelly of the golf course forest like a king, indeed, eating his mosquito “hamborjer.”
     Sylv continued, “what a prince he turned out to be. The frog, I therefore conclude, is our primal nature inviting our highest nature as Nobly Born to kiss and marry beyond live-in.”
     Unfortunately, the politician behind the frog emerges once more, marrying the whole town beyond live-in, into rule-in, enslave-mosquitoes-in, exploit-in all the barangays of insects in the jungle’s underbelly, all the while preaching contentment, as the secret to his contentment, e’en as the mosquitoes wages can’t compare with his commissions from the busy ant and busy bee contractors.
     “I went on to Banahaw when I was being a total nut about PRESERVING THIS LAST REMAINING 5% OF ANY FORESTS IN SOUTHERN LUZON in the mid-‘90s. . . . The (herpetology) guys … said frogs are the first indication of health and ill health in any ecosystem. What they found in Banahaw: alive, well and thriving with all that water in Vulcan de Agua, of the purest, I must add.”
     True. In any country, a country’s health or sickman-ness is dependent on the kinds of frogs leading it from the underbelly of its existence. And speaking of pure water, the watermark that boasts of the purity of our money reeks now of the mud of our corruptibility.
     “Add to that: in Banahaw,” Sylv M. continued, “they get married for heaven’s sake, with other frogs from elsewhere in what’s called an ‘ecotone’, midway zone between ecosystems like North and South Luzon. . . . The herpe team found a new specie, er, variety? of frog that flies, apparently sired by an adventurous native with the flying cloud rat of North Luzon. It got the name of that young UPLB guy who discovered it, thanking us for a high point in his early scientist’s lifetime.”
     Ronald A. chimed in, “Banahaw, like Makiling, is rich in endemism, rich in flying (or rather gliding) frogs, lizards, snakes—a curious mode of transport peculiar to the vertical Southeast Asian dipterocarp (two winged?). Even their seeds glide, or rather propel, themselves literally away from the shadows of the parent figure. Sadly, it’s more like three percent remaining rather than five.”
     The politician frog of the plains marries, for his own heaven’s sake, many frogs from up North to down South, hoping to produce an army of frogs akin to the army of creatures in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. So he flies. And, as if stagestruck by the fireflies of show business, his seeds propel themselves to many a starlet’s bed.
     Local jetsetter, his high and mighty view allows him to likewise be a rat. He talks to enemies from the Left or Right, ostensibly for the sake of peace, in the guise of peace, then rats on them for the army bees to kill. He is a strategist whose sincerity cannot make purchase to defeat his corporate-coopted greenback greed.
     And the dipterocarp’s logs, they’re now high-end log cabins in Cavite meant for rich and famous frogs who love to vacation in the high sulfur swamp of Lake Taal, Batangas, a small leap away from Laguna.

Preacher Mac McC. said, “Some of the frogs here have impressed me with their acoustic abilities—they find locations that form directed reverberation chambers to project their mating calls over great distances. Species to species, their calls differ greatly in pitch, timbre and rhythm. I encountered a frog in Negros that had me convinced that a bearing was burning out in the deep-well pressure pump.”
     You see and hear them all on all the TV channels in Manila and the rest of the country. Their lip service is amazing. Their slogans reassuring. Their croaking voices comforting. You could almost swear you’re living in a garden. The truth of the matter is, as repeatedly displayed by the nightly news, you’re lost in a fanatsy forest, where there’s no such thing as jail except for lowly mosquitoes caught in narcotics police webs, caught by the latters spidery silence silent about the frog’s bigger crimes and their own conscripted service to the king.

But fortunately, as I said in my introduction to this essay, not all frogs are alike.
     More of Sylv M.’s frog. “When Prince Charles took Kermit the Frog as symbol for his global environmental advocacy, I knew he knew what he was talking about when he said extinction is nigh,” said Sylv.
     I wish all frogs were like Kermit. Humble, democratic as a broadcaster ought to be, a community player.
     Lila Shahani, UN headquarters consultant and new political blogger, also protested my use of the frog as a symbol of Machiavellian wiles.
     “Did you know that some frogs can lay up to 3,000 eggs? It’s no wonder, then, that they are associated with many fertility deities—and creation itself—in a number of cultures. The transformation from tadpole to frog is seen by many as a symbol of rebirth, both in creation myths and in the land of the dead.
     “In ancient Egypt, the frog was most commonly associated with the goddess Heqet (or Heket), who was the goddess of fertility and childbirth. In the Hindu Rig Veda, the Great Frog supports the universe and is representative of the matter from which all is created (that primal ooze S- talks about). In Vedic traditions, frogs are seen as deities that chant by croaking for rain in times of drought. In Native American folklore, the Frog Woman is the guardian of all the fresh water in the springs and wetlands of the world. Despite all the changes in her environment, the Frog dwells in the backwaters, sitting on a log or a lily pad, flicking her long tongue without moving her body. She thus also demonstrates her supernatural association with the non-moving North Star, which teaches the virtues of humility and patience.
     “It was only in the ancient Zoroastrian religion of the Middle East that the frog was associated with the deity Ahriman, who is considered to be the most evil of all beings. In Europe, the frog only started to get a bad rap during the Medieval period, when symbols of pantheism and fertility began to be abhorred.
     “So I dunno, guys. Do those panderers even deserve to be called frogs? To me, they're snakes, which is how Jo (in his last blog) ends his piece anyway. Even though the snake, too, is a very powerful symbol in Eastern mythology; but it is at least far less benevolent and content than our benign little frog. So, in defense of our hapless friend, whose only fault might be a speedy tongue, I say: find another reptile, guys!!!”
     Indeed, Lila S., and Sylv M. for that matter, are right. Not all frogs are the same sort of politicians. And what Lila S. enumerates are just a few of the characteristics of the kind of frog prince we need in this dengue-ridden times:
     A symbol of rebirth, and may his 3,000 seeds populate a revolution. He croaks for rain in times of drought (as against hyped-up drought to force a buyout of a waterworks and sewerage system company’s stocks). He is a true guardian of all the fresh water in the springs and wetlands of the world and the metropolis, and—despite all the proposals for golf courses and condominiums in his environment—dwells in the backwaters. Instead of sending out armies to torture crickets, he is humble and patient towards the counter-noise of dissent.

Ronald A., too, points out: “we have a family of tiny terrestrial frogs (platymantis), quite colorful, put literally; pales in comparison to the poison darts of South America and harlequin frogs of Madagascar, but they make up for it by having some of the most haunting twilight calls. Never heard a real nightingale, so I can’t make a categorical statement, but to hear them in the forest just as it gets dark is always a magical moment. Each species has a particular call and a lot of them have been discovered by their distinct calls. Sadly I hear less and less of them every time, and like the proverbial tree that falls in the forest most of us won’t even know it actually made a sound.”
     Not all frogs are the same sort of politicians. Some bring color to our marshland, sing songs of sincerity, make our country proud. Their twilight speeches hauntingly inspire, give rise to magical moments.
     But, sadly, these too could be slowly fading away, pressured by the croaking culture of elections to hide in the shadows of obscurity, as the marshland of party inter-hopping is applauded by the fireflies like a TV game, with pretty-faced star players with magic wands singing interchangeable slogans, oh everyone riding on the empty politics of unintelligible croaks. [END]

Illustration (c) 2009 by Marcel Antonio. All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The art of obfuscation

In the nation’s necessary pursuit of happiness and justice and just a little bit of prosperity, this season of hopeful presidential and senatorial election campaigning can yet be said to be set in times of desperation inured by cynicism, being under a government (with a military and police and obviously co-opted Congress and justice system) widely perceived to be corrupt and abusive as well as inutile and ineffectual.
     Certainly within the last two years of finally realizing a change that has been long overdue, either intermittently or regularly a week of events (or singular moment) would surprise, shock, frighten, or inspire us. One such event may have been propounded by the emergence of a perceived hero-individual, and/or hero of a city, rising up to display resistance even for just a day or month. One such moment may have been manifest in the individual tragic flaw of a bad-man-gone-good named Jun Lozada, who claimed at a Senate hearing in 2008 that he could not bring himself to lie about a humongous presidential anomaly. One such moment may have displayed its worth in a city’s rallying around the funeral parade of a perceived heroine in Corazon Aquino in 2009. Such moments may have been flying by us on a weekly basis as little spurts of defiance or verbalized protest.

     And, in the wake of all these, someone who has gotten tired of the repetition may now ask: Will the most recent event and consequent expression of support for something, writ on paper or for the computer screen, spur change?
     Sadly, the usual reaction to this question on the table is numbness. The question is received as a quasi-cynical pronouncement that at first challenges, then pacifies through a hastened and final anger catharsis. Once the anger has been let out and named, we go back to the comforts of contentment, only to be led into this same scene of anger-to-catharsis route the very next week. In short, the answer to the query “Will that writing spur change?” finds itself living in an endless repetition of involuntary sighs.
     This is the psychological environment surrounding the constancy of daily news, an air of reactions to these news as the consequent verbalization or literary actions that seem never enough but that many hope will still lead to a climax. But, also, there is the fear that these self-same reactions will, like so many other rallies, fizzle out to become yet another mere historical footnote of forgotten literary and journalistic sighs. Here, in this psychological tension of divisions in the land is underscored the heat of a nation’s praying for either change or a peaceful status quo, both testing fate itself.
     The mood among the status quo’s following is dangerous fear, while that in the camp of change is clueless fear. And the latter’s question rings true in the repetitive tests of time and the apparent delays of deliverance: Will anyone writing, or anything written, spur change?
     Today, however, in the wake of this query, they come. They come: all sorts of election-season answers from all sorts of political commentary. Writers. And I’ve identified seven basic election-season approaches by some of our best literary giants and wannabe-future-giants. Here they are:

1. The Evolution Technique
In the midst of the desperation, there is a niche for the Evolution Writer, whose black sermons of faith and hope I really have no big problem with. The Evolution Writer writes thus:
     “As a believer of the ‘theory’ of evolution, not just in biology but likewise in astro-physics as well as in history, I regard change as certain. Slow to our eyes, yes, but certain. We in the communications industry and the thinking arts and the exact sciences may be impatient with the slow shaping of change, but as we wonder, history is already chiseling out its products into perfection. Certainly sometimes historical evolution would astound us after its processes, say, with an unexpected anti-virus, one that might itself be a kind of retro-virus. Adolf Hitler, for instance, was braird from beneath the soil of anti-Semitism, absorbing the sentiment to its ultimate shape and form to become the biggest bamboo reflecting the evil of the soil. But beyond this ultimate manifestation, lo and behold, Europe was finally cleansed of its little anti-Semitic purges. Hitler thus functioned like a Christ owning up Europe’s little sins by holding up the biggest mirror to the entire continent, reflecting the latters own once-popular anti-Semitism. We could go on and on with examples of historical retro-viruses. Fulgencio Batista’s Cuba grew a Castro, who in turn grew ... what?
     “In our shores, Ferdinand Marcos grew a Ninoy and Cory Aquino among the middle classes and Cory exposed in her turn our weaknesses towards such powers as creditor-countries. What was Cory all about placed in this national evolution? What was Fidel Ramos? Each leadership contributes to the shape of the clothing we’ll change into—a fragment here, a pocket there. Erap Estrada held up his own big mirror to the Filipino nation, exposing the culture of players and played-upon audiences. And we learned. Gloria Arroyo exploited all the loopholes available to man that Estrada failed to exploit. And here we are. So much the wiser, thanks to all of the abuses and more of those abuses to come. Will we awaken? As we ask this, history is churning out its own pills. And so, it would be wise for us to patiently wait for the next act, even as we sweat with blood and fight with our teeth biting the knife in the seemingly everlasting struggle, even as we play our own mysterious roles in the slow but certain, foresight-elusive but faith-invoking, historical manufacture of change. So let us go forward.”
     I love this approach. But it is too macro and ecological a view that it elides sorely-needed foci upon details that may provide micro-rationales for revolution.

2. The Drawn-out Education Explanation
In these desperate times there is likewise a place for the social critic who blames the low performance of the voting majority against the elite. Rarely one with a PhD in Education, he/she is often a socialist; you know, the free-education-for-all, education-is-a-right crying type. I also find no fault with this type of writer’s lengthy, zigzagging lectures as he writes:
     “Beneath this failure to gather all wisdom and support for change is the reality bite of ignorance among a large chunk of our population. Over this, we must congratulate the country’s governments from the time of our supposed independence that perpetuated the education policy that we embraced and embrace to this day. For, within this education policy or absence of any policy, it is ignorance that is leading the widespread apathy, making of us all obedient, contented dogs on a leash.
     “The winner sons and daughters of the feudal and capitalist and mercantilist systems have realized a long time ago that the best way to colonize one’s own people is to keep it stupid. Thus, the majority still cannot see a connection between what happens to it everyday and a government official’s forgotten duties. Thus, elections here are not all about the details of the issues concerning projects and programs, it’s always about abstract promises like ‘poverty alleviation’ or the ‘environment’ which are fodder for propaganda and slogan spinners. Bombarded by abstractions devoid of details, therefore, the people can only lean back on faith, a faith on their candidate who knows he’s lying, as well as a faith in the other candidates’ hyped-up evil, even as this latter may in reality be the ones owning the Truth. In this arrangement, often it’s the best actor who wins.
     “And by education I do not just mean the schools. I also understand education to encompass the information that comes out of the media. And here, the information war is often won by the liars. Do the media play a role in it? Definitely.
     “For instance, you might notice that the only 17-hour news channel on free TV in the Philippines is the government channel, the others are most of the time devoted to the soap opera and so-called entertainment.
     “However, the hours of self-oppression by the commercial channels (which self-oppression may be deemed necessary to keep the apathetic ignorant from leaving the channels) also produce, in a sort of ironic twist, their own political charm via that kind of crappy programming. In effect, the meager hours of news and opinion sometimes become more believable to the people, who are receptive to the quite-different (from the soap operatic) angle or to the freshly shocking (shouted news). Still, government PR and arm-twisting behind and beyond the television camera can still get their way, through a subtle PR manager, for one; unless one leader chooses not to listen to his smart communications advisers and relies instead on his own gut feel (like Erap Estrada who, according to popular opinion, believed he had the PR ability to create a spin and either tried to do his advisers one better or totally ruined everything after the fact).
     “Over this behavior of the commercial channels towards an ill-motivated contribution to the masses’ education, we must congratulate the country’s television media themselves from the time of the first TV broadcast in this country that, either by the dictate of profit or license-keeping considerations, could not offer ample competition to the state channel on the massesfree TV band. The vicious cycle or interplay between the ignorant masses and market-reliant independent broadcasting continues to this day.
     “Television is not just entertainment outside of university. If universities teach us about life, scholars must allow that perhaps life itself can and does teach us about life more forcefully. Television is a large part of our daily lives, and thus plays a large, forceful role in our population’s educational uploads.
     “A scholar may consider, then, the amount of education a citizen culls from television in contrast to what he gets from university or college. It is never a surprise to witness neighbors who, in lieu of a quality understanding of government, have quality knowledgeakin to a review of a novelof the functions of the characters in a daytime soap opera and the symbolic function of a hyped-up movie or TV star in an ad endorsement. Meanwhile, the governance-interested populace have nowhere to go, as they surf the channels, but the propaganda press conferences of an Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita going live on a network of state-sponsored TV journalism (on Channels 4, and the sequestered-since-the-early-post-Marcos-years channels 9 and 13).
     “To this poverty of knowledge, add this: the threats of the new feudal system. In this system, the old feudal landlord-cum-warlord with his army has—looking forward—evolved a corporate feudal-like system of appointing warrior corporate executives to be mafia bosses. Under this forceful advantage, an unarmed citizenry can only learn to shut up and discover contentment with the daily poetry of their rice and dried fish, lest a former general sitting on a corporation’s board try to salvage a corporate reputation by savaging cases lost in the court of public opinion. Besides, as former coup d’etat leader Gringo Honasan and novelist F. Sionil Jose (in the latter’s vocal support of Honasan in Corazon Aquino’s time) rightly put it: only 10 percent or less of the country’s 70 million population would care to make a move (protest-rally, blog, whatever) against abuse.
     “Therefore, given this reality, an elite opposition would be the only possible instigator of efforts for change. And so, often the Left laments our past revolutions’ efforts, the turn-of-the-century Katipunan one and the Epifanio de los Santos Avenue people-power revolutions of 1986 and 2001, these having become elite-sponsored revolutions grabbed from the pioneering efforts of the leftist and left-leaning activist movements. The reality is, however, that these proto-revolutions by the Left would have gone nowhere without the interference of the middle class centers elite who knew (consciously or subconsciously) how to manipulate the media.
     “But speaking of the elite, there are in fact various ‘elites’: there is the book-carrying Communist Party elite, for one, and there’s the self-righteous military elite, and the criminal corporate syndicates, and the minority academic and journalistic intelligentsia. And so on. Whichever elite group one belongs to, the fact remains that if one is to win a battle, one has to first win it at the propaganda (otherwise known as the education and information) level. The Communist Party’s New People’s Army, for instance, has been losing this battle since Marcos’ fall. The middle class, often communicating their visions to the ignorant via English-speaking formats via the cable channel ABS-CBN News Channel and expensive broadsheet newspapers like the Philippine Daily Inquirerby their almost-monopolistic media presence gain successes, but are understandably are still having a hard time.
     “Given the present state of education in our country, therefore, it is no surprise to see officials get reelected despite recurrent faux pas or grave national sins committed by them, with everything going back to the root cause of it all: under-education and under-information that could easily be twisted by the PR genius of counter-education and mal-information within this divergence of languages. And remember, under-information is always fresh meat to the claws of ill-information, within which the under-educateds inability to tell the liar from the not can be glaring to the measurement of social science. Again, given all this, it behooves the land to deem itself immoral.”
     Although admirable and well-meaning, I see something missing in this journalistic approach. It gives us the big assumption that a big education, no matter how ideology-less or wisdom-poor, leads to a big awareness. This denies the fact that people with big awarenesses have chosen to dismiss their political and moral education. Also, it deems the blaming as an end in itself and fails to turn it into a further cause and materiel for a solution.

3. The Moral Position’s Lament
There is another writer who has been roaming this archipelago of desperation. He is the elegist. His pet peeve is religion. Believing there are places in the world devoid of religion that have displayed the best moral behavior, he declares that morality has been negated in our country by default. In other words, he blames the failures of religion. And although I would state here that his focus may be extreme, I nonetheless find his arguments to have some modicum of truth. He writes:
     “The Church, for instance, might share the blame on a resultant where it either plays a role or fails to play its role. Sure, some religious leaders actively voice out their political qua moral opinions, but the majority in the non-secular service—hypocrisies aside—still preach the virtue of ‘accepting God’s tests’. This majority believes that what happened to us with, say, typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana) and Pepeng (Parma) was by God’s dictate and not by government’s shortcomings of lack of foresight.”
     I consider this approach extreme, as I said, because not everyone really has a religion, even those many who thought they had one. Not everyone who believes in God takes religion seriously, as even the most ideological in a secular ideology do not necessarily turn out to be the most loyal to their ideology. For one, the temptations of immorality visits even the most moral among us. Therefore, access to the codex of morality cannot be the end-all and be-all of issues. Oftentimes, reality (or pragmatism) would redefine moralities.

4. The Professorial Nationalist
Now, what about the academic intellectual?
     The Professorial Nationalist is often an academic nationalist who uses the most obscure words in the lexicon of thesis writing to contribute his thoughts to the desperation question. Although his heart may lean towards the people, his words prefer the audience of fellow professors and graduate students who conspicuously and inconspicuously read academic journals. Therefore he is not to be confused with the writer who writes for the political awareness of a wider audience. He is, rather, the writer who writes for the political awareness of the text itself, as though it—his writing—were a special art, to be appreciated by fellow artists in this genre who also write about their own political awareness as a form of esoteric art. He may be pro-people, but he’s also pro-professor. In his writing and literary preaching, he is primarily—nay, solely—pro-professor. Now, it would make no sense to mimic writing of this sort in our tensive times, since many of you might find reading one sample irksome, but I trust that you have already seen such writing somewhere. Let me therefore just provide here a quick anatomy of this writer.
     Only recently, I and my friend the political blogger Lila Shahani—who is quite adept at writing in either academic English or accessible blog-audience English—were discussing Herta Müller, this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature awardee. No, we were discussing the Nobel Prize itself, in contrast to the character and characteristics of the other literary awards, including nationalist awards like the US’ Pulitzer and partisan ones like the Philippine National Artist Awards and the the ones with vague objectives like the Palanca awards/contest. And I expressed my amusement with the Nobel Prize for Literature as really being the Nobel Peace Prize In or For Literature. I did not say this to laugh at it, but to underline what I love about it and its roster of winners. For I have always been enamored with the enjoyable tug of war between writing about humanity/God/all things political and then writing for art. The Nobel Litt Prize seems to have kept that balance, so that it actually appears like an artist itself, trying to be both a propaganda-writer-cum-political-activist and a pioneering artist. So we scan the roster, and we find worth emulating not just the overt political contexts of an Herta Müller or Imre Kertész or Gao Xingjian but also the subtle politics or socio-psychology of such innovative writing as those by a Samuel Beckett or the global philosophizing about modern man by a J.M.G. Le Clezio or J.M. Coetzee.
     Also, Shahani and I agreed that all the Nobel winners had had an ample readership or patronage. Not exactly inclusive of the Stephen King crowd, you might say, but even parochial Seamus Heaney had an international audience. You get my drift. Their political or quasi-political or ethnic or nationalist or humanist writings were not meant for professors alone to esoterically enjoy.
     Still and all, the Professorial Nationalist is flaunted by their respective universities as symbols of superb intellection. And how is this?
     Well, certainly writers and their political contexts may be deemed used for an institution’s commercial or reputational image. The Swedish Academy itself would probably choose an author over another to service better geographic distribution, thus projecting an image of fairness or internationality, or to maintain a possibly correct perception in many quarters that it is an honor for authors’ political views or ethnic identity primarily and their literary achievement only secondarily (a point of departure dangled as negative by Americo-centric critics of the Prize who nevertheless prefer the Prize goes to an American author each year). Whatever the case, countries themselves wave their winning authors’ names like a party flag. Universities wave their intellectuals in the same fashion, inclusive too perhaps of these intellectuals’ political position, never mind if their political position is unbeknownst to the people they claim to represent.
     But, back to the Nobel, Müller belongs to a German minority in Romania, from a town in Romania where hardly anyone spoke Romanian. She was like a Chinese-Filipino in Metro Manila’s Chinatown who later thought of emigrating to, say, Canton and instantly blended in better, culturally and politically. Germany’s waving her like a flag this year is not much of a puzzle. For one, she is undeniably a symbol to Germans of Germany’s triumph over East European communism, particularly in relation to East Germany and East Berlin. This is so because people are nationalists by nature, as Manila yuppies are alma mater-ists when it comes to recruiting staff or fellow employees for company positions. But while Germany may have loved Müller’s writings for their content as well as their aesthetic worth, Manila schoolmates for officemates might later prove to be unfit for the job handed them. The Manila schoolmates were merely popular, or otherwise merely academic.
     We sometimes miss the difference between our known esotericism and our popularity. Consider the Filipino’s embrace of Lea Salonga. Salonga made it big in London and NYC through the hit musical play Miss Saigon, and thereafter went on to stay in the American theater and entertainment business. Now, Filipinos don’t give much of a fart about musicals, whether American, British or Filipino, even as musicals are what Salonga is all about. But still, Salonga was flown like a flag because she was a racial symbol of the Filipino’s potential in international waters. In the world of reading, too, Filipinos don’t exactly place Filipino writers above Michael Crichton and other popular novel writers from the West, but when Ninotchka Rosca and Bino Realuyo and other Filipino writers got rave reviews in The New York Times or The Village Voice and other US papers, every book lover in this country was suddenly aiming to say, “that’s my kababayan (countryman) up there.”
     Because of our obsession with popularity regardless of content, we use writers, athletes, singers, etc. who make it abroad as symbols. We might not give a damn about the things they do (their art or their sport), but they become inspirations of possible success in the international scene, and that is already quite a big emblem for us. The appropriation of the person-symbol becomes a vehicle for coping with the long history of imperialisms that taught us forever that we can’t be any better than our peasant fathers. So we celebrate a Filipino chef’s “triumph” in Washington DC—yes, all of us, including those among us who prefer to stay with the usual boiled chicken and scoff at HGTV cooking. After all, everyone wants to get out of this country. . . . But we digress.
     So, I was saying, it makes for a paradoxical picture, this social underdog of a professor being flaunted by his university as a king or queen of thinking. Like the expression of simple confidence or latent insecurity with one’s self-appointed superiority, as well as Fil-American nationalism or the Ateneo de Manila University or University of the Philippines (UP) intellectualism writing in journal English, the patronage towards the Professorial Nationalist continues to dangle the thought that only their universities can give a student the knowledge and training worthy of man. The Professorial Nationalist thus carries around with him this academic elitism that conflicts with his desire to be one with the people.
     The political folk singer-songwriter Gary Granada punched UP’s pride once during a concert at UP itself in saying: “ang hirap dito sa UP, mas hindi ka naiintindihan (ng tao), mas okey ka.”
     Still and all, the top universities advertising of such social-underdog writers-in-residence whose own students can hardly understand cannot be deemed offensive at all. In fact, ever since I was a student at UP, I rather regarded those writers as quite an interesting study. I may even accept that the Professorial Nationalist could very well be a literary giant. I just cannot accept, though, that he’d make for a significant element among the direct inspirers of a nation. . . .
     So, there you go. Now to the wannabe-giants.

5. Writers of Passion
This being a country of political parties with vague ideologies, I’d say that though I already have a candidate I’m voting for, I still could change my mind anytime, depending on what I see in the coming days and months. But I am not necessarily what people would term a “supporter” of “my candidate.” By a supporter I mean one who has committed himself to becoming a partisan player in the service of the triumph of one’s candidate. I see myself as a mere voter, and though I may campaign for my candidate to my friends, I could also just as easily campaign against my candidate later should I see something I’d deem worse than another bad choice’s thing. Or I may opt not to vote.
     But this is not the attitude of many. Many voters who also happen to be writers become supporters.
     Many writers who’ve already made up their minds to vote for this or that candidate can also be very passionate about it, so much so that we can easily understand their cynicism towards their candidate’s opponent and towards that opposing candidate’s supporters. Supporting a political figure can have very deep personal roots, too, and in that sense can lead one to make up his mind through a sort of faith. If I were a poor German in the time of Hitler’s rise to power and had experienced a sort of oppression from a Jewish employer, regardless of whether that oppression was imagined or real, I would probably be emotionally sympathetic to the clamor for the popular racist economics quite trendy at the time, and thus by that sympathy put my literary faith in Hitler’s burgeoning liberation theology. In short, what I’m saying is, I would not take my writer-supporter’s sneering passions lightly, if I were you, dismissing it as a product of his simple choice to be offensive, as though it were merely akin to another young man’s choosing a tomahawk haircut over a neat one, just to be offensive. For even this last behavior may have pretty serious psychological-cum-political roots to it beyond a shallow fashion choice; and even “shallow fashion choices” are sociological positions, but we digress too far.
    But I am not saying that a writer’s political passion for a certain political position must be kicked out of any discussion about politics in this country. In fact, such passion must be understood. After all, who among us hasn’t experienced pain, or, for that matter, has not been at one point in his life felt a bit of pleasure at the thought of killing an object of one’s hatred or anger of the moment, even for just a second while daydreaming? Passion can get to that level.

6. Those Absent Emotion
Now, that being said, not all political-writing positions displaying passion are products of passion. Some display this passion because it is their job to display it. They get paid to do it.
     Most recently, the United States health insurance industry and the Republican machinery spent millions of dollars to hire all sorts of intelligent people to peddle lies about the health care reform program of US President Barack Obama’s administration—disperse news, that is, about “pulling the plug on grandma” while injecting viral advertising about how Obama is a racist/socialist/Nazi/and so on. Anybody reading this blog who has had the experience of working in the PR or ad industry or under a Malacañang executive secretary would know what I’m talking about. PR work can be very dirty work, dirtier than a plumber’s work for Malabanan septic-tank emptying services. Political propaganda warfare is a significant part of any kind of warfare and we should get used to it already. Some of us become “sensitive” to it when it’s coming from the other side, even as we practice it ourselves towards the other side.
     Daily, we blindly experience this passion absent emotion on free TV, though not all of us might see or suspect the PR or campaign staff’s hands behind one bit of news or one bit of a show. In which case, we might be seeing the passion, not knowing the absent emotion. It must be told that the passions of Fox News in the United States, for example, are not that of a news channel—well, many of us know that—, they are rather those of a Republican PR channel (mostly of the ultra-conservative wing) that draws those passions on charts and boardroom tables. The same with Rush Limbaugh, who is not so much a commentator as a wrecking machine. But that’s his job. A Malacañang press secretary’s work is not to essay on what’s wrong or right, his job is to tell the President’s truths and lies. Propaganda (clean or dirty) is part of political campaigning. And this being the election campaigning season, a bigger circus of propaganda writers and literary wrecking machines is about to begin their work, if it has not already begun.
     Now, certainly those among us eager for—because used to—discussion may want to solicit context from the passionate-absent-emotion opinion writers and bloggers for or against a candidate. But oftentimes context cannot be squeezed out of the politically passionate, especially those passionate without emotion, the professional cryer. It’s impossible. The passion is the message, period.
     But somebody one knows may neither be the passionate kind nor the passionate-absent-emotion kind. But if the first, then the person’s context may elude us and himself, by virtue of a trembling passion that may assume everything to be supposedly obvious to everyone, according to his faith in these “obvious things” and in the people witnessing these obviousnesses. If the second, however, context is definitely what he would avoid, his job being to obfuscate context, lose context, destroy context, and replace it with the utopia of a new design of truth, a “pulling the plug on grandma” kind of truth-cum-context.
     Context must therefore derive from the person looking, not the person being observed. For instance, asking a passionate supporter-writer unwilling to divulge his candidate might get us nowhere, as it may not be in his job description to bring it out. So we’d have to look for context ourselves. Why does the supporter-writer refuse to talk about his secret candidate and wish only to talk about the “ills” of the candidate at the end of his gun? You know the answer. Therefore, context must become the responsibility of those who want to seek it, not by those who want to hide it.

7. Obfuscation by Conscious Selection
There is, however, a third kind of wannabe-a-giant that is neither a writer of passion nor a wrecking machine absent emotion. He/she believes in his/her candidate and tasks him/herself the closer examination of his/her candidate’s opponents. Otherwise he/she has no candidate at all, yet would still task him/herself the destruction of those leading the polls. He/she approaches a subject not with the theorizing eye of a scientist but with the lens of a biology student excited with a first microscope while looking at her supposedly gluttonous-bullfrog-of-a-politician first catch.

     Well, I find that there is method to this madness of practicing journalistic opinion-making that zeroes in on an object and dissects that object to make sure it is a bullfrog (or some other elusive frog able to jump from one ideology to the next). The conclusion that the writer and the readers get is that we are fortunate to have that object exposed as that kind of frog born into a family of gluttons. Yellow, maybe, whatever that means, but still a bullfrog. This approach-cum-journalistic-attitude somehow evades the possibility that if only one started with a para-journalistic approach of considering a hypothesis first, then perhaps the writer might have avoided focusing on an object but rather on the whole garden of potential objects who might all be of interest to the hypothesis. We must not hurry and crash into an object on the road that we suddenly discovered, by some epiphany, to have the appearance of a frog. We must be certain first that we, along with our alternative favored candidates, are not frogs ourselves equally to blame for the frogfulness in our fields. Then, we might discover our favored candidate to be a bigger, greedier bullfrog, in the final analysis.

     Corollary to one
s use of a hypothesis might be a more admirable modesty of self-examination that asks oneself whether the theory that one holds, that all bullfrogs are evil, for instance, is such a sound theory. For we cannot all be croaking like journalists and bloggers unconsciously hired, virtually useful as wrecking machines, in being able to select our prey with the poison of articulateness. We might as well put down our silly pens and fingers and tongues and allow ourselves to be used as snakes.

Journalism and political science are far too precious and useful to be any of those above. They must neither look at things from afar nor from inside ones head or heart, nor from a singular telescope or binocular or microscope or magnifying lens focusing on a theme or a target, nor from a certain aesthetic utopia of writing, . . . they must seek out the truth from all these possible angles and more. Failing that dynamism, the heartless intellectual and soulless truth-teller shall be giving us all the angles that by their quantity and rich vocabulary alone would seem to deliver to us the convincing truth. [END]

Illustrations courtesy of Marcel Antonio (© 2009 the artist. All rights reserved)