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-cafĂ© 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.

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