Category Archives: Politics

A Season of Comebacks

The glaring lack in the last two batches announcing recipients of the Order of the National Artists of the Philippines was that the most deserving candidate in her field was missing (essential disclosure: halfway around the globe, The FilAm made sure I could come up with the first article denouncing the snub by then-President PNoy Aquino, who has since died). This time around, Nora Aunor leads the pack, and seemingly never forgot to string along some controversies in her recent actuations.

11011Primarily, this had to do with the candidate she endorsed for President – none other than the scion of the family that ran roughshod over the country’s tentative attempts to attain developed status and left it in tatters. Paradoxically, no other regime has paid culture as much importance as the Marcoses did (the National Artist award was in fact one of their many innovations), and they were sharp enough to realize that the then-young aspirant from the rural South had the potential to become one of the biggest stars the Philippines would ever witness even before film producers took action.

11011So it was not just Aunor, but Bongbong Marcos (BBM) as well, who effected a comeback. The implications are as profound as they are complex, so those of us who maintain a social-media foothold, openly or otherwise, are privileged with firsthand access to responses from people whose opinions will be shaping discursive responses in the long run. The other, more painful implication, cannot be denied either: traditional media, including once-venerable newspaper and magazine publications, can no longer sustain this function, especially regarding culture issues. You can pick the ones that claim to have the most credibility, submit a nonsensical review article bolstered by buzzwords and a string of impressive-sounding qualifications, and see it come out sooner or later, without a sweat.

11011From innumerable Facebook posts, I’d venture to mention two of the more crucial ones: professor and book publisher Katrina Stuart Santiago decried the absence of any honoree in the visual arts – film and TV not necessarily fulfilling this requisite, since the nature of and access to fine artworks function according to entirely different premises; critic and festival director Mauro Feria Tumbocon Jr., meanwhile, asked the updated equivalent of “where’s the beef?” when a rival artist’s followers demanded that their idol be given the same recognition simultaneously or (if they had their way) beforehand. Writings on Aunor in fact can be traced to the very start of regular film-book publications in 1971, as I discovered entirely by accident when I made a comprehensive list of Pinas film books. Of the other Philippine movie stars, Fernando Poe Jr. and Dolphy share a significant-enough fraction of what Aunor has commanded; of the female ones, only Sharon Cuneta has been consistently written about in books and journal articles – in a still-continuing cycle of scholarly attention that she somehow manages to cultivate.

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11011The other charge, raised by an author who had his own skeletons to hide, turned on Aunor’s endorsement of BBM. In fact, all three film winners, by virtue of thriving during the Marcos regime, could be faulted for working on projects that were either fully funded or subsidized by the Imee Marcos-run Experimental Cinema of the Philippines. Even if we set aside the typical counter-argument that they turned in exceptional work, we also see that they encountered censorship and repression (even political detention, in Ricky Lee’s case). Historians of the period should also be obliged to point out how they labored under an entirely unnecessary critical downgrading from then-contemporaneous and self-declared progressive experts, who had covert (though now easily confirmable) reasons to disfavor these three at some point or other. Needless to add, it is these experts who should be pressed to articulate their reasons for upholding the alternative choices they made when the current National Artist winners were coming up with their most significant output and were cold-shouldered for it.

11011Otherwise, we can see how Aunor’s sympathies become understandable, even though most of us would rather be caught dead than articulating anything along the same line. In the meanwhile, we can and should move on from recognizing past artistic achievements to anticipating future ones. The only entity for whom this holds no irony is the Marcos family: their revision of history can now claim partial validation via the triumph of several members of this batch of National Artists, including even the winners for theater and fashion. But what about the film personalities who handled the BBM campaign and maintained their belligerence in the face of incontrovertible evidence of the harm that the late patriarch had perpetrated during his reign?

11011For argument’s sake, we can take at face value one mainstream couple’s explanation that they happened to belong to the clan of Marcos in-laws, although Mary L. Trump and, yes, Sharon Cuneta, prove that loyalty to one’s country should take precedence over familial duty, and deserve future honors for the difficult stance they made when it counted. The more popular frontliner also happens to be younger as well as a viral Facebook presence: Darryl Yap, who directed Cuneta’s last film, was previously known for his initially edgy though eventually reactionary video uploads on his Vincentiments blog, along with his occasional fits of pique when more sophisticated netizens trolled him. He parlayed the box-office success of his first full-length film, #Jowable (2019), into a series of potboilers mostly for the Vivamax streaming service, at an average rate of a new film every other month. Many of these, including the Cuneta-starrer Revirginized (2021), are punishingly dreadful to watch.

11011From the last Filipino film monograph worth reading, Epoy Deyto’s Post-Dilawan Cinema and the Pandemic (downloadable for free at his Missing Codec blog), I stumbled across an endorsement of Sarap Mong Patayin [Love to Kill You], one of Yap’s ten 2021 releases, not counting a TV series. It’s a frankly jaw-dropping discovery; I don’t think it would be precipitate to say that it’s one of the local films maudits whose numbers dwindled to nearly nothing since the death of Celso Ad. Castillo. As to whether it will attain the stature of Elwood Perez’s Silip [Daughters of Eve] (1985) or Mario O’Hara’s Pangarap ng Puso [Demons] (2000), we’ll have to check in every half-decade or so to find out. What concerns me at the moment is how such a seemingly accomplished expression of sexual anarchy proceeded from someone who could never be mistaken for, say, one of the gifted artists and philosophers implicated in the Nazi dictatorship of Adolf Hitler or in the Soviet-era socialist bloc or even in the dominant phase of American imperialism.

11011What’s instructive at this point is that I didn’t see netizens attempting to engage Yap, by way of encouraging him further in this direction. The prevailing consensus is that he’s pathetically incapable of rising above the small-though-profitable platform he raised for himself, so Sarap Mong Patayin might only be the equivalent of an autistic savant’s scribbles, brilliant by accident, a broken clock getting the time right for once. But what if we’re reading Yap wrong? What if just maybe he intends on having the last laugh when his Maid in Malacañang gets released a few weeks from now? One only hopes for his sake that he’d assimilated the lessons of our National Artists for film, who learned how to survive tyranny with dignity by taking what one hand could while flinging useful mud with the other.

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The Political Is Personal

“Marcos and Memory: The Past in Our Future”
Sheila Coronel
2022 Adrian E. Cristobal Lecture

One curious development, still within the first quarter of the third year of a history-changing global pandemic, is that the audiovisual material which most Filipino netizens are burring over at the moment is expectedly streaming, but it’s neither a film nor a TV series. It’s the latest installment of the decade-plus Adrian E. Cristobal Lecture Series, sponsored by the Writers Union of the Philippines. Titled “Marcos and Memory: The Past in Our Future,” the material promised topical urgency in the wake of the so-far certain possibility of the Marcos family recapturing the seat of power that their patriarch, Ferdinand Sr., occupied for over two decades and refused to let go until he was expelled by a popular uprising.

11011The Marcos strategy – proffering the only son instead of his smarter sisters – resonates with the Catholicized culture’s belief in a messiah sent by a stern father to point the way to salvation; it also dodges the gender association with the still-alive and possibly already-daft Imelda, notorious during her heyday for her tackily excessive shopping sprees and hatred of anything that reminded her of how dirt-poor she used to be. This is enhanced by the likelihood that the sisters may be in charge of their father’s plundered billions, with Imee exposed when her grandchildren’s names were listed as beneficiaries in the Pandora Papers leakage in 2021, and side reports of the ongoing Credit Suisse scandal reminding readers that the Marcos couple were some of the bank’s most infamous confidential depositors.

Portions of the pseudonymous contracts drawn up with Credit Suisse by the Marcos couple. From Raissa Robles, “How the Law Caught Up with the Philippines’ Imelda Marcos and Her Stolen Millions,” South China Morning Post (November 17, 2018).

11011The Marcos campaign has proved particularly divisive for the generation that was able to participate in the anti-dictatorship movement that became an inexorable force when oppositionist-in-exile Benigno S. Aquino Jr. was assassinated upon his return to the country in August 1983. Those who count themselves as keepers of the democratic flame lament that later generations have been miseducated and incapable of the intelligence and strength of character to resist the Marcoses’ brazen attempt to launder their ill-gotten wealth, if not add a few billions more. A number of people who reversed course point to the post-Marcos administrations’ failure in preventing the reassumption of political influence of sectors that Marcos had started to marginalize, specifically the old oligarchy and the church (exempting pro-US neocolonial compradors, of which even Marcos strove to depict himself as one).

The Marcos regime: at the start (1965 presidential campaign) and at the end (1986 people-power uprising). From “Marcos and Memory,” courtesy of Sheila Coronel.

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11011Most people invested in the issue would have picked one or the other position to uphold; a select few would have rejected both. Sheila Coronel, Toni Stabile Professor of Professional Practice in Investigative Journalism at Columbia University, performed the most unexpected act of deconstruction imaginable, by placing herself in both camps in order to explain why the Marcosist phenomenon is more deeply entrenched than we think, and why in order to confront it, we must begin by confronting ourselves. The premise of her lecture turns inside-out the self-righteous tendency to regard the support for the Marcoses as our Other, a monstrosity that only needs to be identified so it can be successfully resisted.

Sheila Coronel with her father, lawyer Antonio Coronel. From “Marcos and Memory,” courtesy of Sheila Coronel.

11011“If Marcos has such a hold on our collective imagination, it is in part because of the lies and half-truths he and his courtiers have told over and over again until they were accepted as fact,” Coronel leads off. “The Marcoses have been at this since 1935…. The rewriting of history didn’t begin after the fall [of the regime in 1986].”[1] Coronel then proceeds to recall how her own father, a well-known lawyer, defended individuals accused of acting on behalf of the martial-law administration. “He teased me about my objections to his clients but not to the shoes and dresses his lawyer’s fees bought me.”

11011The level of familiarity with which Coronel spells out her argument paradoxically provides her with an authority missing in those of us who profess to stand apart from the loyalty and devotion that the Marcoses inspire. (Essential disclosure: Coronel was a classmate and campus-journalism colleague during my first undergraduate program at the national university – and those of us who closely observed her could already see her capacity for ambitious, reflexive, research-based writing; her many global distinctions since then confirmed her determination to use her gifts in the service of the least-privileged among us.)

11011Toward the end of her narrative-driven account, she shared her recurrent nightmare of repeatedly attempting to write but with her pen failing to generate any ink. This is the point where she prescribes a call to action. Accepting the worst qualities that the Marcoses represent as an essential component of the Philippine character could easily result in our quiescence, if not despair. On the contrary, Coronel maintains, “resisting normalization means resisting disempowering narratives.”

11011It would be pointless to continue finding fault with whoever we believe should have been responsible for ensuring that the Marcoses’ record of atrocities and abominations be inscribed in the country’s educational curriculum, but just to make our terms clear (and affirm Coronel’s point): our historians and popular-culture artists have done everything they could to set the record down, even when the Marcos patriarch was still around. Coronel’s text (available both as a live recording and as a published transcription[2]) suggests ways in refining, if not redefining, the Marcos narrative, and if the present trend persists, it will soon be time to designate our younger subjects to take charge of fixing the mess that their elders left them in.

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First published March 6, 2022, in The FilAm; reprinted in May 2022 issue ofThe FilAm: Newsmagazine Serving Filipino Americans in New York.

[1] I thought of going over Roland Barthes’s 1957 text Mythologies (trans. Annette Lavers, New York: Noonday, 1972) to check if he had any suggestions on how to “read” the delivery of a lecture. He didn’t cover the topic, but I came up with something more useful: “Myth on the Right” (150-56), which for some reason I completely forgot after thinking it would be applicable in discussing the then-recently deposed Marcos dictatorship. As part of a section titled Myth Today (as opposed to the book’s eponymous primary section), Barthes describes myth as being “statistically” on the right, and enumerates seven rhetorical forms that typify bourgeois myth, all fascinating but too complicated to bring up here. The first property he mentions, for example, is inoculation, “which consists in admitting the accidental evil of a class-bound institution the better to conceal its principal evil” (151). The succeeding figures are: the privation of History; identification; tautology; neither-norism; the quantification of quality; and the statement of fact.

[2] Still on the matter of approaches to evaluating a lecture, all the academic discussions I could find dealt with transcriptions rather than with audiovisual material; I look forward to more balanced coverage now that streaming websites have made available some of the more famous recordings by prominent thinkers of the recent past. Regarding “Marcos and Memory,” which was delivered live at the Facebook page of the Unyon ng mga Manunulat ng Pilipinas, the recording has been uploaded on the organization’s YouTube page, along with preliminary material and subsequent Q&A exchanges. Coronel’s draft, on the other hand, was reprinted in Rappler as well as in Positively Filipino, MindaNews (with a Cebuano translation), and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (which Coronel founded). The audio recording of the lecture has also been posted on the PCIJ’s Spotify channel.

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An Intro to Chapter 16 of Marcos’ Lovey Dovie

I originally uploaded a PDF copy of the chapter comprising the transcription of the audiotape surreptitiously recorded by Dovie Beams during her intimate sessions with Ferdinand E. Marcos. Both parties are gone but I found out only recently that Beams had passed away over three years ago. I consider her a definite and indispensable historical figure in Philippine cinema, not only for having starred in the fake Marcos biopic, Jerry Hopper’s Maharlika a.k.a. Guerrilla Strike Force (Roadshow Films International, 1970), but also because of the intrepid and purplish way she stood up to the harassment of Imelda Marcos, who arguably claimed her own share from her husband afterward by staging the ludicrously extravagant editions of the Manila International Film Festival.

11011We have to note at the outset that Beams sued Hermie Rotea, author of Marcos’ Lovey Dovie (Los Angeles: Liberty Publishing, 1983) – a 180-degree turnaround apparently, considering the “very special wishes to a very special guy” message that she scribbled on the photo reprinted on the back cover of the book; her lawsuit alleged that Rotea pilfered some items that were relevant to her account of her high-profile romance. Hence the textual version of incontrovertible material that she went on record as authentically sourced (from and by her) would be the safest portion in a book that made no bones about waging its own political agendum, as manifested in its preliminary sections.

11011Beams lived to a ripe old age, dying at 85 in her birth city, Nashville. By the time that the Marcoses fell from power, she had apparently given up on her Hollywood acting prospects but was able to acquire some valuable property; in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, she clarified two important matters: first, that the money came from the man she just married and not from the recently deposed President; and second, more surprisingly, that she still loved Marcos even though she felt compelled to leave him when he admitted to her that he was declaring martial law, upon which she realized that he was having people killed.[1]

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11011What happened to her to occasion her return to her place of birth? That part of her narrative still has to be told, along with the cause of her death in 2017. Nevertheless a conflict in her fiscal claim seems to override most observers’ appreciation of the consistency of her affection: if she really did love Ferdie in spite of the many reprehensible acts that he and his spouse did to her, then Rotea’s book would have come across as a betrayal – as it did. A far more potentially upsetting scandal is how, with one exception,[2] real (sex-positive) feminists from either side of the Pacific still have to recuperate her narrative, as if being a then-emerging Third World dictator’s paramour positioned her beyond redemption.

From the Law and Behold! blogspot c/o Jun Brioso.

11011Speculation that any funds she had during the mid-1980s might have come from a mortally ill Ferdinand, could have proceeded from the guilt-ridden drive in liberal Western media (formerly protective, if not supportive, of pro-US despots) to track down and help recover the Marcoses’ record-breaking ill-gotten wealth, a project that still has to be completed at present. Beams though would have been an example of a contemporary Mata Hari[3] who barely got away from the wrath of Imelda. The latter, in turn (and thanks to Beams), abandoned all her cultivated pretensions to altruism and timidity and made sure that her rival’s reputation was thrashed beyond repair.

11011What I remember from media coverage was how both pro-Marcos and opposition publications prospered from exploiting a debased image of Beams, and how she could barely land roles in Hollywood thereafter despite the wide publicity her affair generated.[4] The “X-Rated Sex Tapes” chapter, comprising pages 143-81 of Marcos’ Lovey Dovie, is posted here along with the rest of the book, for its intrinsic though admittedly titillating research value, in place of the understandably now-rare recording that she once made available to Philippine media. (It was eventually broadcast over the national university radio station during the singularly liberative ten days of the Diliman Commune, which is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this month.) My way of commemorating a genuine survivor of one of the most excessive and dangerous conflations of film, carnality, and politics our time has ever had the privilege to observe.

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[1] See Deborah Hastings, “Ex-Actress Owns $7.7 Million in LA County Property: Controversy Follows Former Lover of Marcos” in the March 10, 1986, issue of the LA Times for the interview. An Associated Press report the next year, “Jury Convicts Alleged Former Marcos Mistress of Fraud” (datelined November 12, 1987), describes how Beams accumulated $18 million in loan applications from 13 banks in order to pursue a “lavish lifestyle,” with her personal financial bubble bursting after her husband Sergio de Villagran filed for bankruptcy, presumably after the 1986 interview.

11011Part of Beams’s defense included the now-implausible claim that she was suffering from HIV/AIDS and consequently had problems exercising proper judgment because of the medications she had to use. A curious sidelight of the report was her campaign to prevent a homeless shelter from being set up in the vicinity of her residence – a move oddly reminiscent of the sociopathic caprices of her nemesis Imelda Marcos, with whom she also shared a rags-to-riches-via-showbiz background.

[2] In “Dovie Beams and Philippine Politics: A President’s Scandalous Affair and First Lady Power on the Eve of Martial Law,” Caroline S. Hau describes how “Like Ferdinand Marcos, Dovie Beams has become a kind of ghost, haunting the narratives of our recent past and eluding all attempts at exorcism and closure” (626) – published in Philippine Studies: Historical and Ethnographic Viewpoints, vol. 67, nos. 3-4 (2019): 595-634. For a fascinating first-person account of how Imelda Marcos acquired a copy of the Beams tapes after her personal agent (a priest, no less) failed to get one during Beams’s press conference, see “How Imelda Confirmed Ferdinand Marcos’ Affair with Dovie Beams” by George Sison (Philippine Daily Inquirer, March 5, 2017); Sison also lists some of Beams’s local fair-weather friends in a separate article.

11011I plan to acquaint myself with a prolific New York City-based “dreampop instrumental music project” (whose output started in 2008) that calls itself Dovie Beams Love Child. The name apparently was intended as a milder version of the cross-referential shock effect that punk bands used to appropriate, from the Dead Kennedys to the several acts that use a mass murderer’s surname.

[3] The eponymously titled 1931 Greta Garbo film version (dir. George Fitzmaurice, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) is what I had in mind. It’s necessarily fictionalized, but then most accounts of Margaretha Zelle MacLeod’s transgressions have been unreliable, inflected by World War I’s divisive geopolitical conflicts. The Garbo character remains memorable not only because of the actor’s beauty and performative skill, but also because of how her far-from-guiltless Mata Hari decides to endanger her own life for the sake of the soldier who remains unaware (literally blinded) to the end, of how faithfully she kept her vow to him. The closest to an actual Dovie Beams cinematic treatment is the masterly film à clef directed by Lino Brocka and scripted by Ricky Lee, titled Gumapang Ka sa Lusak [Dirty Affair] (Viva Films, 1990).

[4] The fact that the regime, presumably with the covert sanction of the US, could also deploy agents capable of “disappearing” renegades like Primitivo Mijares, who wrote extensively about Beams and other Marcos dalliances in the original edition of The Conjugal Dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos (San Francisco: Union Square Publications, 1976), might have factored in Beams’s predicaments. Although again, short of any definitive disclosure in any form from her, the most we can indulge in on the matter are speculative exercises. In fact as early as 1973, she announced that she was working on a manuscript titled Dovie Beams by Me; during her 1986 interviews, she mentioned that it was already 1,500 pages long (see Patrick J. Killen, “Memo to ‘Freddie’: Dovie Has Some Interesting Tapes,” United Press International, January 31, 1986). A book with that title still has to materialize, however.

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The First Glory Awards (2017): A Mini-Album

It’s difficult to tell a complicated story, especially one that involves a lot of other individuals and a major formative institution. This will be an attempt to recount a series of occurrences, some of them subjective in nature. It began when the Alumni Association of my alma mater, the College of Mass Communication of the University of the Philippines, announced its own counterpart of the university-wide Alumni Awards. Since the event was sponsored by the family of the CMC’s founding Dean, Gloria David Feliciano (unrelated to me), it was going to be rather awkwardly named the Glory Awards. There were supposed to be ten selections for the first edition, and since I kept up with news about the college via social network, I caught the call for nominees the day it came out.

11011When a former editor and journalism-school classmate of mine contacted me about it, I was inclined to say no. I’d already been feted at the previous year’s FACINE Film Festival in San Francisco, and to me that was a signal honor. Several senior film critics from the Philippines hold loads of distinctions from all over, but none of their life-achievement prizes specified film criticism and scholarship, until FACINE’s Gawad Lingap Sining [Art Nurturer Award] spelled it out for me. I even prepared an extensive lecture, the festival’s first in nearly a quarter-century since its founding, delivered at the City College of San Francisco’s auditorium (famed for its Diego Rivera mural).

11011But my colleague, Daisy Catherine Mandap, told me to do it for the sake of old friends, since it would be an occasion to get our batch together at the UP Journalism Club. I said I’d do it mainly for her, gathered the materials, forwarded them, and forgot all about it. In late October I got word that I had won, and the number of awardees was reduced from ten to eight, making it an even rarer prize. I conveyed my willingness to participate, bought a roundtrip ticket to attend the November 11 ceremony, and tried to refocus on the several writing assignments that spilled over from the spring-semester half-sabbatical that made writing in Manila such a pain in the neck because of internet sluggishness, lack of support for authors, and overpriced cost of living. The motherboard of my three-year-old state-of-the-art laptop died from too many stops and starts and reinstallations, and I was reduced to making even older netbooks try to do the same tasks. (I could only buy a replacement machine in Korea, where my credit card could allow for installment payments.)

11011Three real-world factors blindsided me as I mentally conditioned myself for the awards ceremony. First, the faculty dormitory where I’d stayed since arriving about a decade ago for my tenure-track position announced that it was shutting down for renovation by the end of the year, and would be reopening as a university hotel. That meant I had to prepare to find my own housing for the first time in Korea, with all the concomitant complications that involved (starting with exorbitant down-payment fees). Then the results of my annual physical exam at the university hospital arrived, indicating that the gallbladder stone that I’d been, well, maintaining for a decade or so suddenly and inexplicably doubled in size, approaching what the doctor described as a “danger” threshold. My physician told me how fortunate I was that the condition remained benign through my sabbatical, since he knew the manifold troubles I would confront by requiring a surgical procedure in the Philippines.

11011The surgeon assigned to foreign-language patients responded to my request for a laparoscopy by specifying the day right before the Glory Awards event. It was supposed to be an outpatient procedure, but I couldn’t imagine myself rushing from the hospital to the airport, wounds still fresh, and going onstage and hobnobbing with folks while checking for bloodstains on my shirt. So I requested, urgently, a week’s delay at the hospital – then the third “development” occurred: the organizers of an out-of-town Korean conference on Asian culture, to which I had made a long-standing commitment to participate, contacted me to say that it would happen … during the weekend after the Glory Awards, the same period I had planned to have my postponed operation. When I revised my request for another hospital date, I knew that the staff could have taken this as another of my endless shifts in schedules, and hesitated to respond to my request, considering all the difficulties (from additional tests to scheduling assistants) that this particular arrangement entailed.

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11011But this was not entirely the reason I felt inclined to postpone my roundtrip to Manila. As the day of the event approached, the reality that the institution I used to work with, from which I felt estranged, crept up and slowly, steadily engulfed me. The fact that Daisy Mandap considered my nomination and win her personal mission as a friend was key to this sentiment. A few years earlier, the college called for nominees for its ballyhooed Gawad Plaridel [Plaridel Award] for the category of community journalism. The last time I worked with Daisy (who’d gone to law school after journalism), at the now-defunct Business Day, she assisted in the collective-bargaining efforts of the employees’ union, continuing to represent them even after they decided to go on strike. As a new hiree, I could not qualify for union membership – and needed the income to repay my undergraduate student loans. Daisy told me it wouldn’t be an issue for her and her allies, which was all the assurance I could ask for. I wound up leaving anyway, because of an exploitative arrangement that a TV host had with the publication, cornering me as a personal researcher while plagiarizing my reports wholesale – including weird structural touches I would introduce to see if the program would still follow, and of course it did (the fact that the episodes I wrote won various local and global awards for the host was instrumental in developing my contempt for pretentious, privileged, hypocritical socialites).

11011Business Day solved its union troubles by shuttering the newspaper and reopening it under a different-though-recognizable name, BusinessWorld, but Daisy found herself blacklisted by the publishers of major local dailies, including the very person who became the first winner of the Gawad Plaridel. She and her husband, Leo Deocadiz, left for Hong Kong, and set up The Sun, a publication with its own foundation aimed primarily at assisting Overseas Filipino Workers. I managed to convince her that we could argue for OFWs as a transient, foreign-based community, and she responded with plans of how to use the Gawad Plaridel prize money for the education of OFW members and their children. She of course became the frontrunner for that year’s award, but after the deadline for announcing the winner came and went, I knew (from a couple of decades of working in the college) that something unsavory was afoot.

11011A few days later the evidence rolled out. All the nominees were declared undeserving, and a new category (in fact an old one), print journalism, was announced, immediately after which a winner – a friend of mine and, more significantly, of the college officials – was declared. I would not begrudge anyone a prize that she or he deserved, but I also believe that those who’ve had their share of recognition don’t need to be grasping for more. The officials happened to belong to an award-giving organization masquerading as a film critics group, and the Plaridel roster wound up affirming the same set of winners that the supposedly separate group (whose chair that year was also dean of the college) had selected. Something like saying that my mother’s choices are excellent because my father opts for them too, although it’s best if you don’t realize that they’re married.

11011This was the reason why the acceptance speech that the Glory Awards organizers asked me to draft kept detouring into a rejection announcement. In the end, with my surgery schedule still unresolved, my exchanges with the awards team approaching conflict territory, and my admissions of dismay worrying my closest friends, I decided to cancel the trip and pay the penalty fee that the airline warned me it would charge. The ceremony went well, from all appearances, and I was deeply moved by friends’ expressions of support. I may be able to admit that I might have been glad to attend, but I’m even surer that, with my killjoy mind-set, the people at the event were much better off without me. I only note here what I told some social-media friends: that unlike Daisy and many others, I’ve been too good at bridge-burning, and a day for reckoning with all that will surely come my way in future. The college, to begin with, is and is not its alumni association, although to my mind, several people now considered senior faculty deserve as harsh a treatment as history will be able to bestow on them – with Daisy’s Gawad Plaridel case just one in a long list of depredations.

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11011Meanwhile, to fulfill the post’s title, here be the (unnecessarily extensive) nomination document, as well as a few highlights from the event (kindly click on any of the pics for an enlargement):

Philippine Star announcement (above, left; photo by Jun R. Cortez); Pelikulove greeting (above, right; courtesy of Ellen Ongkeko-Marfil).

Personalized notebooks from Ruby Villavicencio Paurom.

Present Glory Awardees (above, left; photo by Joy Buensalido); absent Glory Awardee’s friends (above, right), comprising, left to right, Leo Deocadiz, Daisy Mandap, Ruby Villavicencio Paurom (photo owner), and Bayani Santos Jr.

Lower set of pics above, left to right: Martin Posadas Marfil, Ellen Ongkeko-Marfil, Bayani Santos Jr., Marianne Dayrit Sison, Ruby Villavicencio Paurom, Daisy Catherine Mandap, & Reggie Madriaga Capuno (all photos by Tita C. Valderama).

University of the Philippines Journalism Club circa late 1970s (from the collection of Martin Posadas Marfil).

Video prepared by Alex Arellano;
soundtrack by Noisy Neighbors Inc.;
narrated by JB Tapia


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President Duterte’s War on Drugs

pspd-announcement PSPD announcement

I’d like to thank all of you who made time to be here to listen to this short lecture on a major development, possibly the first turning point, in the Philippines’s history in the twenty-first century. Thanks as well to the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy for having the patience to stand by when I said earlier this year that I didn’t feel prepared to talk about my country’s newly elected President, Rodrigo Duterte. That was because I remained in Korea for most of the previous winter break to be able to work on a book project, and returned to the Philippines during summer to get a feel of ground-level sentiment. I still don’t feel fully confident about what I can say about the current presidential regime, but I might be able to have a better sense now, about a few matters that might remain intangible even to native intellectuals.

11011The so-called War on Drugs by Mr. Duterte has been attributed to a number of causes, only one of which can be confirmed with finality. That single cause would be the psychological reason, and like all psychological case studies, it is framed by a narrative: Sebastian, or Bastê, the younger son of Digong (the nickname of Mr. Duterte) was supposedly seriously addicted to illegal drugs and almost permanently ruined by his habit. Upon witnessing Bastê’s suffering, his father decided to wage a merciless battle against drug personalities – providers, suppliers, even addicts – until the problem would be exterminated from the face of the earth, or at least the city of Davao when he was mayor, and now the Republic of the Philippines during his presidency.

11011Like most originary narratives, this tale has a legendary dimension to it, and this quality serves to invest Mr. Duterte’s anti-drug campaign with the aura of a crusade: not merely a war, but a just and holy war. But legends in modern contexts also allow leaders a significant amount of leeway, if they manage to convince their followers of the legend’s righteousness and provoke a sufficient degree of cultural anxiety: witness the panic over racial impurity propagated by Adolf Hitler, or the worry over big-government intervention stoked by Ronald Reagan, or the decline of American supremacy proclaimed by Donald Trump. About a hundred miles away in this same peninsula, we have Kim Jong-un, whose very existence is premised on an assumption of a legendary, or maybe even super-legendary, persona.

11011The implication we can derive from these examples is that originary narratives are useful in seizing the imagination of a leader’s followers, but any political problem that results from it cannot be solved on the level of cultural resistance alone, by demolishing or deconstructing the legend, for example. In the case of Mr. Duterte’s war on drugs, we are confronted by a number of predicaments, and I wish to focus on three of these, each one related to the others, and all of them involving the Duterte administration in confrontation with a small but articulate and well-publicized opposition:

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First, the unsolved killings that have resulted, more than half of over three thousand as of last count and still rising, are declared as extrajudicial and state-sanctioned by the opposition, while the Duterte administration denies its involvement in them and declares these cases as “under investigation”;

Second, the human-rights issue in the killings is considered fairly cut-and-dried by the opposition, wherein the murdered individuals are deprived of due process and are therefore victims of human-rights violations; the administration’s apologists, on the other hand, are reaching for essential redefinitions of the term “human rights” to cover the rights of upright citizens against criminal violations, as well as the applicability of human rights to developed situations only; and

Third, the rash of killings is regarded by certain sectors of the opposition as one element in a larger schema, one where the administration promotes peace with armed rebel groups, pivots away from the country’s long-term Western alliances to turn toward China and Russia, and forms a largely unopposed and popular dictatorial government. This return of repressed tyranny, according to this scenario, is strengthened by coalitions with orthodox Communists, Islamic militants, and business figures, distinct from the oligarchic families that once agitated for the ouster of Ferdinand Marcos thirty years ago.

11011From my semi-amateurish observations of social media and occasional dialogues with sensible figures on both pro-administration and opposition sides, I would say that the opposition has more solid footing in the case of the first two issues, involving the legality of the killings and their human-rights component. The administration may deny that it had approved some or even all of the killings, but Mr. Duterte had gone on record, during his campaign and after he became President, that he wanted to see all drug personalities dead. This sweeping statement definitely included addicts, regardless of the conventional perception that, like his son Bastê, they may have been merely victims of drug lords and pushers. In terms of human rights, the administration’s supporters tend to suffer from a fanaticism and/or euphoria that affects their ability to follow rational and critical thought processes. This accounts for their unnecessary complication of the concept of human rights – a concept that has been and should be formulated as simply as possible in order for it to be universally applicable.

11011What shows up in these two problems are characteristics that mark both Mr. Duterte and his followers, and make any attempt at evaluating contemporary Philippine politics convoluted and probably impossible to resolve – and even more difficult to confront directly, as US President Barack Obama found out when Duterte lashed out at him. We have what appears to be a predilection for contradictory statements expressed with expletives and obscenities on the part of the President, and echoed in many of his followers, who it seems derive license and inspiration to also be rude and illogical in their encounters with less-devoted observers.

11011The third issue is where the differences between the administration and the opposition acquire some historical resonance. When oppositionists warn that Duterte may be laying the groundwork for the declaration of martial law, they are raising the specter of the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, whom Duterte considers the “best president” the country ever had. Here we may argue that Duterte is outright deluded, unless by “best” we mean the ability to plunder the national economy while depriving entire sectors of society of not just their basic freedoms, but sometimes even their lives. Duterte made this statement during his campaign, so it may have been possible that he was courting the support of the Ilocano-speaking northern provinces. From his mother’s record as anti-Marcos activist, he may have had enough awareness that the Philippine experiment with dictatorship was the only instance in Asia where a once-prosperous country had wound up impoverished as a result. Even Indonesia, which supposedly had a worse case of plunder during the term of Suharto, managed to join the Asian developing nations’ circle while he was still in power.

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11011Explanations for the Philippines’s developmental travails are more complicated than simply stating that the country had a rapacious and self-deluded tyrant at the helm, but that should be a topic for another session. The real issue in terms of the irreconcilability between Duterte’s followers and his critics is the same entity that provided the first and most sustained opposition to Marcos before and during martial law: the Philippine Left, which used to be unified under the Communist Party and its legal organization, the National Democratic Front. After the Party found itself marginalized by the people-power uprising that ousted Marcos, internal criticisms directed at its leadership intensified and came to a head when the Party members were divided between those who supported the founding leadership, called reaffirmists or RAs, and the rejectionists or RJs.

11011Both sides had their party-list candidates as well as prominent personalities who participated in the post-Marcos electoral processes. But during the presidency prior to Duterte’s, the RJs aligned themselves with social democrats and became identified with the winning candidate, Benigno “PNoy” Aquino III. In a dramatic political turnaround, the RAs cast their lot during the previous election with Duterte, who won by castigating Aquino and his party for their anti-people policies. In many ways, the residue of this mutually destructive struggle between Left-identified groups dominates the responses to Duterte. The reaffirmists are being upheld by the present administration via the nearly concluded peace talks, while the most extreme among the rejectionists argue that Duterte is unsuited for the presidency and that the Vice President, Leni Robredo, should be upheld in his stead. (To her credit, Robredo maintains critical support for Duterte and repudiates the clamor to install her as Duterte’s replacement.)

11011Thus the prevailing attitudes toward Duterte disavow any middle ground. The few people I know who come from either the pro-Digong or anti-Digong camp, who opt to criticize Duterte without advocating for his overthrow, get shouted down, sometimes abusively, by their own friends, and get accused of selling out to the other camp. On my own Facebook posts, I get identified sometimes as a Duterte supporter or “dutertard,” other times as an apologist for Aquino’s yellow-wearing Liberal Party or “yellowtard.” In terms of the killings, one could not argue for long that the President should reverse his policy and attend to the other demands of his office. Either you accept the President and agree that all the killings are justified, or you denounce the killings and automatically conclude that this President should be replaced.

11011This is ironic for Left-leaning individuals, who should possess the capacity for critical thinking and complex analysis, but that is the point where we find the state of Philippine politics at this time. Thank you for listening, and I hope to be able to find possible insights and solutions from your responses.

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