Monday, May 31, 2004

Monday, May 24, 2004

Thursday, May 20, 2004

I've lost track of the days. I don't know what the date is today. The days seem to melt into one another. Sunrises, sunsets, all melding into a confused fray of colors, tones, moods. Light or dark, dusk or dawn, don't seem to matter when time stands still. And for the last two weeks, the seconds tick aimlessly meandering where they may.

I've lost track of the days. And I worry not. Moments when the focal point of everything revolves around one thought, one song, one feel, come so rarely, come once in every while. Cherish them when they come I say. Hold on to the seconds fleeting, scrambling where they may, heedless of plans, of caution, of inhibition. Hold on to the seconds for as long as
they permit to be held. I say, fuck tomorrow. So incredibly alive we are, only in the now.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Monday, May 10, 2004

This is an edited excerpt of a paper I wrote on Democratization. In the spirit of futile, useless elections, read on.

Democracy, the kind that is peddled today, was a unique phenomenon that underpinned the political and economic evolution of only a handful of nation-states (Britain, Former British settler colonies; US, Canada, Australia to name a few). While Democracy as a political system has developed organically in Western Europe through a long a period of social conflict, class struggle and compromises, it has not in the Philippines.

Notions of Democracy, the “rule of, for and by the people,” as are conceptions of “state” and “government,” as defined in the Western sense, are entirely alien to the Philippine experience up until the arrival of colonizing Europeans. Indeed, the four century-long colonial experience may be said to have been completely antithetical to this idea of majority rule. It is implicit in the imposition of external administrative control and “civilizing missions” that the “people,” here indios, are not the ones meant to be in charge.

Furthermore, the kind of colonial rule placed in the colonies engendered a highly centralized way of administering colonial endeavors which then translated into the “absolutist” and “arbitrary” post-colonial state.

Just before independence, transfer of control and power to indigenous actors was made hastily. What followed was the wholesale copying of the colonizers’ political systems onto the former colonies. From the organizational structure to the political processes and even the constitution, these were faithfully made in the image of the former metropolitan power. More importantly, the underlying principle of liberal democracy, the product of Western European and American histories, was supposed to have been imbibed and internalized by the newly-independent peoples and governments. Filipinos were then expected to occupy roles and perform functions they had no previous experience in. And they were supposed to do these functions within the institution that is the State.

A State, according to orthodox political science, is one with; a.) a territory, b.) a population, c.) a government and d.) sovereignty. This construct, and its definition, is uniquely reflective and the product of Western historical experiences. On all fronts the Philippine state is already problematic. The territory has been arbitrarily drawn cutting across natural ethnic (cultural-religious), political and economic groupings, which explains the ethnic conflicts still present to date. Many “supposed” Filipinos in many regions in this country would not usually call themselves Filipinos.

Most contentious of all is the question of sovereignty. If we go by its orthodox definition; the complete and autonomous exercise of authority within the given territory, then the Philippine state is evidently not sovereign.

Here it might be instructive to use instead Jackson and Rosberg’s (1986) definition. In the Philippines, what is practiced is “juridical statehood” as opposed to “empirical statehood.” The Philippine state exists in writing, in law, in official international parlance and imagination. The authors maintain that they exist precisely because of their international legitimacy. This is what they call “negative sovereignty,” the avowed principle of non-interference among equally sovereign states. As opposed to “positive sovereignty,” which is the capacity for self-government or the legitimacy coming from the inhabitants within.

Magnanimous in their creation project, former colonial powers were confident that they have done their part in the civilizing mission. They have done their best in imparting their superior values and institutions that would surely lead the way to modernity and development. The future was then in the hands of Filipinos themselves. Or so we have been led to believe.

It probably came as a surprise then, when immediately after multi-party democratic elections were held, many states throughout the world fell into authoritarian regimes (i.e. Ferdinand Marcos and Martial Law).

It is curious how the preference for liberal democracy as an uncomplicated “good” is often implicit in the discourse of authors as opposed to “bad” authoritarianism. Democracy, throughout the decades, has acquired a sacred status of sorts. Almost like a cross being brandished to ward off “evil.” Comparable to the search for the Holy Grail, countries throughout the world have come to perceive it as an uncomplicated good, a universally valued “state of being” much like World Peace and Prosperity. Democracy is also being made into an all-purpose cure for the “fundamentalist” ailment in the Middle East.

How this has come to pass is largely through the work of dominant forces in the world today. It is in their interest that the kind of democracy we speak of is one that has been defined by them. The discourse on democracy at present is one that is hardly contested. Although debate and dissident opinions may be alive and well in the academia and non-governmental sectors, the de facto Democracy being fashioned in much of the world today is reflective of the will of international financial institutions (IFI’s; IMF-World Bank) and donor countries, the powers that be.

In directly observable ways, and less bloody but just as appalling as the example mentioned above, economic liberalization enforced in this country directly contradicts the very essence of what Democracy is supposed to be; the rule of, for and by the people. How so? Economic policies are formulated by IFIs without so much as the scrutiny or consent of the populace. Assuming that the populace would make heads or tails of the highly technical language used in these policies. What the IMF says goes. No debate, no question. Read the business section of your newspapers. They make "recommendations" every week or so. What is worse, the ideology behind these policies have already been cemented in neoliberal dogma, they are presented as absolute truths. And besides, there is no alternative. Present conditions are such that would not allow for alternatives to be conceived of as possible.

The Herculean task of resolving these contradictory processes is foisted on the Philippine State, which, as we have shown here, is itself problematic. Unfortunately, the powers that be are either blind to this fundamental problem, choose not to recognize it, or are too smug in their own proclamations of what Democracy and Economic Development look like.

Multi-party elections have been held in this country and yet has there really been change in leadership? Has there really been any change? It is a myth peddled by the United States, that democracy; meaning elections, is the cure for everything.

Democracy, made in the image of Western Democracies, seems virtually impossible to replicate in an entirely different historical entity. Nonetheless, the hegemony of Capitalist-Democratic States compels that this be done regardless of all the contradictions in order for the status quo (capitalism) to continue working.

Monday, May 03, 2004

Of Deaths and Wakes

In Six Feet Under, that incredibly well-made show on cable, grief, loss and closure are regular staples. Story arcs are made revolving around the themes of not only death but also life. There are usually incredibly tense moments of bereavement, anger, frustration. The writers know their stuff, these scenes definitely make for good drama.

What the show usually doesn't portray are the looong and draaagging moments in between hot spurts of emotions on the boil. Yes, when someone in the family dies there are unresolved family squabbles come to fore, there are long-kept secrets revealed, there are potentially destructive, litigious money matters. All these make for good drama, and yes, confrontations, dramatic do-or-die lupasay scenes do happen in real life. But they are few and far between.

Let me tell what it's like when somebody in your family dies. I've become somewhat well-versed in these unfortunate occasions, losing my father and maternal grandmother in less than a year. In films, when monumental things happen, background music stops and you see the actors move in vacuum-like settings. No sound. In real life, when you learn of family's death, everything becomes eerily silent. Its as though a plug has been inserted in your ears and all ambient noise is muted. You walk around like a zombie for a while, your mind groggily trying to comprehend what has been said over the phone, or you rub your eyes looking twice, three times on your mobile reading and re-reading the text message delivering the bad news.

Then you start to cry. Tentative burst of tears. Depending on where you are, you usually want to go to the hospital and see the body. So this moment of grief is brief. A sense of urgency takes over and you rush over to the scene of the accident or hospital.

When one is my age, 23, young but not too young or too old, one is expected to be strong and brave for younger
and older folks. One cannot cry too much or too long. One must get her act together relatively quick to attend to the mundane details. At this moment, your mind is forced to become crystal clear. Settle hospital bills, sign death certificate, call the Six Feet Under people (your funeral service), choose the casket, choose the place for the wake, attend to police matters (should your father drive himself and his wife into a building driving his expensive car), cancel credit cards (should MMDA folks steal your parents' belongings while they lay helpless broken and bleeding), find certificates for your burial lot, notify the cemetery of the burial, buy flowers and of course, who can forget... the wake.

You see, wakes are a funny thing. It is only probably in this country where one may expect people to come visit your dead any time of day. So like a convenience store, you're open almost 24 hours, ready to cater to all and sundry who happen to come in through the door.

Then, it is also probably only here, that mourners are fed. Acquaintances stay for 20-30 minutes, friends, an hour max, and relatives usually stay longer. These people are offered refreshments and some snacks. You talk to them, and tell the story of how your loved one expired over and over and over again. Details may be added or subtracted depending on the sensibilities of the mourner. Immediate family of course cannot leave the wake. So we cook, eat, drink and sleep within the premises, occasionally leaving to go home to shower and do the groceries. And the cycle repeats again and again for however long your family decides to hold the viewing.

Wakes make ripe occasions for intrigue, scandal and high drama. Where there is a maximum number of mourners, usually around 6:00-10:00 pm, there is this electric atmosphere, highly charged, ready to explode should somebody do or say something to ignite it. Rarely though, does this explosion occur, usually out of respect for the departed. Or fear of being haunted. Or both.

So wakes are a noisy business. It is perhaps Filipino tradition to make it so. Like a fiesta, people eat, drink, chit-chat and play. It is a whirlwind of activities and never-ending chores and tasks, all of which must be accomplished within an incredibly short amount of time. What makes it doubly tricky is lack of sleep. Everything is more difficult when one has only had a few hours of shut-eye and long hours of moving about like a tornado.

After the dead has been buried, after the hustle and bustle of the wake, comes the quiet once more. Spent, one goes home to a house with one more less body and contemplates the events of the past few days, the present and the future. It is only at this time where one truly starts to grieve. Where the finality of death truly sinks in. Where one, sobbing and heaving in tears, finally realizes that the loved one is truly gone. That is a door firmly shut, never to be opened again, at least not in this lifetime.

In Six Feet Under, they usually end the show on a high note, because although the dead will never come back,
life must go on. So one must patch up that gaping hole in one's life pretty quick. Because lingering in pain is useless and denial is stupid.

Saturday, May 01, 2004

Une petite histoire de compréhension

J’ai grandi dans une école où des filles embrassaient des filles. Si ce n’était pas permis, c’était certainement commun. On ne parlait pas d’anomalie. On ne parlait pas de perversité. On l’appelait l’amitié ou une attraction inexplicable, quelque fois l’amour. Il n’était jamais l’homosexualité. Dans notre petit monde, le mot n’existait pas. C’était une idée abstraite, loin de notre conscience, loin de nous, loin de moi. J’étais jeune et je ne comprenais pas.

Le Noël avec ma famille. Pourquoi chuchotent-ils ? Ah. C’est Charlotte. Elle a amené sa petite amie. Des bouches couvertes et Des visages écœurés se cachaient prudemment. J’avais honte pour ma cousine, mais je ne savais pas pourquoi. J’étais jeune et je ne comprenais pas.

À partir de ce jour-là j’ai observé et j’ai appris. J’ai commencé à voir les petits gestes comme tabou. A l’école. Pourquoi elle m’a regarde comme ça ? Pourquoi veut-elle se lier d’amitié avec moi ? Mes méfiances, ma peur, mon incompréhension.
Ces images jouent dans mon esprit. Des petites vignettes, des petites histoires. Des petits événements qui ont petit à petit formé mes pensées au sujet d’homosexualité. C’est vrai. On est socialisé et instruit d’avoir peur des choses qui sont différentes, qui ne sont pas compréhensibles. Le préjugé, la crainte et l’intolérance sont crées et propagés par la société. Ce que je vois, c’est qu’on s’enchaÎne. Nous faisons notre prison où nous mettons nos idées en cage. Est-ce que c’est l’esprit humain ?

L’homosexualité est un choix. C’est une décision qui est faite par une personne sensée. On doit respecter ces choix. Ce n’est pas la possession par les mauvais démons et ce n’est pas une maladie. C’est une question de préférence sexuelle. La liberté de choisir, c’est ce qui nous sépare des bêtes.

Mais mes petites réflexions sont loin de l’actualité. Aujourd’hui, le monde choisit de fermer ses oreilles au fait indéniable : on aime avec l’esprit et l’esprit ne choisit pas toujours le corps « correct». Quand va-t-on se rendre compte que c’est inutile de résister le changement? C’est notre nature de nous libérer. Des chaînes, de l’emprisonnement que nos avons façonné nous-mêmes. Je suis jeune et maintenant, je comprends.

Ma cousine, Charlotte, est mariée. Avec un homme. Elle a deux fils mignons, ils s’appellent Jay et Brian. Elle habite dans une maison blanche avec une palissade blanche. La vie parfaite ? Elle a enterré sa petite amie. Dans l’oubli. Je pense qu’elle s’appelle Joey ou un nom mignon comme ça. Je ne me rappelle pas. Je me demande si ma cousine se souvient d’elle. Je me demande si elle se rappelle beaucoup de choses et si elle les regrette. Mais quand je la vois, elle a toujours un sourire. Mais le contentement ne semble pas toucher ses yeux.