Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Leg Men

Apparently this short story is now assigned reading at Ateneo de Davao. I am posting it here for the benefit of students looking for the story. Of course, if you want the other stories from the book, I still have copies for sale. Send me a shoutout on Twitter at @domcimafranca.

“There are three ways to deal with a manananggal,” said Cousin Omeng as he initiated me into the lore. “There's the hard way, which is to go at it head-on with bolos and bamboo spears.” To emphasize this point, he brought his bolo down on the head of a green bamboo stalk. With that one clean stroke he turned the stalk into a spear. He charred the tip over burning coals to harden it. When it was sufficiently black, he showed his handiwork to me.

“Of course, that's not a very smart thing to do,” Cousin Omeng continued. “Remember: a manananggal is a creature of flight. She can stay well out of the range that you can throw a spear. And if she does decide to fight — ” Cousin Omeng shuddered — “there's her powerful bat wings to reckon with.”

“I suppose it would work if there were a few dozen of us,” I pointed out.

“But there's not a dozen of us, is there?” Cousin Omeng countered, “it's just you and me. Now don't interrupt, or we'll never get to the important parts.”

What prompted this hasty lesson was a series of manananggal sightings around our town of San Antonio. The first one happened just the week before. Tiago and Teban, the village drunks, were staggering home from a late-night drinking spree. Tiago (so his story went) looked up and saw massive bat wings against the waxing moon. Teban laughed at his friend's overactive imagination but when he looked up, he also saw those wings coming down in a swoop.

Of course no one quite believed the town drunks. For the next two days, San Antonio had a few more jokes to add about Tiago and Teban. But then the evening of that second day, Pedring, whom everyone knew was having an affair with Rosa, ran screaming from their trysting place among the banana leaves. He said he saw the manananggal fly by where he was waiting. (“Her eyes were as big as saucers!” Pedring had said, “and her tongue waggled down to her neck!”)

Other accounts started pouring in. There was the story of Kulas, on an errand for his wife who had a midnight craving for santol. He caught the manananggal's silhouette against the clouds. (“Her claws were razor-sharp!” Kulas had said, “and she had fangs this long!”) Then there was the story of Berto, whose wife had banished him from his house because he lost their savings at the cockpit, who said he saw the same. (“I could see her entrails hanging from her waist!” Berto had said.)

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Sanity Survival Strategies for the Next Six Years

In the broad spectrum of public opinion, on the one extreme, you will have people who entirely approve of the way things are going and on the other extreme, people who believe that we have entered the worst of times. I fall in the latter category. I am deeply disturbed by recent developments, by what I see as the deterioriation of our institutions, by the outright naked abuse of power, and by the systematic dismantling of the checks and balances that comprise a democratic state. In other words, the country is going to shit.

I pin my hopes by looking back at the swath of history. Other peoples at other times have suffered through more trying situations and have recovered. Dictators are not forever, because they also grow senile or mad, and die, and so too do their empires. I can only hope that things do not get much worse before they get better.

In the meantime, I have mapped out a survival strategy for my sanity over the next six years. I'm writing this primarily as notes for myself, as a reminder, but I'm sharing this with the hope that somebody somewhere, also similarly lost, will find this useful.

First, hunker down and go deep. More than anything, these times are marked by a failure of philosophy and critical thinking. Over the years, we've steadily dumbed down because of social media, abetted by mainstream media. Too long we have fed on snippets of news and memes, and by their nature these are visceral, ephemeral, and shallow. The enemy is a master of this medium, whatever semblance of independence has been coopted to its message. Redemption, therefore, won't come from Facebook or Twitter or ABS-CBN. So instead, I recommend a reading list of classical philosophers and histories.

Second, harbor a distrust of institutions and organizations, especially their leaders. If these institutions surrender fail speak up against what is plainly wrong out of fear or out of concessions for their own advocacies, then consider these insitutions compromised. See how already universities and people's organizations, and even the Church, previously at the forefront for human rights, have fallen silent.

Third, write. But don't write as you would for the consumption of social media, write instead to keep a record of these times. Write in long form, write reflections, write your frustrations, write with big words, write even if it appears you are rambling. Write with art. Because we will eventually emerge from this period of madness, hopefully to a season of sanity, and we will need to look back and remember, and if needed, to indict. Write because it will someday be history.

Finally, Hope. Because that is what the evil, with its tirades, with its murders, with its false accusations and false promises, wants to destroy. Without Hope, there is no joy and there is no fight, and all is lost. So, Hope.

Friday, July 15, 2016

The Kill List

The Philippine Daily Inquirer is keeping a tally board of the number of people killed as part of the present administration’s war on drugs. As of July 14, the record stands at 195 dead since June 30 and 242 since May 10. No pictures, thankfully, but some of the descriptions are grisly enough: “Found dead, hogtied, face wrapped with packaging tape and with eight sachets of suspected shabu strapped to the body” and “Found dead inside carton boxes that bore signs saying, ‘Wag ako tularan, mandurukot ako sa Edsa.’ They also bore strangulation marks.” Some have insult heaped upon them further: “Killed by unknown hitmen on a motorcycle, who left a note saying, ‘Tulak pa more,’ with an emoticon of a face sticking out its tongue.”

Emotionally I become too benumbed to react with horror at such reports. Violence is nothing new and acceptable for so long as they happen elsewhere and to a different class of people, right? But fortunately I can still function at an intellectual level and recognize the fundamental wrongness of it all.

By way of explanation, the Inquirer adds a note to some of the names: “most wanted drug suspect”, “noted drug dealer”, and “top drug personality.” But for so many others, it really just reads: “suspected drug pusher” and “suspected drug user.” Is that it? Mere suspicion becomes cause for a permanent solution, no hope for redress or redemption? And what of the 45 unidentified dead, including the 22 unknowns killed between July 1 and 10 in Southern Mindanao? Or the innocents caught in the crossfire?

“But they only kill criminals!” Post hoc ergo propter hoc: “Since they only kill criminals, those who have been killed must be criminals!” Consider how this system can be easily abused. Do you have a grudge against someone? Turn in a tip that he is involved in illegal drugs. Was he killed in an operation? Plant a sachet on his body How soon until this method is applied to political enemies?

But they’ve implicated police generals involved in the drug trade! Immediately comes to mind the two things wrong with the statement. One, right away there is a double standard — low-level operators are murdered straightaway, high-level officials are accused in media. And two, if the case is strong, why not slap them with charges? Soon mayors will also be likewise named. But not congressmen, of course, because congressmen are virtuous and blameless, especially because they have federalism on the agenda.

We’re on a slippery slope of madness. Once we resort to extrajudicial killings as a means of redress and “change”, where is the way out? Because it will prove to be so effective, then there will be no more need for courts or trials. And then we will be at the mercy of the whims of whoever calls the shots.

Speak out now before it’s too late.