It's the first week of martial law in Mindanao and I must admit the experience is pleasant. Because our all-wise and all-knowing mayor has put Davao into lockdown, traffic from out of town has been practically cut off. There are fewer cars on that street, driving is smooth, and parking is a breeze.
Which is not to say that I agree with martial law, in fact, it's a bad idea overall. It's unnecessary, it's bad precedent, and it opens the way for far worse things. Such statements are likely to be challenged: "Why? Explain!" In answer, I can only point to 1972. We've been down this road before. I was too young to remember martial law the first time around, but I can imagine that, like today, the streets were calm and business went on as usual. The warrantless arrests and illegal detentions came much, much later.
If I seem unconscionably calm about the matter, it's because I am benumbed. When I say so, it's not because I am attempting to evoke feeling or sympathy. When I say I am numb, I really do mean I am numb. I don't feel anything. Not horror, not anger, not outrage, not disgust, not pity. Marawi burns? Nothing. Twenty-two people dead? Nothing. Refugees? Nothing. I am operating at a purely intellectual level: peace must be restored, yes, the grieving must be comforted, yes, the refugees must be sheltered, yes, the perpetrators must be brought to justice, yes. But all of that is disconnected from my emotions.
Last September, a bomb killed 15 people in Roxas Avenue, right across the school where I used to teach. I wondered if anyone I knew were among the dead, but since there were none, I could only manage, "Ay, kaluoy." (I did, however, resolved not to go near the area, not out of fear, but out of a respect that I thought I should offer; then again, neither did I take part in the euphoria of "Bangon, Davao!" that followed when they reopened the market two weeks later.)
Last year, after I wrote a column calling for outrage and vigilance over extrajudicial killings, (a little over a thousand at the time, not yet the 4,000 today), a letter writer chided me to the effect that they were necessary. "Those people are dead anyway," he wrote. A friend told me that support for this administration was strong in Dumaguete, strong among doctors who have sworn to preserve life and among lawyers who have sworn to uphold the law. Well. I think they are wrong, that letter writer, those doctors and those lawyers, and I will say that they are wrong, but now I can say it without any emotion.
In the opening scene of "Children of Men", a bomb destroys the cafe that the protagonist has just left after buying his coffee. He rushes for shelter but, after the danger has passed, goes on his way to work. Just another day in dystopia.