“I Am Become Death”

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“We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita; Vishnu is trying to persuade the prince that he should do his duty, and to impress him takes on his multi-armed form, and says, ‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.’ I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.”

— J. Robert Oppenheimer, 1965

On February 25, 2017, before a throng of supporters in Luneta, Sandra Cam stood before a throng of avid Duterte supporters to proclaim: “Masarap ang pumatay at mamatay para sa bayan.”


Sourced from Rappler

It was a statement that, considering many things about the news, has died a speedy, natural death: not with political maneuvering in the Senate and our dalliances with “leaks.” At least in this country, to write the news is to record hurried moments in the present and to forget them the next day: after all, bigger and more important things happen tomorrow.

Less than a year into his presidency, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte has probably talked about “death” and its synonyms more than all past Presidents combined. Duterte, as it seems, taps into the primal: in a world where the wheels of justice turn ever so painfully slowly, the President provides haste and promises urgency. And if it means to kill, so be it.

It’s a certain single-mindedness that emboldens the likes of Cam to make remarks like that. It’s a certain single-mindedness that empowers people like DOJ Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre III to encourage supporters to call for the imprisonment—or whatever fate awaits—Sen. Antonio Trillanes III. It’s a certain single-mindedness that has Congress in a frenzy to pass the death penalty.

In the past few months, we’ve been so obsessed and fixated by death: perhaps because there’s a lot of it going on (over 7,000, if we’re to put a number on it). Or perhaps because the pointed violence of it leaves us with no choice but to watch, as the policy of killing is praised and defended with everything from blatant cursing to reasonable and well-argued points.

But why be preoccupied over Cam? Perhaps, like many things about this administration, she was simply “taken out of context.” Or perhaps that the current administration didn’t win because—and shouldn’t be judged by—the rules of polite society. Or perhaps Cam is not the most articulate orator out there. But she was clear: her cadence was on point, her words were explicit. It was anything but a slip of the tongue, or one of those things you say when you’re euphoric or overwhelmed. And it certainly isn’t something you would see in rallies, either.

But those in the frontlines of death may perhaps disagree with Cam. Those who died for this country may have savored the meaning of their deaths—think dulce et decorum est—and those who have killed for this country may have done the same. But who is to say that the drug war—among the many wars that the Duterte administration has declared over the past eight or so months—has ever been done out of love of country? Who’s to say that the killers who roam the land in the name of Oplan Tokhang are patriots?

“I am become Death,” Oppenheimer once invoked, recalling how he saw firsthand the destructive power of the atomic bomb. For him, there was a sense of childlike awe, and perhaps inconsolable regret. Perhaps it has yet to hit home for the likes of Cam: that in saying what she had to say, perhaps those who kill and those who are killed all share the same glee and elation that she had as Sen. Leila de Lima was being escorted to prison. There is no awe, there is no regret: as it appears, there is the appetite for blood and karma.

And that says a lot about the undercurrents of the Duterte administration thus far.

Perhaps the clearest thing some of us ever got from the Duterte administration is that it will kill. And that some of us will laugh or make light of killing. Perhaps some of us would ignore the killings, and consider them distractions from all the underappreciated good that the Duterte administration does. Good things that are often ignored—or perhaps overshadowed—by trigger-happy sound bites that affirm the tough-guy image that the administration cultivates.

Then again, with the war on drugs back in full form, there are some places where the killings will hit home. And when it does, Cam’s statement will perhaps creep out of the deluge of news, both as a reminder and as a testament. Perhaps by then, it will taste anything but delightful.

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