The Breaking

The soldiers brought the victim to a holding cell, his hands bound with rope and his feet shackled with chains. The room was barren, save for a couple of bamboo cots. The room reeked of things you would expect from places like these: sweat, urine, and animal dung that wafted from the boarded-up windows. In the room flickered the light of a solitary gas lantern, casting a pallid yellow glow on the cracked concrete floor. “San Juanico,” the commanding officer said curtly, as if referring to the bridge miles—or perhaps a short walk, who knows—miles away. The crickets chirped a little louder. A lone rooster crowed in the distance. The prisoner’s eyes, swollen from lack of sleep and bruised from the unforgiving blows of truncheons, lit up in fear; the whites of his eyeballs piercing the darkness briefly. “San Juanico” was nothing more than a euphemism for the torture invented by the Marcos regime at the height of Martial Law. Countless activists have been made to suffer the sentence, named after the great bridge that connected two of the country’s poorest islands. The bridge was a marvel that would be shared in postcards for generations to come; the torture was a memory best left forgotten by those who miraculously survived it.

The Boogeyman Cometh

As children, we were raised to believe that boogeymen existed. There were creatures that lived under our beds or inside our closets, ready to take us away in the night when we did something wrong. No matter how behaved, courteous, or quiet we were, the boogeyman was always there: the embodiment of fear in our young imaginations. Yet as we grow older, a lot of monsters—real and imagined—still keep us wide awake at night. Some of us live in fear of the terrors that threaten our ways of life. There are criminals among us: there are kidnappers, thieves, rapists, and murderers lurking in the shadows. We lie awake at night fearful for our jobs, anxious for tomorrow’s expenses, terrified of the prospects of war. On May 2016, if the surveys are to be believed, we are about to entrust our country’s future into the hands of a boogeyman.

Lock, Stock, and the Bottom of the Barrel

The campaign rally was held in Tondo, Manila: rightly or wrongly, the district has always represented the poor and the downtrodden of the Philippines. It’s here that politicians often paint themselves in solidarity with common working Filipinos, and be “one with the people.” It was in Tondo, though, that one of Rodrigo Duterte’s infamous rants took place. The news reports: Kayong mga KMU, medyo pigilan muna ninyo ang labor union. Ako na ang nakikiusap sa inyo. Magkasama tayo sa ideolohiya. Huwag ninyong gawin iyan kasi sisirain mo ang administrasyon ko. Kapag ginawa ninyo iyan, patayin ko kayong lahat. Ang solusyon dito patayan na. This was all in Tondo: a place that has been unfairly portrayed as a hub of violence brought about by poverty and desperation, whether in action films or in drama. Rodrigo Duterte, for all intents and purposes, probably could have chosen a better place to rant about killing. But when your campaign thus far consists of the lock and stock that scrapes the bottom of the barrel, you really can’t expect much.

2015: The Reading List

Making this year’s reading list was a bit tough, if only because our reading lives somehow mirror our real lives. So many things have happened this year that, once again, hitting the books became necessary to cope up with the mad plot lines of the real world. This year yielded around 83 books, and choosing ten of the best of them this year is to somewhat do an injustice to a lot of them. Of special note is the 80-volume Penguin Little Black Classics, which should make for an amazing gift this season for any book lover (although a lot of them are things a book lover probably already read). Plus, it’s a really beautiful thing to look at. So without further ado, here are the ten best things I’ve read this year.

A Window I Used To Know

The place where Halal Guys BGC will be in used to be my favorite window in Bonifacio High Street. Fully Booked’s shelves always had bestsellers, with a few unique finds here and there. Come October, they brought out the fake cobwebs and plaster skulls and the origami bats, and the window was filled with horror fiction novels. Come December, the window was dressed in tinsel and Christmas trimmings, with the year’s best novels on display. Every now and then, that window announced a sale on books: on those days, I would leave the store with as many books as I can carry. And before I leave, the display facing away from the window offers me more choices: perhaps things I’ve ignored, or things that I’ve always wanted but never really found in the back shelves of Fiction A-Z. It’s a window that beckoned me to fill my own shelves. But now, that window’s gone.

Mapulang Bahid

Note: So apparently, my last blog entry, The Crimson Stain, went “viral.” Now that idea, if you know me well enough, is sort of ironic (given how much I don’t like the word, and I’m really timid IRL). But it kinda warms the cold, cold heart to know that a lively discussion was fostered, and for the most part the discussion was quite civil. And quite a lot of you agreed with me. And quite a lot of you requested for the thing to be translated (or written) in Filipino. Now I’m not a particularly good translator (unless you talk about lyrics, although if you follow me on Instagram you probably have an idea how I prefer to translate things), and my command of Filipino is quite wonky at best, but I’ll try to take a crack at translating the blog entry myself. And thanks so much, everyone. Many thanks, in particular, to Raissa Robles for pointing a lot of important details out to me (details that, regrettably, I missed out on. My apologies.). Here it is. Pardon the imperfections.

The Crimson Stain

That’s not a scarlet terno that Imee Marcos is wearing. Rather, it stands for the mountains where Macliing Dulag was killed. His blood ran down the slopes of the Cordillera in much the same way he wanted the Chico River to flow. To his dying breath—and years thereafter—Dulag fought against the hydroelectric power that threatened the survival of his people, in the hands of a dictator named Ferdinand Marcos. That’s not Imee Marcos gracefully crossing her well-formed, tanned legs. Emmanuel Lacaba’s legs were found in the same way, tied and chained, as his corpse was dragged to an unmarked grave. In 1976, Lacaba was captured with a pregnant 18-year-old comrade in the underground, and was shot with a .45 caliber bullet not once, but twice. His crime was to write literature in opposition to a dictator named Ferdinand Marcos. That’s not a tasteful bodice that highlights Imee Marcos’s ample curves. That bodice conceals how forces of the constabulary killed Edgar Jopson in 1982. He was found alive in Davao, but was still executed. It took nine bullets to murder Edjop: chest wounds, arm wounds, leg wounds. This son of a grocer became another statistic in a very long list of human rights abuses in the 70s and 80s, and personally earned the ire of a dictator named Ferdinand Marcos. Those are not the features of Imee Marcos, carefully airbrushed. Those were the walls put up along the routes whenever any foreign dignitary or visitor passed by to visit Malacañang Palace.…

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After Dark

The night is only a sort of carbon paper Blueblack, with the much-poked periods of stars Letting in the light, peephole after peephole— A bonewhite light, like death, behind all things. Under the eyes of the stars and the moon’s rictus He suffers his desert pillow, sleeplessness Stretching its fine, irritating sand in all directions. Sleep carries with it its horrors. The gnashing of teeth, the tremors I’ve carried through adulthood, and the abrupt cycles between sleeping and being awake. It’s never Neverland; but ever since the gnashing became harder, the tremors became shakier, and the hours of sleep have shortened, I’ve somehow thrown the body clock out the window. Insomnia’s kind of strange.

Smoke On Roxas

When you come to think about it, Mar Roxas probably has one of the most impressive résumés among candidates on the road to the 2016 elections. Roxas is the scion of two powerful families in both politics and industry (lest we forget that Mar is the son of a Senator and the grandson of a former President, and is also the grandson of the man who built the Araneta real estate empire). He’s an Ivy League graduate: he is an economist from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He spent years as a financial hotshot in New York, making a name for himself in the world of capital and investments. He’s a former Congressman, a former Senator (garnering the most votes for any candidate in a national election, at that), and held three different Cabinet positions under three different administrations. While other prospective candidates have to blow smoke (like, say, turning the Philippines “into Makati”) to curry favor among the people and win their votes this early (at least one had to figuratively/literally blow someone’s rocks off), Roxas is—on paper—the most qualified. One may even say that he’s destined to be President: a man born and bred to be in Malacañang. Rightly or wrongly, Roxas has a very clear advantage among others through his position of privilege. … I’m not even sure. Photo from Oras Na, Roxas Na The problem is, that’s not exactly how Roxas is packaged. And as it turns out, it’s a really big problem.