“I Am Become Death”

“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.

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Master Strokes

There are a lot of things the Duterte administration gets right about their “war on drugs.” True: like many social ills, many things about drugs can be traced to the upper echelons of society. True: many anti-drug government programs in previous administrations did not go far enough to have lasting effects. True: drugs are a big problem in society, and cannot be ignored in a conversation about peace and order. Needless to say, this government is enthusiastic about the drug program. Thousands of addicts have already surrendered, with no other reason than fear of the President.

But it does get a lot of things wrong. And one blog entry wouldn’t suffice for that. So at the risk of sounding nitpicky about the Duterte drug war, let’s head on over to that one thing that they really bungled.

On August 7, in the wee hours of the morning, President Duterte took to Camp Panacan to deliver one of his trademark soliloquies, and read aloud a list of over 150 government and police officers allegedly involved in the drug trade. The key word: “allegedly.” Needless to say, Duterte’s one for command responsibility: he took it upon himself to take responsibility for mistakes and errors that the list may have. Because my God, he hates drugs.

Now there will always be denial, but Duterte kind of missed out on a few things. For all the hectoring claims about the list being “verified,” the list missed out on a judge who died in 2008, or how a mayor he tagged passed away in 2014. But no less than Martin Andanar would call the list a “masterstroke,” and Bato Dela Rosa would shrug off errors in the list: to the mind of the new “icon” of the drug war, we’re probably focusing too much on the mistakes and too little on the gains.

And then there are Sec. Andanar’s soundbites too, but then again these things can always be taken out of context.

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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.

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A Failure of Persuasion

And the music came back with the carnival, the music you’ve heard as far back as you can remember, ever since you were little, that’s always playing somewhere, in some corner of the city, in little country towns… the carnival meant to delude the weekend crowd.

– Louis Ferdinand Céline, “Journey to the End of the Night”

Above is an audio clip of Felix Manalo: the founder and first Executive Minister of Iglesia ni Cristo. For over a hundred years, the Church he founded has become an important symbol of Filipino faith, and has become (rightly or wrongly) an important voice in a country largely governed and influenced by God’s Word. Manalo and the INC may have their critics (and the events over the past few days may have added to that), but it’s hard to deny Manalo’s understanding and grasp of rhetoric.

To his followers, Manalo was the last messenger of God in these last days. Manalo told stories to his flock, and reminded them of the Word. More importantly, Manalo was used to the crucible of debate: in fact, he thrived in it. In a country with so many religions that claim to preach the true Word of God, it is a testament to the INC’s talent for persuasion that today, it’s the third-largest religious denomination in the Philippines.

Fast forward to a couple of days ago: for reasons that still aren’t clear to people like myself, members of the Iglesia ni Cristo blocked off an entire section of EDSA, and held a rally to “protect religious freedom.” Or uphold the unity of Iglesia ni Cristo. Or whatever it was that they were there for.

And this brings me to quite a few things about persuasion.

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