What the F

The key stakeholders in the name of a nation are the people. It’s not the commission in charge of language, much less the national artist in charge of that commission. Just because “Filipinas” is correct (at least from the point of view of indubitable scholars of the Filipino language like Rio Alma), doesn’t mean we should reject the word “Pilipinas” altogether.

To be fair, the vanguards of the Filipino language – the likes of Almario and the commission he leads – make a very good point. Our language is “modernized.” Nevermind that the consonant “f” is found through many languages in the land before colonization; but it is this “modernization” that makes us move beyond, say, “ispageti” and call it “spaghetti,” or our reporters’ penchant for the word “pamoso” when referring to someone famous. The more we reject unitary identity the more we struggle with national identity, and linguistic inconsistencies are a symptom of that.

What I’m struggling with, though, is whether or not this is a problem in the first place.

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Of Black Flags and Careless Connections

In her latest “Thought Leaders” piece for Rappler.com, Maria Ressa writes:

Much like the Madrid bombings in 2004 that killed 191 people and the London bombings in 2005 that killed 52, the Boston bombings were carried out by men who integrated into their societies and benefited from the liberalism and inclusiveness of the West. Yet, despite their seemingly Western ways, the attackers in London and Madrid harbored deep hatred sparked by al-Qaeda’s virulent ideology – perhaps much like Tamerlan, who said, “I don’t have a single American friend. I don’t understand them.”

I’m not one to play an “expert” or anything – I just have views – but Ms. Ressa’s view is a dangerous one to make.  It’s a connection present in such theories as Huntington’s “clash of civilizations,” or Krauthammer’s “bloody borders of Islam.”  It’s a connection that was used to validate everything from post-9/11 racial profiling to the War on Terror, to cable news anchors trying to pin the Boston bombings to anyone with an Muslim-sounding name and Arab facial features.

It’s one that places unnecessary fears and burdens to anyone in the United States who does not have the “American-sounding name” or the “American facial features.”  Or anyone in the world, for that matter.  “The face of evil,” so to speak.

It’s one that creates black flags out of careless connections.

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Dancing on Empty Stomachs

This much I agree with Manuel Buencamino: “Kristel Tejada deserves more than just being turned into a prop or a tool.  Let her rest in peace.  Let her family grieve with some dignity.”  This is where the pornography of grief should end, though – I agree that much – but Teo Marasigan’s rebuttal got me thinking a bit.

Manuel’s right: there could have been another reason for the suicide.  The same is true for so many people who have committed suicide: yes, you cannot pin suicide on just one factor.  To quote a statement often uttered in the wake of this tragedy, “suicide is complex.”  And the complexity of this situation allows commentators like Manuel – and myself, even – the free pass of dissecting this situation.  The same complexity that allows activists to create a battlecry around the circumstances of Kristel’s death.  The same complexity that allows us to all grieve and cry, whether genuinely or in one of those self-serving orgies of preaching to the crowd.  Or even finding dignity in protest.

There’s where I disagree with Manuel, though: if it’s that complex, should society wash its hands of the responsibility that comes with the death of a brilliant student whose dreams were dashed by poverty?  Especially if poverty is society’s problem in the first place?

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Excuse the Inconvenience

The Zapatistas chose to start their war on January 1st, 1994, the day the North American Free Trade Agreement took effect. They took over the Plaza de Armas in San Cristóbal de las Casas without frightening the tourists on their Christmas holidays–this was so much the case that Marcos told some tourists who were going to the beach at Cancún that he hoped they would have a good time, and he told some others who planned to go to the archeological site at Palenque that the road was closed and, not without humor, added: “Excuse the inconvenience, but this is a revolution.”

- Elenia Poniatowska, “Subcomandante Marcos and Culture”

In her column on yesterday’s issue of The Philippine Star, Cate de Leon argues that “activism is passé.”  I think her view reflects a lot of popular middle-class sentiments about how the students of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines burned chairs and school equipment on the school quadrangle – and how some students of the University of the Philippines wrote graffiti on the walls of UP Manila – to protest tuition fee increases that allegedly contributed to the suicide of Kristel Tejada.  It’s the popular middle-class (or, using the term loosely, “bourgeois”) point of view that this kind of “hooliganism” and “vandalism” is unnecessary, ineffective, and inefficient.

I agree with Cate this much: “When you have a cause and you’re committed to seeing it through, you make it your responsibility to make sure you are listened to.  If one method doesn’t work, you try something else.”  There are a lot of methods of activism that I personally do not agree with, like pelting eggs at government officials or destroying the gates of school buildings.  But if we continue looking at activism from that point of view, we’re missing the point of activism altogether.

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