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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In Defense of Elementary School Science

When I was a kid, I had the privilege of a private school education, where teachers were paid well enough and the school had enough funds for grade level administrators to think of ways for us kids to appreciate science.  I had the privilege of having science as the core of my education from elementary, right up to high school.  I had my Ladybird textbooks on everything from dinosaurs to how washing machines work, I had my encyclopedias, and I was able to spend countless hours away from the playground poring over astronomy textbooks in the library, or fiddling with microscopes in the science laboratory.  I had Dr. Beakman and Lester on TV. Science was fun.

To quote Richard Feynman, “I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something;” much of which, I owe to my elementary school science teachers.

But many Filipino schoolchildren don’t have that today, much less an assured education to speak of.  We owe them science; we owe them the way we’re taught and the lessons we learned from our days behind the school desk.

Now, thanks to the Department of Education, those kids won’t have the joy of science at all.  In a report by Asian Scientist, the DepEd has decided to drop Science from the basic curriculum of Grade 1 and 2 students, although the DepEd says that the subject has not been taught in public schools for the past 30 years..  Education Secretary Armin Luistro says that science will instead be integrated into other subjects; as a subject, Science will be taught when the child reaches Grade 3.

It’s fairly easy to be outraged at this matter, but based on the K-12 curriculum guide for science education, science is pretty much integrated into other subjects and subject matters until the third grade, where it becomes a subject on its own.  I’m not so sure how the most elementary ideas of botany and zoology and even human anatomy can be connected to things like say, civics and culture.  While I think that the DepEd is trying their best in improving the state of education given the extremely limited budget offered to them, I think that it’s a grave mistake for them to not offer Science for Grade 1 and 2 students, or at least postpone the subject matter until the third grade.

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Celdran: He Should Have Done Nothing

After thinking things through properly and getting real with things (in more ways than one), I am taking back everything I said about Carlos Celdran, about defiance, and boldness.  I think my mistake was in trying to put a little too much effort in blogging about it, aggravating (among other things) a bad sleeping disorder.  Not to mention that I really looked ugly doing that.

Horrendously ugly.  Uglier than the six or so clauses I cram into one sentence.

So really, Carlos Celdran should have done absolutely nothing.

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Celdran and the Proper Forum

I’m not a friend of Carlos Celdran: I know him, but I doubt he knows who I am.  I’m not a fan of the “Damaso” stunt, either.  That said, I’m not writing this entry to defend Mr. Celdran or condemn him.  I’m writing this entry for the sake of the argument that Mr. Celdran was convicted for the venue of his stunt.  The logic that – for all intents and purposes of the word – he should have raised his voice, and for that matter his “Damaso” sign, in the (drumroll…) proper forum.

Image source

I think that whenever we blurt out phrases like “the rule of Law” (yes, with a capital “L”) and “the proper forum,” we detract – and perhaps even deduct – from the argument.  The reality is that the “proper forum” that we often defend to high heavens (pun intended) is not accessible to us.  Everything we do, and every place we go to do the things we do, is a relationship with power: negotiating with it, managing it, and often, taking control of it.

He should have, just like all of us, genuflected, prayed, and reflected.  Just like all of us, he should have just been the quiet spectator in the meeting, and waited until Mass was celebrated.

Just like all of us… the problem is, he isn’t.

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From the Chair

There is something very off-putting about the way the Philippine Roman Catholic Church frames the “right to life,” even more so after failing to defeat the Reproductive Health Law.  For Daet Bishop Gilbert Garcera, for example, the huge Philippine population is “part of God’s plan:” one that includes a divine mission to become the world’s caregivers and domestics, and for Filipino women to become “good wives” for foreigners.

It’s either a slip of the tongue, or Garcera pretty much says that the Philippine Roman Catholic Church endorses anti-development policies and white slavery.  And for the wrath of God just this month: according to the chronicles of Broderick Pabillo, Manila Auxiliary Bishop, the casualties and damages of Typhoon Pablo were warnings from God against the passage of the RH Bill.

Truth be told, the Philippine Roman Catholic Church can be the “conscience vote” that it proclaims itself to be when necessary.  When the Church leaders take a stand against mining, the injustices of sharecropping, and other issues that run counter to decent and productive living, it becomes a very powerful voice in the debate.  But with the RH bill, the Church leaders ran counter to the very principles they fight for in the struggle for decent and productive living.  The arguments aren’t made from the flock, but from the chair.  They are arguments devoid of reality, detached from experience.  In his statements, it was as if Msgr. Garcera takes the right to life as separate and distincts from the rights of the living.

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