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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Sunday, July 24, 2016

entry arrow3:46 PM | The Kill List Chronicles

I’ve decided to create a new literary blog/e-zine over at Medium that aims to collect and archive new literary pieces by Filipino writers — poems, short stories, essays, short comics, maybe even short plays — that are being written to protest the “new normal” of impunity under the new administration. I’m calling it The Kill List Chronicles, and I’ve written a short essay [The New Protest Literature, below] about it to kind of put it in the light of the long tradition of protest literature here in the Philippines. So far, we have Krip Yuson’s “Civil Service” [poem], Floy Quintos’ “Untitled” [poem], Niccolo Vitug’s “Lines Tracing Em-J” [poem], Joel Pablo Salud’s “When Darkness Knocks at Your Door” [essay], Carljoe Javier’s “Cardboard Villanelle” [poem], Gabriela Lee's Shaping a Death [poem], and Teddy Espela’s “Isang Biyernes sa EDSA” [poem], but I’m sure more will be coming as writers become angrier by the day. You can PM me if you want to submit something, or you can email me at kill.list.chronicles[at]gmail.com.

The New Protest Literature in the Time of Duterte

On 23 July 2016 at 12:08 AM, the preeminent fictionist Jose Y. Dalisay Jr., author of such novels as Killing Time in a Warm Place and Soledad’s Sister, tweeted a link to a photo, and captioned it: “Here’s what they did to our dear Lauren, another innocent casualty. Pinoy lives matter! Stop the killings!” Lauren, the girlfriend of Dalisay’s nephew, was an ordinary young woman, certainly not a criminal, and on the day she died, she was just another commuter aboard a Makati jeepney — only to meet the grisliest end: shot by some random individual for some random reason, another casualty, people say, from the “culture of impunity” that is currently gripping the Philippines under the presidency of Rodrigo Duterte. Duterte’s “war on drugs,” a month after his inauguration, seems to have spilled into darker territories, where innocent people have become “collateral damage” in a battle that wades in the murky shallows of the illicit.

At that time, I wrote in Facebook: “Butch Dalisay just tweeted the dead body of Lauren, his nephew’s girlfriend, another innocent victim in this growing culture of murders. Can’t share it. It’s horrible. Her blood is on our hands. Did she think this could happen to her? I don’t think so. It could happen to us. It could happen to someone you love. Perhaps only then will you realise: ‘This wasn’t an abstract thing after all. This isn’t just some stupid argument in Facebook. This shit is real.’” I was moved to despair by the starkness of Dalisay’s missive: here were the briefest of lines from someone who has written a lot, someone who had in fact chronicled extensively what life was like enduring the darkness of Marcos’s Martial Rule. But it was clearly a tweet full of rage, and full of unbelieving incredulity over the increasing impunity we have suddenly come face to face with in a Philippines under the Duterte presidency. Fact: his is an administration that had recently won a massive mandate to rid the country of the corrupt and the corrupted — drug abusers and addicts included — and it had promised to do so using extra legal means. Many people have taken to criticizing the culture of permissivenness open to violence, smelling that campaigns like this have never yielded the best kinds of results. For these people, a country, ostensibly a democratic one, without due process is a monster in the making.

Many Filipino writers, aside from Butch Dalisay, have slowly come out of the shadows of overwhelming public approval of the ongoing purge, to register dissent, to call for a process of justice that also respects human life and dignity, to strive for a country that recognizes that indeed crime must pay but this must be done in the only way that makes our democracy a functioning one. Anything else is a form of fascism.

This sentiment has become, of late, a very unpopular one, considered by Duterte supporters (numbering in the millions) as being personally critical of the President. But activist-artists have never been one to settle for popular opinion, especially if what’s at stake is something greater and bigger than what the popular can see. The popular is often blind, and its reckoning is deeper and mostly unseen and uncomprehended, and will bite only at the tail end in the long run of things.

Literary artists, when they choose to engage their dissenting views, produce what is sometimes called “protest literature.” And the Philippines has a long tradition of this.

In the later decades of Spanish colonial rule, local writers — Katipuneros, most of them — first wrote poems and essays and ditties (and novels!) to register hopes for reform for colonial Philippines (Jose Rizal, Pedro Paterno, and Marcelo H. del Pilar among them). And when reform by the Spaniards (particularly the friars) didn’t quite happen, local writers took up the pen to fan, with exquisite rage, the flames of revolution (Andres Bonifacio, Apolinario Mabini, and Emilio Jacinto among them).

When the Americans arrived and began to colonise us, much to our surprise, our dramatists were among the first to register dissent in plays that were subversive and poisonous in their depictions of Americans as greedy colonisers. Juan Abad wrote Tanikalang Guinto in 1902, Juan Matapang Cruz wrote Hindi Aco Patay in 1903, among others — and their plays dramatised such vehement protests that American authorities took quick notice and jailed many of them for the provocation. The game of protest literature is always that of provocation in the name of dissent, and the poets at that time were also no slouches in writing verses that condemned the colonisation of the Philippines by the Americans. One such poet, Cecilio Apostol, wrote a Spanish poem titled “Al Yankee” that minced no words about what Filipinos exactly thought of Americans right at the very beginning of the Filipino-American War:

Never, when might,
joined with treason and injustice
to crush the laws and rights
the sacred rights of a race,

When the sons of the infamous Judas
sell the faith that has been sworn,
when the whimper of weak peoples
they answer with animal laughter;

When holy right is battered
in the banquet of human ambition,
as when the Yankees
toast a nation to the sound of cannon.

Silence is impossible: the oppressed nation
shall protest indignantly
and bury the dagger of vengeance
in the enemy’s breast.

This unredeemed people
may perhaps succumb in the struggle,
but only its corpse
can be yoked by alien tyranny.

Yankee! If you defeat us
with the powerful weight of weapons,
you will not live happily, because
you are hated
even by the air of my native land.

Yankee! If my verses
survive me, their words
will echo in the centuries to come
the eternal hate of the eternal outcast

(Translated by Nicanor G. Tiongson)

Protest literature again reared its head when Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law in 1972, his reason basically that for consolidating power disallowed by the Constitution. Much of the protest literature of the time, especially at the height of the regime’s power, was clandestine journalism which was wittily called the “mosquito press” — because these were news bulletins written and produced in secret, and their impact were very much like the sting of mosquitoes.

The censorship of literature was so profoundly felt that poets like Jose F. Lacaba had to resort to trickery to have his protest poem, “Prometheus Unbound,” published in a mainstream publication, its anti-Marcos message coming across only when you realise that the poem — ostensibly about a Greek mythological figure — is actually an acrostic poem that spelled out a hidden message: “Marcos Hitler Diktador Tuta.” That he was soon found out, and then jailed, is testament to the regime’s power, to its cunning intelligence, and to the veracity of its iron grip on literary artists. Many of the best writers of that time — some of them even victims of Martial Law themselves — soon found themselves ironically doing propaganda work for Marcos under the direction of Adrian Cristobal. Others, like Kerima Polotan and Jose Tuvera, were closely identified with the regime. But others still took to the pen to register their disgust for the violent excesses of Martial Law, Nick Joaquin among them, as well as directors like Lino Brocka and Ishmael Bernal who carefully composed their film dramas (Bernal’s Manila By Night and Brocka’s Jaguar) to be critical of the Marcoses and their agenda, done in the Filipino version of subtlety.

Most of the poetry, the novels, the essays, the dramas, and the short stories critical of Marcos would come in only much later, especially when the dictator began relaxing his hold in the early 1980s, finally “officially” ending Martial Law in 1982. But once Marcos was booted out in 1986, two anthologies were immediately rushed for publication to compile the protest literature of the last two decades — Versus: Philippine Protest Poetry, 1983–1986 edited by Alfrredo Navarro Salanga, and Kamao: Panitikan ng Protesta 1970–1986, edited by Salangga, Lilia Quindoza-Santigao, Reuel Molina Aguilar, and Herminio S. Beltran Jr.

Protest literature from the Marcos period ranged from themes of inner journeys as rebels in the mountains (Emmanuel Lacaba’s “Letter to Filipino Artists”) to the musings of ordinary people being harshly reminded of a contemporary evil (Merlie Alunan’s “The Bells Count in Our Blood” and Lualhati Bautista’s Dekada ‘70); from understanding the chaos of the Pinoy culture and politics of the time (Ninotchka Rosca’s State of War, Jessica Hagedorn’s Dogeaters, and Arlene J. Chai’s Eating Fire and Drinking Water) to a matter-of-fact historical accounting of Martial Law’s unfolding (Dalisay’s Killing Time in a Warm Place and Azucena Grajo Uranza’s Bamboo in the Wind); from the whimsical (Cesar Ruiz Aquino’s “A Tale of Two Diaries”) to the horrific (Mila Aguilar’s Why Cage Pigeons?).

Filipino writers are still in fact trying to come to terms with the horrors of Martial Law — it is an enduring subject matter — and there are still literary works being produced at the moment that are trying to understand its uncommon evil, from Katrina Tuvera’s novel The Jupiter Effect to Augie Rivera’s children’s book Si Jhun-Jhun, Noong Bago Ideklara ang Batas Militar, from Menchu Aquino Sarmiento’s short story “Good Intentions 101: SY ‘72-‘73” to Mike Alcarazen’s satirical essay “The Millennial’s Guide to Martial Law,” from Russell Molina and Kajo Baldisimo’s comic book 12:01 to Kanakan Balintagos’ one-act play Loyalist.

And it’s not all about Marcos in contemporary protest literature. The fall from grace of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, especially regarding the charge of plunder levelled against her, elicited considerable literary ferment, one of which is Gemino Abad’s poem “My Country’s Imp (After EDSA 3)”:

And we are nowhere still, hostile to process
And living mostly on the surface of things,
Captive to our Imp’s “metaphysics” of happiness —
A spate of all the world’s amber mornings.

For we blink the sad, dark faces of things,
The razz and dazzle of our Imp’s humor — 
Flux of all the world’s electric mornings — 
Blank time’s malice to rouse our spirit’s ichor.

O razz and sparkle of our Imp’s humor,
Such gristle as shatters the tyrant’s laws,
Voids history’s ills, and fires our spirit’s liquor
Where coups vaporize in politics without clews!

What Imp’s grit to scatter the despot’s laws!
And because our fathers loved us, their sins fade
Where ventures choke in scams without clews.
Brief triumph! hubbub and rabble of barricade.

And because our kin are loved, their follies fade
Where shanties barnacle our suffocated creeks.
Fleet glory! and baffle and babble retrograde,
Our Imp still rules, and our laughter leaks.

Where our shacks totter over poisoned creeks,
The thief’s our saint who had faith and was saved.
The Imp enthralls yet where our carnival leaks;
But here is no country still, our honchos depraved.

The thief goes scot-free, by a helicopter saved,
The Imp outwits our writ of habeas loot.
No logic avails, no country where lawyers rave,
Everything is soon forgot, all heroics for naught.

Yet our wit is wound with wounds that wail,
Captive to our Imp’s “metaphysics” of happiness.
We bear our father’s sins ever without bail,
And we are nowhere still, hostile to process.

The rise of Rodrigo Duterte to the presidency, and his unorthodox methods of dealing with some of the country’s problems has currently inspired — if that is the right word at all — a few of our writers to take to the literary to express their grief and their horror, all in all registering a dissent that is still forming, that has yet to be studied. Some of the works take their cue from the bloody reports from television news and broadsheets. Some from the unexpected deaths — the new “collateral damage” — of friends and people they know. Some have began their project long before Duterte’s election to the presidency, most notably Davao-based fictionist John Bengan’s series of stories that tried to limn the evils of the extrajudicial killings that consumed Davao under the rule of Duterte and his relatives.

This blog is an attempt to archive the new literature of protest that is now beginning to be written. Only the future can tell how this literature, as a prospective tool for change, can impact what is going on at present. Protest literature are almost always considered only in the aftermath; perhaps this project can change that, and can demonstrate, once and for all, the power of literature as a social tool.

Art by Jb Casacop

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