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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, September 18, 2016

entry arrow6:33 PM | Searching for Silence

My missives of late have been, invariably, a plea for silence beyond the noise of the online world.

On September 13, Monday at 5:46 PM, I began it by posting in Facebook: “My body and my soul are aching for silence. A silence that begets productivity. Have deleted three apps so far in my phone.” Alas, there are certainly apps out there that demand our earnest, if haphazard and occasional attention, and yet bring us nothing concrete really to the business of life. Like Tinder. Why do we even have Tinder? Deleted.

I was longing for productivity. I was longing to create, and yet every ounce of me is being seduced by the eternal lure of the Internet. Life has become a business of trying to temper this lure, and find an offline reality that finally sates, because tangible. Every day is a battle to do the right thing, offline. And so, with all the irony that this line can muster, I report that on September 14, Tuesday at 10:34 AM, I posted again on Facebook: “Trying to do and start this day right by getting a proper breakfast at Le Chalet.” And then at 8:44 PM, I posted on Twitter: “Eyes on the ball”—as I found myself in a café where the wifi had conked out, and in the bliss of that disconnection, I found myself writing a story, and finishing certain things I had been meaning to accomplish. And then later that night, at 1:09 AM, finally back home in my apartment, I wrote in Facebook: “One major dragon tamed. Finally. Now, to rest for the meantime. More battles ahead.”

On September 15, I Instagrammed a page from Austin Kleon’s book Steal Like an Artist, which I have been trying to read again. The photo bore the following text: “Quick picking fights and go make something.” Later that day, I posted: “I’m trying to ease myself into meditative quiet via Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis. Exhaling the world, inhaling sweet surrender.”

It has been a battle to find the best terms of that surrender.

It didn’t use to be so alarming. Only a few years ago, our online lives were representations of the personal, if curated. People talked about the travels they did, the books they read, the movies they watched. They food-porned their dinners for Instagram. They quarreled over dresses that looked white-and-gold for some, and blue-and-black for others. Now it is all political noise and murders and suspicions, not just in the Philippines, but also Europe (Brexit), and America (the Trump machine)—making 2016 the most contentious year, ever, since social media took over the world.

And there is no winning any of these arguments at all. I’ve realized that the best argument I can give against EJKs for otherwise good people who cheer for it is to tell them this: “The only way you can convince me about its rightness is when you can honestly see your own hand picking up a gun and shooting these people yourself, without any qualms. Don’t let some anonymous ‘vigilante’ do it for you, if you have conviction for it. I’ll give you a name. Can you pick up that gun? Can you shoot this ‘cancerous’ element of society yourself? And if not, why?” It’s meant to bring the issue to the realm of the personal, away from the abstraction that arises from media reports and Facebook debates.

I can only wish it ends the argument.

It doesn’t.

Sometimes I blame September. It is the month, after all, that catches Dumaguete’s hangover after the festivities of August—and augurs bitterly for students who suddenly find an accelerated return to academic demands after a long, party-filled vacation. September also brings with it the shock of realization that the year is soon ending. It is the official beginning of the Christmas season for the country, and the Christmas songs blaring everywhere does not bring tidings of good cheer at all but a taunt that says: “It’s almost the end of the year. Time flies by so fast. What have you done with your year?”

And September finally brings with it the memory of two historical horrors: Martial Law and 9/11. September 11, also Marcos’ birthday, is still a day I can never forget. It was the day I first got the surge of feeling of much foreboding, that the future was going to be bleak and more people were going to die. (And I’m feeling this now about our country, frankly speaking.) I was 26 when the towers of the World Trade Center fell, and that was the day the last vestiges of my innocence faded away.

In the Philippines, this month is also when the shadows of a bitter past give us some reckoning again. I traipsed through the literature of the Period of the Republic (roughly 1946-1966) in my Philippine literature classes last Friday—using poems and stories by Rogelio Sicat, Nick Joaquin, Rolando Tinio, and Edith Tiempo as samples to explore post-American colonial literary concerns and developments, especially in the early years of the Republic—but I knew full well that I would have to steel myself for a heady lecture on Martial Law literature by the next week. Which was also perfect, if morbid, timing.

The Martial Law years needed remembering.

The plan for Martial Law, now known as Oplan Sagittarius, was leaked on September 13, 44 years ago. But Marcos was smart enough to provide the mechanism for identifying the leak. Here’s an excerpts from the book The Conjugal Dictatorship by Primitivo Mijares [who was later killed by Marcos]: “One of the best kept secrets of the martial law planning of Marcos was that, when he had finalized the plan and he had come to a decision to impose it, he distributed the copies of the plan in sealed envelopes to the military officials and leaders of the intelligence community. He took great care and caution to assign different Zodiac code-names to the copies he handed out to the would-be martial law enforcers. The first letter of each code-name corresponded to the first letter of the surname of the recipient. The copy that code-named ‘Sagittarius’ went to Gen. Marcos Soliman, a Pampango who was the chief of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA). It was so easy and convenient then to pinpoint Soliman as the source of Aquino. Thus, ranking officers of the armed forces did not have to commit mental dishonesty when they denied the existence of ‘Oplan Sagittarius.’ They were not aware of any game plan by that code-name. However, they did acknowledge to newsmen that the contingency plan was the martial law plan itself.”

Soliman himself died shortly after the leak, ostensibly of a heart attack.

TV4’s InterAksyon has a good archive online that gives us testimonies of some of the people during Martial Law, which lasted from 1972 until 1983—but really continued in an unofficial form even much later. Of Etta Rosales, they wrote: “There was nothing safe about the ‘safehouse’ in Pasig where during the early Martial Law years, then teacher Loretta Ann Rosales and her five companions were brought to. It was in this place where Rosales, who would later head the Commission on Human Rights, was interrogated and tortured for a month by her captors—military agents who turned out to be her students at the Jose Rizal College. Rosales was electrocuted and sexually abused. Hot candle wax was also poured on her skin and a wet cloth was used to suffocate her. Despite her anguish, Rosales says she never thought that it would already be her end: ‘I wasn’t thinking of dying, I was fighting for life.’”

Of Domiciano Amparo, they wrote: “Amparo was one of five persons arrested by government troops in the Mountain Province town of Sagada in 1984. Buried up to his chest in the ground, his captors stomped on him, kicked his face until he lost all feeling there, rode him like a horse, made ashtrays of his shoulders until, feeling he would no longer make it, he was advised to ‘pray, pray all the prayers you know, your time has come…’”

And yet, also last week, we had Imee Marcos pronouncing the unexpected. In some forum, she spoke about how her father may have done things that were wrong, but that he was only human, and he should be forgiven. It shocked me. But somehow, I could actually take that in good faith. It’s not yet enough, but this could be the start of a dialogue. I remember the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the 1990s, which was a successful experiment in dealing with historical atrocities (and in South Africa’s case, the long years of the apartheid). It was based on this premise: admit your sin, confront your legacy of bloodshed with everything put on record ... and you will be given amnesty. “Forgive my father,” a Marcos family member finally told us. That’s a kind of admittance that he did do something wrong. It’s a start. Let’s begin.

September is full of noise.

In Maria Popova’s wonderful blog, Brain Pickings, I came across a reminder: “‘There are many fine things which we cannot say if we have to shout,’ Henry David Thoreau observed in contemplating how silence ennobles speech. A year earlier, he had written in his journal: ‘I wish to hear the silence of the night, for the silence is something positive and to be heard.’ It’s a sentiment of almost unbearable bittersweetness today, a century and a half later, as we find ourselves immersed in a culture that increasingly mistakes loudness for authority, vociferousness for voice, screaming for substance. We seem to have forgotten what Susan Sontag reminded us half a century ago—that ‘silence remains, inescapably, a form of speech,’ that it has its own aesthetic, and that learning to wield it is among the great arts of living.”

I am still searching for it, this silence. I hope in the bowels of September, a semblance of it can somehow be found.

Art by Julia Kuo

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