[IRL] ASWANG SA PANAHON NG PANDEMYA
By Menchu Aquino Sarmiento
The aswang is said to be a stand-in for The Other: the social outcast, the misfit. The Other does not conform to what is considered normal in the community, and is thus stigmatized, set apart. Right after Pres. Duterte won the elections, he cast the drug addict and the small time pusher as The Other. Beyond stigma, this was a death sentence without judicial trial or legal recourse.
During the early months of the pandemic, having a Covid patient stigmatized the entire family, just as medical frontliners were also set apart. In some instances, HCWs were thrown out of their rental lodgings, or even refused seats on public transportation. However, the pandemic has been with us for a year and a half, so we’ve gotten pretty used to it’s becoming practically endemic, like dengue or the flu. That may be our new normal.
The aswang’s malice is usually targeted or individualized. Local lore does not have the aswang striking down multitudes in one fell blow. Slum communities have reported that when the authorities conducted tokhang, several, including innocent children, their other housemates or mere bystanders, were also killed. As one 2022 presidential candidate put it: “S--- happens.” Still, the aswang’s evil deeds do not have the wide scale, far-reaching effects of, let’s say, plunder by high public officials, or systemic corruption in government agencies. Such high white collar crimes do keep generations of millions in dire poverty, indirectly causing death by deprivation of the most basic human needs such as nutritious food, decent shelter, a good education and fairly paid work.
The anti-social acts of the aswang these days might be seen in the way trolls operate. They’re not only digital. The other night, a young friend, walking her dog, encountered a distraught watermelon vendor outside the Office of the Vice President. He was a KakamPINK who had received a text that the OVP was ordering a dozen melons from him. He had walked there with his cart, arriving well after office hours, only to find out he’d been pranked.
Whoever had done this to him was probably part of the same depressed slum community he lived in: someone known to him who wanted to discredit VPL and who also begrudged this poor vendor his meager but honest livelihood, despite trolling being far more lucrative. It was oppression within the ranks of the laylayan. Every day, the vendor goes into debt just to buy the fruits he sells. My young friend who lives alone and doesn’t particularly care for watermelon, bought one to lighten the poor vendor’s burden. This was her little way of showing radical love to a stranger. Every act of kindness counts in the cosmic balance. May such good deeds far outweigh the many wrongs in this world.
Menchu Aquino Sarmiento is an award-winning writer and a social concerns advocate. IRL (In Real Life) are short verbal pagmumuni-muni, the essay equivalent of fast fiction--but in real life. She really wants more Filipinos to care, and to do something legal and non-violent about it, preferably together, so that we act more like a civilized country, a mature democracy.