By Marian Pastor Roces
A Latino beat can be picked up in the dreadful Philippine everyday.
A contrapuntal beat sounds out danger and makes percussion of the insanity of it all.
Policemen just killed soldiers. Government officials are red-tagging nuns and priests. “Red” is so early 20th century, but causes no re-examination. The noises are so the wrong century. But lethal still, as though a deathless virus.
At a time when accurate information is literally a matter of life and death, the biggest media organization is forcibly shut down. And the fiercest online news service and its head are so hounded, it is literally a witch hunt. Again, wrong century. That’s the Inquisition! So 16th century.
Ghosts of centuries past never left. During his midnight rants, the cadaverous chief disgorges death motifs from multiple time horizons. But also, the ghoulish appearances perfectly match the present, a time of death rattles.
When the chief speaks, it is always Grand-Guignol.
Except that this is not really theater, because Rodrigo Duterte presides over real, straightforward death, hunger, and violence.
COVID-19 statistics shot up with an additional 2,435 cases over the weekend, sustaining the Philippines’ spurious achievement of nearing the top of the Asian charts. Highest single-day jump so far, July 5.
July 5 is bracketed by the week when the Anti-Terrorism Law was signed, and the week when the fate of ABS-CBN is decided. There is more than a pandemic upon Filipinos, of course, and these back-to-back events deliver body blows.
Perhaps, for Filipinos, the blows are survivable because something funny invariably leaks out of the surface of things.
One site of leakage, Cebu City, became a COVID-19 flash point while Cebu’s Governor brawled with doctors. Pushing juju because the poor may not be able to afford hospitals, she is illiterate about what it takes to be pro-poor. It is really funny.
Sad stuff can have energetic, comic undertones. As the pandemic statistics shoot up, the credibility of the Department of Health slides down precipitously. It is hilarious, even without a sense of irony.
Meanwhile, the government solution to the inordinate strain on Metro Manila health facilities is to shoo people back to the provinces. The shoo-ing was solemnly announced by the President’s pet senator-factotum.
Using a tired old name, Balik-Probinsya, the Administration men feigned gravitas, and intoned the project as though it were an actual policy (which by the nature of the beast is carefully thought out) instead of a morsel of discredited theory, picked up from dustbin of history.
The tired old idea has a new brisk outcome. COVID-19 has crossed the archipelago’s internal seas and is now everywhere. The government is an equal opportunity vector. Filipinos get the comedy of errors.
The Department of Education needs to quickly roll-out online teaching to 20-some million children. Computers access at this scale of need? DepEd has got to be kidding.
It did not occur to the powers-that-be that ABS-CBN has precisely the national communications network that can fill the digital gap in an instant, and get the kids into virtual school. But. No. Iglesia ni Kristo, unholy actor, wants the transmission frequencies to facilitate the opposite of education: mass lobotomy. This one is a kind of cosmic joke.
Nakakalowka is the purest Pinoy utterance of the moment. Kalerks is when the only possibly good thinking is self-mockery as a people.
When the lock-down was declared over, and work greenlighted, it should have surprised no one that the transport system was, is, not ready. walked 8 hours to go to work for 8 hours.
Newly jobless and repatriated overseas workers, heroicized ad nauseum for buoying up the national economy for decades, just crash landed on the Netflix-zombied-out middle class folks. They were initially denied identity. From on-high, the word was that the throng huddled under the overpass to the international airport are not OFW arrivals. Then. Wait. Yes they are pala.
But. Hold on. Can they be removed? Where they’re not, to be such a picture of national shame?
By their very bodies, the public indicts the leadership—whether the individuals approve of the leadership or not. They do not have to rally and they do not have to say a thing. They are just spectacles of their own condition: workers walking the entire length of EDSA, jeepney drivers begging for cash or food where they used to ply their routes, long lines of the homeless awaiting food assistance, medical professionals stretched beyond limit. Their very public agony needs no editorial comment.
And they do signal that there are limits to what can be funny. Filipinos recognize the lines.
Still, Filipinos also cross lines all the time. Often, in fact, discharging black humor again. The policemen crossed such a line in Jolo—a line that is much less clear than it should be between the PNP and the AFP—and killed Intelligence operatives. Very dark joke on the Filipino.
The former Scout Rangers were on the trail of men who planned the bombing of a Jolo church in 2019; linked in turn to the Abu Sayyaf, in turn to the Islamic State, so-called, in turn to Daesh. They were, in other words, after the true objects of terrorist hunts.
At precisely the time the Anti-Terror Law is rammed down the collective throat of the body politic, an entire group of anti-terrorist operatives, so close to quarry, are killed. The best shot at an anti-terror is snuffed out, while anti-terror law is now about to run after the wrong targets: student activists, the legal opposition, anyone who had a bad day and cursed the President.
And all this goes on while illegal drugs from China bleed through corrupted border controls, even as tokhang continues, bleeding real blood. Mind-boggling absurdity.
Livin’ Covida loca, Philippine version, Latino nation, is all high drama and lunacy. The President imposes a particularly berserk dynamic. His baddest joke on the nation—that the pandemic’s successful career in the Philippines is the Filipino’s fault—brings everything up to operatic level.
What remains to be seen is if the nation can turn the joke on him.