When People Power Short-circuits

I feel like I’ve written about this before. The players may be different, the occasion dissimilar, but the result remains the same: mayhem in the streets. This year’s commemoration of People Power 1 came down to rally permit revocations, crowd dispersals, and arrests because of an aborted coup attempt. And right now, some Marines are holed up at Fort Bonifacio protesting the relieving of Maj. Gen. Renato Miranda, one of their commandants, even though his relief was upon his request. Like vultures circling a dying man in the desert, some politicians showed up at the site. Are they hoping for People Power redux, which was an aborted coup attempt that catalyzed a civil action that was just waiting for a good excuse? The Marines’s instigator has called upon civilians to protect the uprisers from aggression, which has echoes of a similar appeal to civil society 20 years ago.

The first People Power was special. As Richie says so eloquently:

“All I see that People Power has brought us is the rule of the street parliamentarian – if you rally enough, even the president can be toppled, and to hell with the law! It has made the Filipino arrogant. It has corrupted our very soul with the fantasy that given enough rallying and people on their side, the masses can choose their own leader, if they don’t like the current one – and install him or her without benefit of the vote. We’re all going to hell, and yes, it was paved with good intentions.”

I haven’t been a big fan of the street protest ever since I realized nothing really fundamental changes after the people go home. Sure we can topple the Chief Executive, but the same people who were in power during Marcos’s time were only temporarily attenuated by Cory Aquino’s wrath before they sprouted again like weeds whose roots haven’t been killed. Not everybody’s going to be pleased about who’s president at any given point in time; that’s the price we pay for democracy by majority election. Having a bad president doesn’t necessarily mean that the problem rests entirely where the buck stops; through whose hands did the buck pass in the first place?

The buck starts right here, with each individual person. What Filipino has not had the thought pop into his or her head that due process can be expedited or circumvented through palm-greasing or other queue-jumping measures? The cold and bitter truth is that we have become a nation of cheats and liars; why else would it be so newsworthy that a taxi driver returns a foreigner’s wallet? Sure, there are individuals with hearts of gold and clear conscience, but this society as an organism leaves much honesty to be desired. I’m beginning to wonder if it’s really reasonable to expect honesty from the president when the very machinery that runs under her loses 13 percent of the government budget to corruption–and the laws to protect against this aren’t enforced either!

I think our education as a people is sadly lacking in emphasis on respect for discipline and the law. Sure, we study the Constitution in every high school, but in practice disregard for law is the rule. “You can cheat/lie/steal/kill. Just don’t get caught. If you get caught, you can get out of getting punished for it. Because, you know, the laws are just suggestions.”

The same perception is probably taken toward Christian doctrine. For Asia’s largest “Christian” population (I’m aware the term is very loosely used), this country’s people seem to forget there’s a passage in the Bible that was written at a time when dictatorship and oppression ruled: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” (Romans 13:1)

UPDATE: Well, the Marines are back in their barracks and the acting commandant Brig. Gen. Nelson Allaga has said, “The Philippine Marine Corps is solid … We will not allow ourselves to be used by politicians.” Take that, you vultures.

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Matchmaker

My Aunt T and Uncle R came over last night to spend a week or two here at our house. They’re on vacation from Canada and they stayed with some relatives of my aunt down in Alabang half of this week. Uncle R is Papa’s cousin, so their relatives in Alabang aren’t our blood relations.

Ibinebenta ka na namin (We’re setting up a match for you),” Aunt T said with a laugh to me barely fifteen minutes after I’d first met her. Throughout last night she discussed the following things:

  • My dad has two cousins who are both spinsters, so being an old maid runs in our family and must be prevented in my sister and myself.
  • Filipina women are naturally more solicitous towards their husbands; they’ll serve them hand and foot because it’s how they show their love.
  • She has a nephew whose family hit it big in agriculture, and she thinks I’ll make a fine match for him. By the way, he’s 33 years old.

I don’t know whether this is a byproduct of reading Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, and Emma in a row, but last night I felt like I was trapped inside a Jane Austen novel. Not that it’s a bad thing (I kept hoping Mr. Darcy would show up), but it just hadn’t occurred to me until then that there are actually people who will pair their niece (a spinster in-the-making) off with the next rich guy. Now I know why it was so revolting to Ms. Austen’s characters.

Interesting Times

I’ve heard that the Chinese have a saying: “May you live in interesting times.” It’s supposedly meant as a curse, since “interesting” can be good interesting or bad interesting.

Well, I’ve had an interesting morning. After going to the gym with my sister, I decided to stop by Eastwood City for a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf ice blended drink. I parked my car, took my time sipping the drink, reading about the latest news concerning the Leyte landslide. Then, I picked up my trash and put it in the bin, returned the newspaper to its rack, and walked back to the car.

I put the key in the ignition and turned it. Click went the engine, and the dashboard lights fell dark. I tried it again. Still, nothing. I got the wrench from the trunk, unscrewed the car battery contacts, scraped them clean of oxidation, and reattached them. Then I turned the key again. The dashboard lights flickered, then went dark.

So now, I’m here in an internet cafe paying P70 an hour, killing time until the mall opens so that I can do something else. My dad has to attend to some business, so I’ll have to wait until after lunch to be rescued.

How was your morning? Ü

Movie Musings

Last weekend my friends and sister made an impromptu decision to go to the movies. I joined them there, even though I had no idea what would be playing in the theaters. A few days earlier, though, I’d seen a trailer on television and noticed that Eric Bana had a new film out. I didn’t know what that film was, but I do like Bana’s acting (for what it’s worth, I think he and Sean Bean were the saving grace of Troy). So when we saw the cast for Munich, Steven Spielberg’s new opus, we decided to get tickets for that immediately. We almost began regretting that we’d bought tickets so quickly when we saw that Firewall was also playing, and had Harrison Ford in the lead.

Fortunately, Eric Bana and the entire ensemble cast of Munich didn’t disappoint, and even exceeded our expectations. To tell you the truth, I don’t think we really knew what we were getting to when we sat down inside the theater. I think we’d forgotten that this was Spielberg the director of Schindler’s List, and we assumed the film would be a lightweight sort, like Catch Me If You Can. Instead, we were treated to a heart-wrenching display of human drama where the killings were secondary in nature to, and only instrumental in, the development and deterioration of the characters into madness. I think you can safely say that we loved it; it was a lovingly and painstakingly crafted film that didn’t glory in violence but instead is a call for peace–or at least for a truce. I don’t want to say any more about the film, but I highly recommend that people watch it. It’s a refreshing palate-cleanser from the gooey local loveteam movies, and it has a lot more substance. (I don’t mean to be unFilipino or unpatriotic, but I really, really don’t plan on watching films about local loveteams.)

In other movie news, Aeon Flux has finally hit Philippine cinemas. Although panned by critics and unpatronized by moviegoers in the US, I managed to watch this one on DVD prior to it being shown locally, and I have to say I liked it. I really, really liked it. It’s very loosely based on the MTV Liquid Television series of the same name. I say “very loosely” because this film comes up with a background story about the eponymous main character (played by Charlize Theron) and a cohesive plotline and motivation for Flux’s actions; these were things the MTV series rarely (never?) had. Also, Aeon wears more clothing, has a smaller bustline, and has short hair in this film. Ü In any case, this is a fun romp in a futuristic world; it’s a very slick film with stunning visuals and a nice twist ending. If you liked Tomb Raider, you’ll appreciate this one.

I have to say it’s a shame Pride and Prejudice is scheduled to come out locally in March, instead of during this week (Valentine’s Day) when it should logically have been shown.

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Writer’s Block

I loved writing stories when I was younger. I’d fire up my IBM-compatible 486 desktop computer, my eyes straining at the wash of white characters on the screen’s black background. I’d write stories based on a TV movie series shown on HBO, inserting myself and my friends into that world (these days that’s known as Mary Sue-ing, but I digress). Later on I also wrote fanfiction about The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest (you’ll find some of my work on Quest Enterprises) and had a short-lived stint as an aspiring fic writer for the anime Rurouni Kenshin (I’m on FanFiction.net for that).

Every time I tried to come up with an original story, however, I had problems with characterization and with location. Fanfiction lent itself to derivation because the groundwork for the characters had already been laid. An original work, however — one had to put a lot of work into who the characters are, what their motivations should be. As for location, most of the books I’d read took place in America or in Europe — places I’ve never been. Trying to set a story in the Philippines, I ran into language problems as well. How could I use English when most of what I knew passed for conversation took place in Tagalog? How much of Philippine social life did I know, anyway?

The more I thought about these issues, the more I couldn’t write. And the more I read novels that had been written with painstaking historical and technical accuracy (Michael Crichton, this means you!!), the more I felt my own incompetence. “Write what you know,” the ghost of Louisa May Alcott whispered gently to me. “I know nothing!” I cried, and clapped my hands over my ears. So I stopped writing, letting ideas fly over my head and leaving them to swarm elsewhere.

Lately though, the ideas have been buzzing like flies, landing, biting, whining in my ear, flying off and coming back again. The mere length of time an elevator took to reach my floor sent my brain into a creative tizzy about what could be causing its delay and whether a story could be written of it. Observing people around me, I began to create little stories about what kind of people they were and what kind of life they led. Reading more books only attracted more ideas, this time about building entire universes where the places, the people, the workings are strange so there would be no need to know much about the geography of the Earth, if I knew the landscape of my mind well enough to map it with my stories.

Now, my head is full of words. My notebook is empty of them. What’s stopping me from writing? I think I’m afraid of falling into the earlier trap, of being derivative and unoriginal or of not knowing enough about human nature to write about people. How can I know that my stories aren’t just some pastiche of the works of previous authors? Do I have a tale to tell uniquely my own creation? What about subtext, the tale between the lines? My imagination is bound by self-doubt and by my own education (or lack thereof). Simply put, I’m stuck.

So I’ll start with the smaller ideas. I’ll catch them and look at them and pin them onto the page with my pen and ink. I hope I’m onto something.