‘Tis no mean job, this racket called column writing. Readers invariably expect you to sound great, when deep inside you, you know you’re not. Unless you’ve gone so deep into your megalomaniac abyss out of which you can no longer be extricated. That’s great, aint it? Actually, it’s magic. Imagine churning out intellectual masterpieces in just an hour-or-less rehashing of choice items lifted from the daily grind called news.
The key lies in playing with vocabulary as a juggler expertly does his balls and pins. Its called verbiage. Or the art of regaling people with words that astound. The more Greek you sound, the greater your stance. Humanitas, gravitas. What the hell do they mean? But they sound good, so indulge. Though they’re Latin, not Greek, stupid.
Of course, you don’t forget to spice it up with your characteristic braggadocio for style. Voila! You have another magnum opus. As always, the kind your trolls never tire of, but of course. Following your every piece, a litany of comments, a crazy mix of hang ups by pseudo self-indulging intellectuals, or at least they pretend to be so, who don’t seem to bother about separating their future tenses from the past, let alone the present, for instance “will reduced.”
But in that regard, the law of universal usage must apply. Something wrong becomes right when used by everyone in society. Look what has become of the way Filipinos use the term “salvage,” which in every dictionary is listed as meaning “save.” In the Philippines, “salvage” has been universally meant to mean the exact opposite: “kill.”
Is it any wonder that in his avowed intention to salvage the Philippines, Duterte has embarked on a carnage of Filipinos in such a scope and magnitude and methodology as neither Hitler nor Idi Amin, perhaps not even Polpot, did in their times. One fact-finding undertaken by Agence France-Presse unearthed a case of killing in which nails were driven into the skulls of victims while still alive. The Holocaust definitely pales much in comparison. When in the course of the presidential campaign Duterte promoted the idea of establishing funeral parlors, promising to deliver the dead bodies, he was not delivering a figure of speech. He was imparting a literal message. Now the business of collecting cadavers, as uncovered in the Agence France-Presse account, has gone so awfully lucrative undertakers are now pleading, “Tama na (Enough”!) Now morgues of funeral houses are clogged with unclaimed corpses which if not rendered grotesquely preserved as those in the hanging coffins of Sagada in Bontoc, ignored rotting for sheer lack of formalin.
In another instance, President Ferdinand E. Marcos was fond of using the word “aggrupation,” which he meant to mean “a grouping.” Look up the word in every dictionary and you will never find it there. “Aggrupation” is not part of the English language. What English dictionaries contain is “malaprop,” meaning a person who uses a word to mean what it is not supposed to mean. Again in this respect, Duterte, in embarking on unbridled killing to “save the nation” is a malaprop par excellence.
So if by any chance, you find in my column a word that does not mean what it is put forward as meaning, don’t take that as a mistake. I am just feeling great like Marcos – or Duterte, for that matter.
One danger in column writing’s reliance on the information of others is in committing mistakes inherent in the original information. You necessarily become the original culprit.
In the seventies, activists, citing the renowned writer Mark Twain in the frenzy of propaganda against “US imperialism,” had the habit of passing in discussion groups and teach-ins the information that the US battleship Maine was blasted by the imperialists themselves, whoever they were, just to have an excuse to war with Spain, and in the blast 5,000 US navy men perished. All through the years, that information stuck in my mind, without me having bothered at all to check its veracity. In that tumultuous period, nobody bothered to check the veracity of any pronouncements in the Ninoy-Sison demonizing of Marcos. When the Ninoy-Sison tandem passed around the information that Marcos did the Plaza Miranda bombing, the people, including this writer, were stupid enough to believe. That, in one manner of saying, was a grand colossal blooper, as history would prove later, that Sison did it. And wherever Sison was, could Ninoy be far behind? But this is digressing a bit too far.
Back to the USS Maine example, I happened to use the information on its blasting in one of my columns, including the figure of casualties of 5,000. A reader reacted with sarcastic outrage, citing information culled from the internet that actual casualties in the Maine blasting numbered 260. The reader said something like “between 260 and 5,000 is an ocean of difference” and by that imputed to me a motive of conscious distortion of facts just to damn US imperialism. Only then did I check the internet and after a number of searches confirmed the reader was right.
In situations like that, where your readers already prejudiced against you for your anti-Duterte diatribes seize every opportunity to get one over you vengefully, you have to exercise exquisite astuteness in effectively dismissing the belligerent cleverness. I told the reader, what I had been told by activists way back in the seventies, that the erroneous figure came from Mark Twain but that there was no need to bother, Mark Twain being the rabid anti-imperialist who said, “Gather your facts first, then distort them as you please.”
Before my retirement from filmmaking, movies had already gotten used to splicing together mistakes in shooting and projecting the scenes for comic relief while the end credits are being scrolled on the screen. They were source of pure joy and entertainment. That was when the term bloopers began becaming popular. In this season of glad tidings, I think I’d do it, too, if only to ease up the tension mostly characteristic of current column writing. Who can be cool in the face of Duterte, anyway? In fact, in one of my recent columns, I suggested the idea of leveling off on the President in order to determine what really needs to be done in combating his all too obvious insanity. I can see that here’s one guy whose heels seem to be located some inches above the groin.
But anyway, back to the bloopers. In stressing the correctness of the city insurrection strategy of the assassinated NPA Chief Rolando Kintanar, I cited its similarity with the successful Sandinista insurrection which I wrote took place “in Panama.” Evidently always on the lookout for errors in my writing, a reader blurted out in truly scornful consternation: “Damn! Sandino is not from Panama!” He corrected me by pointing out that Sandinistas were the revolutionaries in Nicaragua who successfully resisted US occupation of that country in the 1930s. Swear to God, this subject I knew by heart, having discussed it a number of times with RK (Rolando Kintanar) himself and the lead NPA intelligence staff. But the blooper, I attributed to what I contrived as a mental cheat in which though I knew what I was writing about, my fingers would type something else, i.e. in that case “Panama” for “Nicaragua,” an error which could have been corrected through simple copy reading but which in the frenetic pace of meeting deadlines you overlook to do.
On this alibi, one reader, who calls himself “Hermen” (I think I’d know his real identity by changing his name to its singular form), has betrayed a most religious dedication to follow my columns when he made a politely-couched criticism of what appeared to be my reference to Alaska as being in the Atlantic. The reference was made in the context of the Allied War Plan Orange during World War II which conceived of the so-called strategic triangle joining up Hawaii in the Pacific, Panama in the Caribbean and Alaska in, I wrote, “Atlantic.” These citations were made in the writing of a book of which I had been commissioned to do. The singular Hermen suggested that part of that commissioning should be a proofreader. He advised that I consult my desktop Globe Atlas to see that Alaska is still in the Pacific but, he said, “your fingers typed “Atlantic.” I highly appreciated the reader’s observation in this instance. It showed he has been reading my columns from title to readers’ comments – all the way to the, I said it, bloopers. Actually I intended to word it “Arctic” but my mind cheated and so my fingers typed “Atlantic.” Thank you, Herman.
But I think the biggest blooper that occurred to me was in the afternoon of May 10, 2016, which everybody knows is the date of this year’s presidential elections. At around 4:00 in the afternoon, I got a call from Vice President Jojo Binay, excitedly telling me, “Mao, panalo na tayo.” God, thank you! I actually told him that, in a voice quivering with excitement and not without a lace of melodrama for added effect. “Marami sa atin ang nag-Duterte. Pero nakakuha rin tayo kay Duterte at kay Grace. (Many of us went over to Duterte but we also got some from Duterte and from Grace.) And the mother of all bloopers: “Sama ka sa gobiyerno ko (Join me in my government.” With that, I rushed around the neighborhood parroting the Jojo announcement, complete with already distributing little cash for the folks’ blowout. But then by 5:00 p.m., the unofficial tally by ABS-CBN was registering the imminence of a landslide: 5 million Duterte lead. With even my inaanak already conceding that early a Duterte win, I beat the hell out of that TV viewing, rushing home like a race horse at the tail end of the pack, its blinders somehow able to conceal the look of utter embarrassment in his eyes from the folks he passed, all staring at him, he felt, in ridicule. Still excitement in my voice, this time laced with, in addition to drama, horror, I called up Jojo, “Jo, 5 million na si Duterte, ano’ng nangyari (Jo, Duterte has got 5 million, what’s happened)? “Di ko nga alam, e (I really don’t know, e),” came Jo’s extremely stoic reply.
Until now, Jojo has not made any explanation as to why he made that completely unsolicited information to me about his supposed having already won the presidency of the Philippines. But then, precisely there are such that bloopers need not be explained.
Who can explain Duterte for that matter? He has been a consistent mistake from the very beginning. First he runs, next time around he doesn’t, even cussing daughter Sarah for insisting that he runs when he doesn’t want to. “Sabi nang ayoko, ang tigas ng ulo nyo,” he told the girl, who in a grand display of theatrical histrionics, shaved her pretty tresses, and her baldheadedness went viral on social media. Then just I started breathing a sigh of relief at Duterte’s not running really for good, he springs back, like Dracula from a day-long slumber, into the nocturnal horrors that were his presidential designs.
His final running for president itself constitutes a curious comic cacophony of convoluted conspiratorial contraptions and contrivances completely contrary to elementary good manners and right conduct. He cusses Pope Francis, smooches women supporters, brags in having embarked on extra judicial killings, and wishes he were the first to have raped an Australian woman, which draws the ire of the international community.
His candidacy is all constitutional systems gone haywire. Consider this. A PDP-Laban candidate withdraws. For having failed to file his own certificate of candidacy within the constitutionally-prescribed period, Duterte substitutes for the withdrawn candidate. Well and good, it would seem, since such a substitution is allowed by election laws. Turns out, the withdrawn candidacy was for Mayor of Pasay City. So going by logic, the victory of the substituted candidate should be for Mayor of Pasay City. But no, in its own repertoire of bloopers, the Comelec rules that there had been an honest mistake in the registration of the position for which the withdrawn candidacy was substituted, and thus came about that a guy who should only be running for mayor won the elections as president instead.
In this light, it becomes easy to understand why Duterte, since day one of his administration, has been behaving like a mere local official really. It’s for that position he had been cut in the first plce. In his first SONA (which I termed SUCA, for Stand-Up Comedy Act), he unabashedly proclaimed he did not want to be President, actually a declaration of attitude in which he gets all the leeway to engage in words, thoughts and deeds totally unbecoming of the Chief Executive of the land.
Particularly in international relations, he has thrown statesmanship to the wind in favor of thuggery, but since in the domain of civilized decorum there is no room for hoodlums, he always ends up doing a chameleon out of every bold protestation.
So after slamming the United Nations, for instance, he declares the next day he is remaining in the world body. Blooper.
He declares before Chinese businessmen that he is separating from the United States, only to eat his words the next day, saying he is not severing ties with America. Blooper.
He challenges Trump to a fist fight “without gloves” when the latter is still campaigning in the US elections, but cozies up to the US thug himself once he wins the American presidency. Blooper.
Right now, in his present dealings with China, he sidelines the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruling upholding the Philippine claim to those portions of the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) within the country’s exclusive economic zone. That ruling, being evidently a US handiwork made purposely to advance its designs in the Asia-Pacific region vis-à-vis China, cannot be set aside without in effect hurting the United States.
That hurt could be the ultimate blooper. Beyond that, the limit of US forbearance in bearing with Duerte’s ruffian demeanor and comportment shall have been reached in the manner of the proverbial last straw.