I don’t know about others, but with me, writing is testimony to a failure. Not anybody else’s failure but mine. My criticisms of what I perceive to be unceasing social ills, for instance, are expressions of what I had wanted to make life of at a time that I had the vision, the vigor and the energy to achieve it: end to poverty, liberation of the working class, social justice. That I continue to write about it still at this the sunset of my years, what does it prove but that of those many aspirations I had in my life, I had achieved none.
Workers, after nearly half a century, continue to protest labor exploitation, clamor for economic benefits, condemn oppression, and cherish on and on the dream of socialism and communism.
And so I write, as I have been writing over the past more than two decades, still clinging to a hope, if but a little one, that with righting my writing now will still make me remedy the failures that have marked my past efforts. In my columns after this one, I will endeavor to tackle this matter as it bears upon current social events.
For the time being, the continuing spate of extrajudicial killings as a state polity of the Duterte administration impels me to reminisce on an incident I was involved in one evening in the distant past.
In 1969, while employed as a stay-in editorial assistant in the Show Business.Magazine published and edited by the late musical director Danny Holmsen, I was walking the stretch of Arayat Street in Cubao when a rowdy gang of thrill seekers, aboard an open pick-up van that swiped past me and then stopped abruptly so they could leap out of the vehicle, ganged up on me, punched me all over the face and body, kicked me still even as I was down. All that, for no reason at all but that I was alone and helpless and completely prone to their want for release of sadistic instincts. That was the time when juvenile delinquency was in vogue, a period of gang wars among youthful hooligans.
“Enough,” I cried. “I’m not fighting. Enough!”
Such savagery. The thought trembled in my mind as I covered my face with my arms in a vain effort to shield it from the kicks that were raining even on my head.
And then the horror struck my eyes: the silvery sheen of the blade that shoots out of a Swiss knife case, instantly reflecting the little gleam from the streetlight at some distance. At the punches and kicks, I could cry in protest. But at the flashing of the blade, I was utterly tongue-tied, like I did not wish that I myself should hear that I was getting killed.
How so cruel was the world around me!
This was the rage that I felt myself being seized with. I don’t know why. But I knew it. I was not attributing the violence to any of the guys beating me up. It was evident anyway. They were out to deal me the blow. There was nothing more I could expect from them as far as saving me from the situation was concerned. Strange but I had the feeling that if I got killed in that situation, I would not even think of blaming my assailant. In my mind I was cussing the world: “Putangina nyo, tulungan nyo ako!”
Just a few days ago, I come across a pictorial on Facebook carrying the title “On The Frontlines of Extra Judicial Killings.” The pictures depict victims of Duterte’s Illegal Drugs War (though there is no telling whether they are really such victims, there being no such claim on record), the corpses lying on the exact spots on which they had fallen, masterfully photographed to effect varied degrees of pathos and goriness.
I find myself asking, did any of these slaughtered people ever have a chance of crying for help as I did in my own suffering of violence. If they did, the fact that they got killed just the same only shows the help cried for did not come.
This is where a grave rethinking of the popular approach to extrajudicial killings must be done. Everybody blames Duterte. The human rites groups, the civil libertarians, the religious (except perhaps the Iglesia ni Cristo), the self-righteous, the US, the EU, the UN, the kibitzers of various shades and colors, they all blame Duterte. Granting Duterte is, indeed, behind all those killings, as in fact he admits in one case that he himself executed some three illegal drugs offenders, where do we all go wrong? We go wrong in thinking that Duterte is to blame for the carnage. This must not be the case.
In the continuing, nay, intensifying illegal drugs war by Duterte, killings have gone to the extent that they now no longer belong in the domains of human rights and due process and whatever such other legalese there is but in the domain of fundamental, all encompassing conflict between good and evil. And if, indeed, Duterte is behind all these killings, then, as Satan is never to be blamed but rather combated for spreading evil in the world, so must Duterte also not to be blamed but rather combated for unabated killings of illegal drugs suspects.
DDS (not Davao Death Squads as the acronym used to be known but Duterte Diehard Supporters) seek to justify Duterte’s manslaughters in his illegal drugs war by citing certain good deeds Duterte allegedly has done already. But people must be reminded – and this should be a particular concern of the religious – that there is this verse in the Bible (I’m not a preacher so I’m not good at memorizing verse numerical) that says something to the effect: “Though you do not steal, but you kill, you sin just the same.” The same injunction holds true for the interrelationship among the rest of the sins enumerated in the Ten Commandments. The rule is not for us to do good in certain commandments in order to justify the violation of the other commandments. The mandate is for us to obey each and every single one of the Ten Commandments.
That, I have done so.
Certainly I’m no saint and in the matter of the Ten Commandments I may have committed some lapses here and there, now and then, at one time or another. But nobody can ever come forward and tell me in the face that there ever has been an instance when I made a conscious, gross transgression of those commandments. And this is not even talking about religion. This is merely to point out that God’s righteousness does not consist in choosing one religion over another. In practice I have come to realize that being godly is being good to others.
After all, as deeply as my mortal mind can make God out, He cannot exist except through the human mind. To give God existence independently of man’s mind, is to create a wide chasm for accommodating such human frailties as greed, envy, ostentation, avarice, all sorts of vices in the here-and-now, for after all God is so magnanimous as to accommodate the most wretched of sinful with forgiveness in His Great Beyond. But confine God in the human person alone, good inheres in that person alone, and so individual persons are denied that one single alibi for committing sins – as there is no other God than that inherent in themselves, no other God to forgive their sins.
Don’t we ever notice how brazenly Duterte also ridicules even God. Why, because the God he talks about is precisely that God outside of the human person, the God that he can insult, hurl invectives against, hurt without insulting, hurling invectives against, and hurting himself. A DDS might think of suggesting: then let God inhere in Duterte as well. Won’t that make Duterte godly? It won’t work. As pointed out above, what is happening in the Philippines today is the fundamental, all-encompassing conflict between good and evil. And in the sphere of the illegal drugs war, Duterte has killed much enough to be able to proclaim himself the sovereign on the side of Evil.
Finally I bring back the topic of the beating I got from thrill-seeking gansters in 1969. I was losing consciousness, bleeding cuts on my cheeks and forehead, barely able to squirm with horror at the advance of the guy brandishing the Swiss Knife. Then a man’s powerful voice, “Hoy! Ano yan!”, comes from the not-so-distant slums neighborhood, distracting the youthful gangsters, who see a group of mature men rushing toward them. They got back aboard the van hurriedly and sped away.
The one at the head of the responding slums men folk helped me up, immediately attending to my bleeding wounds. I couldn’t speak a word. I was instantly swelling with a good feeling. I looked the men in the eyes, just short of saying: “I keep my faith in my fellowman.”
Ah… If only that breed of slums men folk were still alive in these terrible times of Duterte’s carnage…