In the five years that I’ve been doing this column, and the nine years of writing independently full-time, the most fulfilling parts of it have been about being able to talk to students who wonder about writing. Often the questions revolve around notions of fear, which automatically go to the presumption of courage: that it is brave to write about things that others wouldn’t write about, or to have a contrary opinion from what dominates the discourse.
Yet it would be delusional to imagine that sitting in front of a computer, in the safety of my own home (or my middle-class spaces), writing about issues that to me are important, is bravery defined. In the provinces, broadcast and community journalists are being killed, activists are being illegally detained and threatened, communities being militarized.
To be trolled or threatened on social media is nothing compared to that.
And no, this is not just about the current state of discourse, when everyone can be a writer and (gasp!) an op-ed columnist, and the point is the number of hits and likes and shares that articles get.
Neither is this just about being a writer under the Duterte government. Critics were just as pilloried during PNoy’s time, called a noisy minority, labelled as destabilizers, put in the box labelled “communists,” as if redbaiting does not get you killed, or that box called “Leftists” even when there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being such.
The enterprise of spin began during PNoy’s time, too, with a three-headed communications team that was shameless in its elitism and patronage politics. The Duterte government’s shamelessness meanwhile is in its utter lack of sense about how things work, what should be said, what should be done – and a string of questionable appointees with no credentials or credibility, and who just aren’t doing a good job of spinning the President’s statements and ways.
It doesn’t help that the President himself only has tunnel vision for the war on drugs which he equates with everything from the OFW crisis to caring for senior citizens, to the war on terror. He also believes that ridding our lives of drugs will equal saving the nation. That’s like PNoy insisting that corruption is our biggest problem.
Talk about delusions.
Yes, that’s what writing can do: talk about delusions. Those of governments that live off telling us that things are okay, that we are okay, when in fact we know how terrible things are on the ground. Those of government officials who want to make us believe that what they are doing is for the people, even when it is clear that it is mostly (if not solely) for personal interests. Those of our institutions – government and cultural and media and everything in between – that capitalize on the lack of an informed public in order to operate on and maintain the status quo.
There is no learning that any writer or critic or intellectual in this country needs other than to see, understand, and work against, the status quo. To see how it is controlled by and benefits a few, how it is maintained by words and texts, histories and institutions, in order to keep us ill-informed about the state of our national, political, and cultural affairs.
Without a sense of the status quo, of who it serves and towards what end, there is little reason for us, the public, to rise up in arms, to pin the blame on the State when we should, to rise against its violence and brutality when we must.
Because what we end up seeing is only what’s fed us: there is a drug situation, there is a problem with corruption, and here, this is the only way to solve it. In the meantime, please be blind to everything else, and forget digging deeper into issues, or wanting to find out the “truth” – that’s all subjective anyway, and oh look! there’s a fake news site that will support the easier side to be on.
The status quo’s ways might have changed, but the status quo remains the same.
On a superficial level, the discourse seems to have changed so much between the past two administrations. After all, the proliferation of fake news and false information, rumor mongering and the discrediting of mainstream media started when Duterte became President. Meanwhile, what PNoy had was a very solid machinery of spin and propaganda that became part and parcel – if not was at the heart – of official and un-official government communications.
Ultimately, that’s just two sides of the same coin of wanting to control information, manage disinformation, and maintain the status quo.
One might say of course that at least the past administration wasn’t about threatening critics or calling people names. I say the silencing strategies might be different, but the task of silencing and discrediting of critics remains the same.
And really, this is not about choosing between these two administrations, which would mean falling into the trap of either-or, Dilawan or DDS. The choice to be made in fact is one in favor of nation and its silenced, which forces us to focus on issues instead of personalities and parties, instead of alliances and patronage.
Because the issues – those remain the same. And when one’s writing is about those issues, when it is about analyzing these problems that ail nation, as premised on the majority who suffer the most under the maintenance of the status quo, then every act of writing become an act of hope.
Critical as it might be, difficult as it could be to swallow, no matter the enemies you make along the way.
Right there is enough reason to keep on writing. Right here, especially in these times, writing is about persistence, resistance, daring.
It is also about endurance. And so, we continue.