LUGAR LANG| Doon Po Sa Amin: A Medieval Tale of Sorts

LAST weekend we were wracked by a series of shocks culminating in a huge mass national mobilization on May 1, Labor Day in solidarity with the country’s workers, agricultural workers, and urban poor. The early morning attacks made by the New People’s Army (NPA) on three sites of Lapanday Food Corporation (LFC) in Davao City seemed to be punctuated by a strong earthquake felt in Mindanao at 4:20 am with an epicenter in Sarangani. There was clearly a point that needed to be made even though it would seem contrived in fiction. Still, forgive me for not being able to resist seeing the “hand of God” in the matter.

On the other hand, the garden-variety knee-jerk political pundits were quick to conclude that the NPA had made those attacks to put the country to shame during the ASEAN Summit last week, and particularly to mar the Davao visit of Indonesian President Joko Widodo. For those persons, it wasn’t important to see the attacks in the context of a larger struggle. They see only as far as the tip of their noses, so they are a cross-eyed bunch.

But more alarming was the official statement rapidly disseminated by the office of the Davao City mayor in which Sara Duterte condemned the “acts of terrorism” by the NPA. She further called upon the populace to support the police and military “by openly condemning the NPA as a terrorist organization.” In this statement, the mayor showed how little she knew about or cared for the background of the attacks, which the NPA has reported as “punitive action against the Lorenzos for their numerous crimes against agricultural workers, peasants and Lumad.” It is a complex backstory that involves accusations of landgrabbing hurled against the Lorenzos who own Lapanday, and their counter-accusations of unfair actions by Secretary Rafael Mariano of the Department of Agriculture.

I cannot claim to be in-the-know about the whole Lapanday issue myself. But I do know that one should not bandy around the terrorist tag without investigating the whole story. Worse, Secretary of Defense Delfin Lorenzana echoed the careless sentiment the next day almost word-for-word, enjoining all Filipinos to condemn the NPA. It reminded me grimly of Martial Law and the tactics of the “Red Scare” used by Marcos and his allies.

But what really got my goat was Mayor Sara Duterte’s statement that “I take what happened today as a personal insult.” My own knee-jerk reaction was, “It’s not about you.” I was not privy to the elaborate tactical plans made by the NPA before the simultaneous attacks, but I can imagine none of them said, “Let’s do all this to insult the mayor!” It reveals simply that she sees Davao City as her fiefdom, thus everything that happens to it is a personal attack on her.

Wikipedia defines a fief as “the central element of feudalism and consisted of heritable property or rights granted by an overlord to a vassal who held it in fealty (or “in fee”) in return for a form of feudal allegiance and service.” It’s a practice from the Middle Ages in Europe that was brought to the Philippines by our Spanish colonizers but is clearly still in place in our social relations, especially perpetuated by political dynasties. Thus, when the city mayor sees an event as a “personal insult,” it shows that she sees the city as her property, with herself as the feudal lord who must oversee everything. The attacks are a threat to her authority. It’s ludicrous, but this illusion is actually supported by the loyal vassals of the Duterte family, who have offered their fealty to their lord, like a pledge of allegiance.

On May 1, the mayor issued a rejoinder to her previous statement, explaining why she viewed the attacks as a personal insult. She debunked the allegation that she was defending Lapanday because her husband has been hired as one of LFC’s lawyers, explaining that they never talk about work at home (yes, just like the rest of us.) But more important, she personally took care of Larry, the fish vendor who had been injured due to an explosive left by the NPA on the road; it is his suffering that served as a metonymy for the offense that she took. It was an addendum that merely drove home my point. Besides, sitting with the injured in the hospital? We’ve seen it all before.

Seen in this light, we should not be surprised by a previous act of the mayor, for which she has become notorious. She probably took it as a personal insult that the vassal had failed to carry out her orders. Also, she was under great stress because of the casualties of a flash flood and needed to let off some steam; the court sheriff really should have offered his face. Still the “Davao Punch” is a better alternative than the one her father offered: “If you punch me, I’ll shoot you.” Boom.

Follow or message me on Twitter @jhoannalynncruz

Posted in Opinion