LUGAR LANG| Just another day for you and me in paradise

LAST WEEK, I was looking forward to the eighteenth run of the annual Ateneo de Davao University Writers Workshop, the longest running university-based workshop in the Philippines.

Founded by Davao literature stalwarts Macario Tiu and Agustin “Don” Pagusara, it has been home to a select group of Ateneans who, despite not being trained formally in creative writing classes, try to find their writing voices. I have been part of the teaching panel in the workshop since I moved here, and it seemed to me like it was going to be business as usual. And then on May 23, just before midnight, President Rodrigo Duterte declared Martial Law in Mindanao. And it tainted everything ink-dark.

I admit I was caught off-guard. Where did that come from? The president was in an official visit to Moscow with a huge contingent to explore an alternative relationship, eager to relinquish old connections that he deemed imperialistic. Violence had erupted in Marawi because of the Maute group, which may be associated with radical Islamist terrorist groups, and the president immediately decided it called for Martial Law (ML) in the whole of Mindanao. Later, it turned out that some of the incidents of violence he had based his decision on, like beheadings, were fake news. While it was true that there was a siege in Marawi, the Armed Forces of the Philippines claimed that they were, in fact, in control of the situation.

But the president was unrelenting in his resolve, even insisting that he would expand ML to the Visayas and the entire nation, if necessary. He had been consistently threatening to declare ML in Mindanao, and the State of Emergency declared in Davao City in 2016 seemed only a precursor of what has now come to pass. It was a fait accompli from Day 1. And despite the Constitutional safeguards in place, President Duterte has claimed that his ML will be just like the contemptible ML of Ferdinand Marcos, saying, “I will be harsh.”

Despite this pronouncement, we see many defenders of ML claim that it will be different; we should not fear it. Here in Davao, social media was inundated with posts about how “normal” it was, despite ML. Some even posted selfies with the soldiers and tanks littered in town; others narrated their day’s routine, including being able to go drinking with their friends after work in their usual haunts. It was despicable. Not only were those posts insensitive to the very real violence happening in Marawi, they were disrespectful to the victims and survivors of Marcosian Martial Law. I unfollowed every one of them that still remained in my newsfeed despite the purge I had done during the election period.

On May 24, I did go about what I had planned to do: go to Ateneo de Davao and be a panelist at the workshop. Nothing untoward happened to me. But that did not mean that everything was “normal.” I was anxious for the safety of my family and friends, being vocal critics of the current administration and its moves, particularly the hero’s burial given to the tyrant Marcos. Suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus means that anyone could be arrested and any house can be searched without a warrant. So despite going about your ordinary routine, it doesn’t mean you cannot be suspected of being a terrorist because of your mustache and thus, detained.

This was exactly what happened on Day 2 of ML in Davao when 250 individuals from a largely Muslim community were rounded up by police for questioning because they didn’t have identification. Soon after, Davao netizens posted about being safe as long as you have an ID, not realizing that a valid ID is a privilege not everyone has. Or even ML being safe as long as you are a good citizen—meaning docile and obedient to the thirty-point “guidelines” immediately disseminated by the Office of the City Mayor. But what is “normal” about being told not to leave your houses if you have nothing important to do. Doesn’t every normal person have to go to work or school?

We went to work at the Ateneo workshop last week. As usual, the manuscripts were mostly “hugot” pieces about unrequited love and meandering speculative fiction about alternative worlds. It was a strange respite from the realities we are now facing in Mindanao. Speaking about the craft of literary writing using the workshop manuscripts underscored the fact that we teachers have failed. We have been unable to emphasize the important role that literature must play in dark times when our human rights and civil liberties are threatened. It is time to recover the noble role of the writer, not as a navel-gazing solipsist, but one who is engaged in the struggles of the community. As Alfred Yuson writes in his Philippine Star column, “While it won’t stop the afflicted source that merits the condemnation, protest literature will help consign it deeper into the hellfire of history where it will undoubtedly belong.” This is not the time to retreat into the purported safety of our homes and our silence. This is the time to resist.

Follow or message me on Twitter @jhoannalynncruz

Posted in Opinion