The choicelessness of President Duterte

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Source: Presidential Communications Operations Office

In between the expletives and taboo words that Rodrigo Duterte has said over his tenure as the most powerful man in the country, there is a phrase that is worth noting not because of its profanity, but because it indicates so much about the President’s personality.

“I have no choice.”

Those four words have cropped up in at least five of his speeches, and almost always in the context of making political decisions. It’s a phrase you would not expect to hear from a leader, especially on issues between life and death, between peace and violence, even between democracy and martial rule.

In May last year, Duterte decided to declare martial law in Mindanao as soldiers and terrorists fight for the city of Marawi. He said in a visit to Iligan City, “I hope [at] the soonest time, you will find a new heart to forgive my soldiers, the government, even me for declaring martial law. I did not have any choice. They are destroying Marawi.”

That declaration was later extended to last a year.

When the president decided to bring the participation of the Philippine National Police back to the drug war despite records of brutality, mishandling of evidence, and even murder, he reasoned that he has no choice, as drug-related cases continue to worsen with the absence of the agency.

The order stood, mightily–even though evidence pointed to the police force killing a Korean businessman named Jee Ick-joo inside its headquarters, even when a CCTV footage showed policemen carrying the lifeless body of a Kian delos Santos, 17-year-old boy, who would eventually become the eventual poster boy of the war on drugs.

Most recently, the outspoken 73-year-old has implied the same reasoning in obeying government officials. He said, “even if you choose a son of a b**** president, if he is chosen by the people, we can’t do anything. We’ll just bear it and obey him.”

All this almost sounds like an act of surrender to what is inevitable. It’s as if things were bound to happen the way they did.

Is it really possible for a person to run out of possibilities, moreso, for a leader to believe that there is such a thing as choicelessness?

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Tonight, I decided to tell myself that I will never be depressed again. I will never feed on this temporary abyss, and turn it into a novel, or a poem, or an intricate piece of lie to recite in front of a mirror, over and over again.

And tonight will not be like any other night, for this night will not fail to end. I will sweep my sorrows under the rug, and stomp, stomp, stomp, until all I can see are dust and particles lost in the shadows of the pitch-black night.

I will not wait for someone to hold me, until I learn how to hold, and console, my self.

And in my bed I will dream in color, in Vincent Van Gogh hues, and he will remind me, while he holds his bleeding ear, that from his insufferable life he drew that starry, starry night, and that sunflower, and that beautiful portrait of a man.

And I will wake up, not in the middle of my slumber, but in a blissful morning that smells of lilies and poppies and sandalwood. My eyes will burn from too much sunlight and my temples will hurt, but I will welcome the warmth and let it dry my wounds.

Because today, sadness will not kill me. I will kill it.

beaches and trucks

There was a time when we drove to La Union and all we had were the clothes on our back, some cheap change, and my camera. Back then, we were as hungry for adventure as we were for one another. We would occasionally throw away our responsibilities and deadlines to the curb and shut down the world that didn’t seem to give a shit about how we felt. We would go off the grid and nervously laugh about how fucked we would be the moment we return to our real lives, but we go on anyway. We were one another’s ride or die.

There was also a time when we had a huge fight over a bath towel. I used mine as a mat while sun bathing, and when I went back to our room you were furious. I laughed, of course, and that infuriated you more. You explained that bath towels and beach towels are different, but I just stopped listening after I saw you standing there with one hand in your hip, and you were wearing this beautiful yellow one piece bathing suit. I interrupted you, mid-argument, to tell you that I should not have gone out since the sunshine is already right here in front of me. You tried to stay mad, but you ended up laughing. You told me I was stupid while you remove my bath towel in my hand and replaced it with a beach towel, while calmly explaining, again and again, their differences.

That was how I defuse you – make you laugh, drop some corny one-liners until you forget about the things I lack, the things I didn’t do and should’ve done – but I realized what I was doing was no different than covering a manhole with a cardboard box.

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morning drive

It’s strangely a longer drive today going to work, because it’s supposed to be my vacation.

My watch says it’s just five minutes before 5 a.m., and here I am, already coursing through Governor Pascual Highway, alone, without breakfast, and cold.

I wouldn’t normally roll my windows down, but the atmosphere is tempting. Street lights are off, and headlights blur both drivers and passengers of every vehicle I see. I try to breathe in the relatively clean air, a luxury when you are tied to a depressing job that pays well. I wish I have more moments like this, where I don’t need to worry about getting stuck in traffic, or about picking up Rina and dropping her off to work first thing in the morning. She used to nag me for the crawl we need to endure in EDSA, for not filling up my gas tank before we meet, for the unreliable air-conditioning in my car. I look at the passenger seat, and there is no trace of Rina now. At all.

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future

We told ourselves that we will be millionaires when we grow up, that we will buy a gray French bulldog with black stripes and glossy eyes, and get him a maid in case he forgets to poop where he should. We will call him ‘Yunior,’ and we will find him a cat friend with blue eyes. This one we’ll name ‘Alma.’ She will have soft, white fur, and she will hangout in our bookshelves where we will keep your favorite book, Junot Diaz’ “This Is How You Lose Her.”

We will have a beautiful couch, but an even beautiful bed. You told me we should get the best one, because that may cure my “psychological insomnia.” You like to send me links on “How To Sleep In Less Than 15 Minutes” and “What To Avoid Before Sleeping,” and you buy me organic balms to help me sleep. We’re the total opposite. You, no matter where and when, can sleep in less than ten minutes. During sleepovers, I can wrap my legs around yours and you will be snoring still. I will look at your face, and then at the ceiling, and I will eventually wake you up. You will kiss my chin, half-awake, and I will close my eyes. And that little play will go on until I finally fall asleep.

One night you asked me if I prefer buying a condominium or a house. You asked me what our library will look like, and if books will be conjugal once we move in. You asked me if I like to have a big kitchen, even though I don’t cook. I said we can have sex in the kitchen and everywhere around the house and our talks of dreams turned into lust and into love and into more elaborate dreams after.

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daydreaming of the future

We told ourselves that we will be millionaires when we grow up, that we will buy a gray French bulldog with black stripes and glossy eyes, and get him a maid in case he forgets to poop where he should. We will call him ‘Yunior,’ and we will find him a cat friend with blue eyes. This one we’ll name ‘Alma.’ She will have soft, white fur, and she will hangout in our bookshelves where we will keep your favorite book, Junot Diaz’ “This Is How You Lose Her.”

We will have a beautiful couch, but an even beautiful bed. You told me we should get the best one, because that may cure my “psychological insomnia.” You like to send me links on “How To Sleep In Less Than 15 Minutes” and “What To Avoid Before Sleeping,” and you buy me organic balms to help me sleep. We’re the total opposite. You, no matter where and when, can sleep in less than ten minutes. During sleepovers, I can wrap my legs around yours and you will be snoring still. I will look at your face, and then at the ceiling, and I will eventually wake you up. You will kiss my chin, half-awake, and I will close my eyes. And that little play will go on until I finally fall asleep.

One night you asked me if I prefer buying a condominium or a house. You asked me what our library will look like, and if books will be conjugal once we move in. You asked me if I like to have a big kitchen, even though I don’t cook. I said we can have sex in the kitchen and everywhere around the house and our talks of dreams turned into lust and into love and into more elaborate dreams after.

And then we started saving. From loose change, to twenty-peso bills, to thousands, to opening a bank account, until we had enough. The money piled up, and we’re waiting for the interest to grow. It did, but poorly. Time is running and times have changed and I haven’t seen you in two years but it’s alright. You said to me, sometimes, in order to grow we need to be apart. And so we did.

***

I did not wait for you in NAIA. Not because I didn’t want to, but because you didn’t tell me you were finally coming home. You went to my house, and you said you need the money for something more important. And I gave it to you, because you said it’s what you need. But I asked you, how about what we need? And you said nothing. And I said nothing. And then you left. And it was silent.

And I realize, it’s when your sentences become short that it will dawn on you that you’re actually writing a sad story, and that dreams don’t always turn to reality. At least not this one.

 

Blast of fresh air

Maybe somewhere in a humble abode, a frail Conrado de Quiros sits by his lonesome, reading today’s paper with the same sharp mind and the same passion for the nation he loves. Maybe during one of his habitual musings, despite his body’s lack of commitment, his mind wanders and sprawls letters in the air, slowly being turned into words and then sentences and then into an astonishing piece of commentary. Maybe the tradition of opinion writing was never lost to him, and being the son of a bitch that he is, only refuses to write so people will know that even the absence of words can cause frustration, regret, and interminable loss.

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To my mom: A Collection of Stories

It’s hard to start a story about my mother, not because there are no stories to tell, but because there is an abundance of them.

I remember, it was my mother who fed me every morning before I go to school. The morning banter often happened whenever there were vegetables in my food, there was too much rice, or too much soup.  I always had excuses not to eat, but my mother would not let me get away with it. By hook or by crook, by slippers or by hanger, I had to finish my food. Even while crying.

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Mindanao’s beauty and other stories

Having lived my whole life in Metro Manila, I am filled with excitement when I learn that I will be sent to Mindanao for coverage. I am to join a visit to a government program intended to improve the lives of those living in the far-flung areas of the country. In this case, the beneficiaries are indigenous peoples, the lumad.

The visiting group includes government officials led by Education Secretary Armin Luistro. There are ranking military officials, employees of various government agencies, and selected members of the media. After a two-hour ride in a C-130 from Manila, we land at an airport in Caraga (Region XIII). Then we hop onto another aerial experience aboard a Huey, a military chopper with machine guns fitted on both sides. It is the fastest means to get to our target destination in Barangay Kalipay in Gingoog, Misamis Oriental.

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