The Predator in the Palace

Sylvia Estrada-Claudio is a doctor of medicine and a PhD in Psychology. She is happiest when cackling about in her house where she tries to keep her growing children from escaping from under her wing. Government security forces can find her in UP Diliman where she teaches. She is also a fellow of Action for Economic Reforms.  She wishes to remind them that no superior force is necessary to capture old hens. This article was published in the Opinion Section, Yellow Pad Column of BusinessWorld, March 19, 2007  edition, page S1/4.

I am sitting here feeling like I have been put in a time machine and it is not very pleasant. This makes me very depressed. I feel as if I have been thrown back to the early 1970s. These were the times of my early adolescence. It should have been a time of youthful exuberance.

Joyful, excessive, madcap? Yes, those were the times. But as anyone who lived those days or who has read the history of those days would know, they were the days leading up to the ascendancy of the predator in Philippine society.

I am aware that people are sick of dire warnings about a repeat martial law. I have avoided making them because they have seemed like an overused political cliché. But now I stand on the darker side of my remembering.

Individual memory, national memory—the psychoanalysts who believe in the collective unconscious say that our national light and shadow impacts that of the individual and vice versa. It is August 1972. I am arguing with a classmate. “Oh, stop it about martial law!” she says. “Stop being so alarmist. Stop being hyperbolic. Stop, stop, stop.”

Of late I have turned into that classmate. I have fussed and clucked like an old hen at the political killings, the death of journalists, the massive electoral cheating, the use of government coffers to buy an election, the brazen use of government positions to subvert justice and fair play for the sake of individual political survival. But I have not faced the predator squarely.  I have refused to use the terms dictator and martial law.

I, whose first work as a doctor was to visit the Marcos prison camps and hear the endless stories of the raped and the tortured. I, who went digging in the fields of Cavite to help exhume the dead bodies of students disappeared by the military. I wrote endless letters of appeal then, to the Red Cross and the UN, for Vic Ladlad and others like him. In the dead of night, my husband allowed himself to be kidnapped in order to treat Satur Ocampo’s aching back. Yet I have refused to use the term dictatorship. I have refused to use the term martial law.

That is, until now. Until Satur’s arrest. Then as now, he has irritated them by his capacity to ask questions they do not want to be asked. Prior to the arrest, they raided Satur and Bobbie’s house on the basis of an unverified warrant. This was the house where my mother used to play chess with Armando Malay Sr. The house where she graciously let Bobbie win so that Bobbie would be encouraged to learn chess.

Vic Ladlad has been accused like Satur. Accused of a murder they were supposed to have committed while they were imprisoned, at the very time I was writing letters for their release on humanitarian grounds.  His wife, Fides, is making the same appeal we used to make to the powerful of the Marcos regime: “we protest the charges, if they are arrested, please do not kill or torture them.” Fides, who when asked by my mother where she lived, said “in Makati” because she did not want to reveal that she lived in Dasmariñas Village and seem bourgeois. We were kids then, playing at revolution and prone to silly concerns about revolutionary chic.

In the musical Les Miserables, there is a poignant song by Marius about his grief for those who did not survive at the barricades. The other side of that is the tendency to cling to those who did. No, I did not vote for Satur or any of the party lists those idiots in government accuse of being communist fronts. I voted for another party list. The organization I work with now steadfastly refuses to align with any of the political blocs of the Philippine left.

But I must face the predator now and tell it like it is. Because it is wrong that this government which claims its EDSA legacies should now devour the very people who helped bring it about. I expect the booby triplets Norberto, Raul and Hermogenes to call me communist now. I expect a whole chorus of hyenas, called all sorts of honorable government titles, to bray agreement in unison. They did that then also. Except that the chief jesters were called by different names. Except also to say that some of the martial law cats (Kit and Johnny for example) are still in the fray, or should I say in the bray.

During the first martial law, many donned the little red riding hood of naiveté. Many in the business community and middle and upper classes, for example.  They, too, refused to see the predator while it devoured the children of others. At first it was good for business anyway. At first some people thought it was “only” the communists anyway.

Satur arrested and Vic accused yet again.  But now I am an old hen with children to raise and students to teach and a household to manage. I have employees whose incomes and well-being depend on mine. Now I understand why so many good people were quiet then.  I would like nothing more than to wallow in the false security of not seeing the predator in the Palace. I would like to believe the lies that anesthetize the conscience and stifle the mind.

Yet history, morality and even the emerging paradigms of national development call out to us in a tune that negates the lies. Human life, dignity and rights are not to be sacrificed for the sake of ideological contest, whatever that ideology may be. Democratic processes cannot be distorted for the sake of partisan politics. We must continue to give moral recognition to the different other if we are to progress spiritually. This includes those who are or are called communists.

This government has turned fascist and it must be stopped.

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