In The Name of Humanity

A death will always be a death, no matter how you spin it. The weight of the tragedy doubles, triples, and increases interminably, when you find out that possibly eleven men caused it, and the death was the result of rape. The death becomes more than just death, but cold-blooded murder, one committed against a most helpless of victims. It goes without saying that we need to sit down and talk about certain things, things that were probably not spoken of at home, between mothers and sons, or fathers and sons. These things are locked down deeper than illicit Marcosian wealth.

It’s about the nature of power, respect, and being humane.

Filipino males, in particular, are raised in an environment that is largely unsuitable for being essentially humane. The priority has always been to become ‘stoic,’ ‘strong,’ and ‘unreadable.’ To be unreadable to others is considered an advantage – because emotions are viewed as a weakness. A Filipino male is expected to exhibit only a limited range of emotions – happiness and anger, in particular. Happiness for celebrating victories, and anger for controlling those around him. Anything beyond the binary is bizarre, as if you’re no longer fit to be called ‘a man.’ This is machismo (or toxic masculinity) of the worst kind. A person who is prevented from exhibiting a full range of emotions will have a tormented and twisted view of the world. It begins with rearing – how parents treat each other, and how parents treat their children. The patriarchal relations are formed immediately after recognition of the “I.”  

In adulthood, these stunted beings view the world as a conquest – a wilderness to be tamed with their bare hands. Any and all stimuli are considered a challenge to the divine masculinity, which gives Filipino males a false sense of entitlement and right to oppress and control others. It doesn’t matter if you’re male, female, trans or queer. The masculinity itself is inimical to the existence of life. It only wishes to dominate and eventually, extinguish life in the name of its own existence. Filipino masculinity exists to inscribe its hateful, meaningless existence on the skin and flesh of others. It takes without ever asking. Filipino masculinity is premature ejaculation and telling everyone he’s the biggest stud in the room. Filipino masculinity is a New Year’s party with a flight attendant, and no trace of humanity. Only death follows the Filipino man if he chooses to re-enact the codes of the patriarchal order. And the patriarchal order is headless – it is a ghost that flits from room to room, damning others with its deadly order. It causes life to bleed and ebb away. It is a bathtub filled with water, semen, and a dead body. And for that alone, it must be extinguished from our very culture.

As the beast thrashes and demands a sacrifice, a choice must be made. If a woman were intoxicated in front of you, you don’t do anything to the woman. You try to ask the woman if she can go home on her own. If she doesn’t respond, you make sure she doesn’t hit her head anywhere. You make her as comfortable as possible, so she can sleep it out. And then you step away. The moment you cross the boundary, and you impose your will and power over a helpless body, you allow the beast to find its meal. And you become a cold-blooded killer, because rape takes away so much more than life. It takes away the right to one’s body. It takes away free will, which is the very basis of sentience and independence as human beings.

Marius Carlos, Jr. is a storyteller, essayist, and journalist. He is the current editor-in-chief of Revolt Magazine. He is also the English editor of Rebo Press Book Publishing. He is an independent researcher focused on transnational capitalism, neocolonialism, empire, and pop culture. You can reach him via social media at Minds and MeWe.

Exordium to Revolution

Why does it whisper to us to follow a ghost? Where? Whither? What does it mean to follow a ghost? And what if this came down to being followed by, always, persecuted by the very chase we are leading?

—Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx

Historically, the concept of cleansing has always been associated with death or at the very least, bloodletting. It brings images of violence, sacrilege and social impotence (impotenza) in paradoxical contrast with what would be expected of a purified state of being. But perhaps we’ve made the mistake of focusing on a messianic outcome, which is necessarily hidden from sight. It is in the avoidance of totalizing narratives that we are able to remain firmly rooted in nation-specific historicity. The idea of cleansing presupposes that there’s at least something that deserves to be excised from the equation. We decide by proxy, what stays and goes. However, there can be no satisfaction, no real purification. What has been corrupted cannot be cleansed by any divine power. Only through the continuous cleansing of society can we have any claim to historical progress, for we have faith in both the promise of redemption and the crystallized truths of empiricism. Positivistic notions lend a hand in maintaining appearances of stability, even when the last legs of the old nation-form have fallen off. We remember the “good old days” from the level of the horizon, for we’ve forgotten we’ve been cut down to our knees.

Who performed the amputation? The fathers of old, of course. Because unlike the trope of the young lion using the old lion as a yardstick, we’re in a different parable. In our parable, the young lion is in chains but refuses to rend its abuser. The young lion is preoccupied with the pain of its physical existence and the poverty of its condition. And thus, it fails to see the potentialities of the bygone moments and the promise of the future.

The future…remains a question. An open question posed to all. At varying intervals, the open question is answered, often in/by protest. With the voice of protest comes the unmistakable metallic grind. The voice of protest is not faint, it cannot be faint. For it is in protest that man finds himself in the realm of the political, which heightens that unbearable feeling of alienation. Biopolitics exists through increasingly unstable patterns of continuity and disruption. There are multiple beginnings, but they do not refer to beginnings of the mass man’s liberation. They point to channels of control and corruption. The police state, which has always been the Janus-face of all neoliberal states (and we are one), is historically inseparable from national imaginings. The Italian philosopher, Giorgio Agamben explains the role of policing in the encounter between the state and the sovereign:

“The point is that the police – contrary to public opinion – are not merely an administrative function of law enforcement; rather, the police are perhaps the place where the proximity and the almost constitutive exchange between violence and right that characterizes the figure of the sovereign is shown more nakedly and clearly than anywhere else. According to the ancient Roman custom, nobody could for any reason come between the consul, who was endowed with imperium, and the lictor closest to him, who carried the sacrificial ax (which was used to perform capital punishment.)” (103)

There can be no respectable semblance of freedom when one is in the shadow of a police state. So to accept the condition of a sovereign, ever-watchful of the gleaming blade of the state lictor is acceptance of one’s slavery, a furthering of one’s subjugation to an extant system of political convenience devoted to the elite classes of society. It is only in the rejection of the banal logic of the police state can we begin to organize social power for purpose of social justice and liberation. We are in no risk of being wrong, but we are at risk of being wronged, nonetheless.

The police state has nothing to do with social justice, anyway. And certainly, we cannot possibly accept the logic that dictators and demagogues have our best interests in mind. Neoliberal states, which violently reorient institutions and restrict labour forces in preparation for the onslaught of the free market, foreign capital and the “stability” of the dollar-gold exchange, cannot be transformed by any single leader or group of elected officials. They do not, nor will they ever be, representative of the masses that complete the formula for the means of production. Recent economic history tells us that embedding welfarism in the neoliberal state isn’t even a {viable} solution, for it only serves to preserve labour for the express purpose of rearticulating surplus value up to the point of hyper-inflation. The endpoint is an economic crisis as artificial as the stock market, which we view as a natural index of the free market economy.  There is nothing natural with capital and all that follows it – everything is transfigured for the purpose of self-perpetuation.

One necessarily questions the schizoid formation of our national identity. The Philippine flag may offer clues as to why we exist with a perpetual hallucination of civil freedom. The blue band remains on top of the red, while the eight rays and three stars shine bright in a backdrop of pure white. The flag serves as a reminder of what needs to remain – peace. Peace from what, specifically? There lies the hidden historicity of the flag’s seemingly innocuous choice of colors. The flag carries with it a plea – a plea against further colonialism, war, violence – interrelated themes that are necessary to preserve the sanity of neocolonial subjects.

But what use is a flag if it fails to reflect the sentiments of the sovereign? The flag remained static as free trade agreements were broached to several nations in the Pacific, effectively spreading the doctrine of the free market and neoliberalism and thereby increasing the reach of the IMF, World Bank and global police states (US, France, Germany, etc.). It remained unchanged when the Lumad communities were under attack in the South. The blue band remained on top as journalists were summarily executed in Maguindanao. In the midst of all these modern day horrors, whether at full height or half-staff, the flag remained the same – much like the seemingly impregnable visor that prevents the alienated masses from overcoming their political stasis and atomization. We feel, but we cannot move. We move, but only within the small space allowed by our chains. We recognize our chains, spit and polish it daily, for the chains represent freedom to exist in a dying republic.

It is in these dire circumstances that we are forced to contend with our own shortcomings in civil and political life. Because however one paints the scene, the lingering presence of murder remains. This lingering presence is oppressive, unacceptable. It causes the hallucination of freedom to stop momentarily and therefore, it results in personal-collective misery and uncontrollable mourning. It is in this unbelievable moment that one experiences the chasm of ideological compartmentalization, of being a subject in reverse-becoming, tenuously walking the high wire that satisfies the requirements of labour-production and the need play the role of the Filipino, whatever that may lead to. The fuzziness is only temporary. When the scene shifts, as a mechanical lens would in bright light, the grief magnifies, naturally, as a plant forcing itself to grow toward sunlight. It is through grief that we find our footing as a nation engaged in unrelenting violence against its own. We stare with unseeing eyes, the entrails of those who have passed and we are unsettled by the reality of having some kind of future.

Not just any future. It is an open-ended future, embracing everyone, even those who are long gone. Not even physical migration will let you get away from it. It chases you through your identity, through the very skin you claim to be when foreign hosts question the veracity of your “I.” We now have little time to dally and pretend with unseeing eyes. We have done that for far too long, after our questionable ritual of independence from a foreign power. We must not continue our collective misreading of Philippine history. This misreading lies in the nature of our understanding of historicity. At this point, we must move forward to the operative spaces of history-as-becoming and history-as-responsibility.

Transcendence of a previous state of being, be it capitalist slavery or neocoloniality indicates a death in the Judaic-Christian sense. Franco-Algerian philosopher, Jacques Derrida writes:

“The moment the problem were to be resolved that the same totalizing closure would determine the end of history; it would bring in the verdict of nonhistoricity itself. History can be neither a decidable object nor a totality capable of being mastered, precisely because it is tied to responsibility, to faith and to the gift… to the gift and to gift of death that puts me into relation with the transcendence of the other, with God as selfless goodness, and that gives me what it gives me through a new experience of death.” (5-6)

The crux of the gift of death is a promise of return, burdened by the unavoidable consequences of unimpeachable historicity. Historicity will remain an object of study until such time that the philosopher, writer or artist becomes obsolete. {And when is that?} I would like to position this frightening moment of over-becoming at the center of chaos:

““The time is out of joint”: the time is disarticulated, dislocated, dislodged, time is run down, on the run and run down [traqùe et détraqué], deranged, both out of order and mad. Time is off its hinges, time is off course, beside itself, disadjusted.” (Derrida 20)

But why chaos? Why not peace?

A bitter pill: there is no peace. There never has been any peacetime, only moments of disquiet as we are ground carefully into a deepening national grave. As we masterfully convince ourselves to continue breathing despite the suffocating heat, we must now convince ourselves that have the right to live rather than to merely exist, without hope or feelings of being truly human. What it means to be human is the opposite of what we are presently struggling against, or quietly experiencing with an ever-fading memory.

Works Cited

Agamben, Giorgio. Means Without End. Univ. Of Minnesota Press, 2008, p. 103.

Derrida, Jacques. Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International. New York: Routledge, 1994, p. 20

__________. The Gift Of Death. University Of Chicago Press, 1995, pp. 5-6.

Marius Carlos, Jr. is a storyteller, essayist, and journalist. He is the current editor-in-chief of Revolt Magazine. He is also the English editor of Rebo Press Book Publishing. He is an independent researcher focused on transnational capitalism, neocolonialism, empire, and pop culture. You can reach him via social media at Minds and MeWe.

Filipino Dreams in the 21st Century

The Philippine mindscape, like any mindscape that has been chaotically crafted by Third World conditions, revolves around sparkling images of joy, peace and delight. It is precisely in these suspect images that surround us daily that we see the depth of the damage and harm that has been done to all of us and if we’re truly unfortunate, to those who will come after us, fifty or a hundred years from now.

As a child, I would often compare the conditions of our household with those shown on television and I was always the most vocal to declare that no abode was as fair as those in the movies, cartoons and sitcoms. The fantasy homes in movies and cartoons burned certain images of the ideal in my mind and I became a willing accomplice. Like millions of other Filipinos, I was taught to be reflective of what I was “to become,” which had already been secretly predetermined (I was never told) by the invisible hand of the free market.

To choose one’s vocation early in life was more of an admonition, a dire warning. Know what you want to be, because you don’t have much time. The unstoppable locomotive of education, markedly designed only for the ultra-moneyed and the middle class, knew what it wanted: it wanted fresh blood, because the market is constantly aging, evolving, changing before our very eyes. Skillsets from long ago are now being carved away and fresh new configurations, tantalizing as they were to the hordes of the unemployed, carried a sharp gleam, as if these too knew what it wanted from the population.

Louis Althusser, in his dissection of ideological state apparatuses, understood that the educational ISA in its current form could not be salvaged from the murk of capitalist corruption without thorough radicalization. The school, which should be synonymous with the affirmation of radical liberty, remains a symbol of state control, homogenization and exclusion. In nation-states where the state is incapable of shelling out loans to the middle class and the exoticized dependents of the state, those who dream of college diplomas must first dream of where they would acquire the initial capital. “Education is an investment!” scream the educational insurance companies.

No words ring truer for the slices of the population that are denied a stable future due to insufficiency of personal capital. The pseudo-Darwinian principle of “the survival of the fittest” remains the mantra of the centrists, so much so that even the far right has found it easier, year after year, to preach their neoliberal-genocidal gospels.

Widespread exclusion from education meant exclusion from the job market. While everyone remained chained to unbelievably unequal market forces that are threatening to flatten whole communities, to regulate and reconfigure reeks of so much “socialism” that even the most “radical” of the bourgeois politicians are unable to grasp the importance of valuing human life over artificial equivalences of the global-intimate capitalist system.

At the bottom of every argument is the unspoken allegiance to the international banking system, the national bourgeoisie, the oligarchs, the IMF-World Bank: to socialize education or even healthcare is to abandon the principles of private property, labour-alienation and the free market. Socialized education and universal healthcare, based on democratic principles and the humanization of the state, will be the death… of capitalism itself. And we can’t have that, can we?

In the current global configuration, the sustenance of private property and the extraction of precious resources by transnational capitalistic endeavors mark the height of “individual liberty and freedom.” Capital is the “pedestal” where the freest of the evolved freemen are able to comfortably declare their liberty to those who are crushed underfoot – and there are billions of them.

The German Marxist, Ernst Bloch, known for his gigantic undertaking, the three-volume “The Principle of Hope,” spoke of the German petit-bourgeois as if retelling a folktale of long ago. The petit-bourgeois, according to Bloch, begins like everyone else – capable of looking beyond, which he argues is the essence of utopia. However, after the age of seventeen or thereabouts, the ability to think along utopian lines, which necessitates a “looking beyond” begins to fade. At this point in the evolution of the German petit-bourgeois consciousness, the human mind is gradually petrified, frozen by small comforts brought by highly delimited resources but at the same time, tempered by the threat of starvation. For in late capitalist society, there is no middle ground – there is no cushion for the weak, sick and dying.

What are Filipino dreams made of?

Utopian dreams in the Philippines are articulated across the intersections of class lines. We can only speak of the aspirations of the disenfranchised, for the compradors and national bourgeoisie are interested only in one thing: the creation of surplus value, ultimately for the extraction of profit. Axel Pinpin, author of Tugmaan Matatabil: Mga Akdang Isinulat sa Libingan ng mga Buhay, expresses the dialectic of labour exploitation succinctly in “Apihin ang Api:”

Kayuring tulad ng niyog ang lakas ng mahihirap,
Kayod, kudkod; kalaping lahat ang masisipag.
Hala kayod, kudkod pa; isagad sa balat.
Huwag mahabag, huwag mahahabag.
Ang pawis nila’y pinakamainam na alak,
Ang dusa nila’y pulutang masarap
Sa pagkalango natin sa kapangyarihang hangad.1

There is a powerful sense of life in the midst of exploitation which stems not from the violence itself but from the recognition of something else. What becomes implicit in the text is movement – a moving away from the current condition of surplus creation and labour exploitation. The possibility of utopian resolutions of class conflict, expressed in the bloodied fields of armed revolution and insurrection, finds a way out through the consciousness of the proletarianized social forces of society.

Though presently atomized, the promise of social power remains firmly embedded with these disenfranchised classes. Social power amplifies with the aggregation of a labour power into a central mass movement. Though the voices be many and the consciousness be fragmented, it is only in permanent struggle can the labourer, farmer and modern-day Sisyphuses liberate themselves from the endless permutations brought by global-intimate capitalism. In the fields, mountains, towns and cities, the war cry of the militant movements remain, a reminder of the work that remains to be completed.

Not all dreams are just

The intersection of classes, which involve ethnicities, linguistic differentiations and other cultural differences has bred countless atrocities throughout history. No other atrocity is more well-known than the Holocaust, or the purging of Jews in Europe. Though the profit-driven dreams of the Nazis were clear to begin with, the dark core of the Holocaust lay in revenge. Ernst Bloch writes:

“The Nazi dream of revenge is also subjectively bottled up, not rebellious; it is blind, not revolutionary rage.”2

When a nationalist undertaking takes the form of any kind of purging, it ceases from becoming a utopian undertaking – it becomes anything but utopian. Therefore, the Filipino nation must be constantly guarded against any form of fascism, cleverly disguised as something else completely. Bloch continues:

“The instigator, the essence of the Nights of the Knives was of course, big business, but the raving petit-bourgeois was the astonishing, the horribly seducible manifestation of this essence… His wishes for revenge are rotten and blind; God help us, when they are stirred up. Fortunately though, the mob is equally faithless; it is also quite happy to put its clenched fist back into its pocket when crime is no longer allowed a free night on the town by those at the top.”3

The aspirations of the Filipino middle class on the other hand, follow the same general logic proposed by Bloch’s analysis of the German petit-bourgeois, but with a marked difference. The essential difference is this: in the present-day Philippines we are not bound by a singular, overarching ideology that is permeated by hatred for other ethnicities. The sworn enemy of the Filipino middle class is poverty – and the mythology of poverty is encapsulated by the experience of those living on the poverty line, day in and day out.

This puts ordinary Filipinos at odds with each other. How do you begin the dialogue when the people who represent more than half of the population are suffering from poverty? How do the petit-bourgeois aspirations of the Filipino middle class fit into this unlikely interaction?

The resolution of class antagonisms is never peaceful, though it can be protracted over a long period, thereby diluting the impact of violence of one class against the other. A cultural analysis will yield a simple insidious solution: close the dialogue and press the masses to accept middle class aspirations, for the sole purpose of empowering the national bourgeoisie.

The Filipino mass man is pulled from the possibility of revolt and is later dressed up as a potential middle class individual. The indices of “middle-classness” are constantly revised and reinvented to accommodate the largest number of willing participants. All the cultural categories generated by the free market in the name of petit-bourgeois aspirations have never had any concrete relations with the economic base. Which is why everyone can lay a claim to being middle class, of being little bourgeois masters themselves.

Where are you going, Philippines?

[1] Pinpin, Axel “Apihin ang Api” Tugmaang Matatabil: Mga Akdang Isinulat sa Libingan ng mga Buhay Quezon City: Southern Voices Printing Press, 2008.
[2] Bloch, Ernst The Principle of Hope: Volume One USA: The MIT Press, 1986. pp. 30-31
[3] Ibid p. 31

Marius Carlos, Jr. is a storyteller, essayist, and journalist. He is the current editor-in-chief of Revolt Magazine. He is also the English editor of Rebo Press Book Publishing. He is an independent researcher focused on transnational capitalism, neocolonialism, empire, and pop culture. You can reach him via social media at Minds and MeWe.

Prolegomena to Truth in Memory

One of the most memorable metaphors from Walter Benjamin in his “Theses on the Philosophy of History” can be found in the ninth thesis. The ninth thesis contains a vivid description of Klee’s painting Angelus Novus:

“This is how one pictures the Angel of History. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awake the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is brewing in paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress. (257-258)

Benjamin’s thesis, which bears the inevitable aura of the death drive (thanatos) marks the distinct ‘swerve’ of art interpretation into the domain of historical materialism, which Marx “extracted” from Hegel. Marx’s historical materialism reclaimed the validity of class warfare and prophesied the end of capital in the final reckoning. It is this brimming hope that continues to fuel human history, as antagonistic forces continue to confront each other in eternal war. Civilization is constantly being trapped and bled dry by its own machines, for reasons it can no longer understand or perhaps, only vaguely. Ours is a behemoth of violence and confusion.

The Angel of History’s very existence is defined by the centrifugal might of capital itself, as it continues to reduce humanity to ever paler shades of its former Self. The Angel of History will never glance at any beautiful future, for it exists for the past’s present. At each Moment, we see an increasingly pale specter with ashen lips and empty eyes. The “death of History” and the prevalence of recuperated histories nods at the wide expanse of [in]human domination through the thanatic logic of surplus value. It is in these subaltern histories that we are able to grasp, even for a brief Moment, the never-ending Procrustean1 punishment of humanity so that it would continue to fit the shrinking mold of Homo economicus.

We now live in a period of heightened alienation and national divisiveness, which at any moment, can cause spontaneous crises across scarred and mutilated boundaries. The previous boundaries, which were spelled out easily before by the political gloss of the yesteryear no longer apply. The boundaries that we now toe carefully are naked impositions, created by years of political abuse and state terror. These boundaries are guarded by formerly passive elements of the population.

—Marius Carlos, Jr.

It is in this postcolonial crisis that we find ourselves today, in varying states of awareness and consciousness. The greatest among clear and present dangers is the destruction of collective memory, for it is in collective memory that we are able to locate suppressed histories that can atrophy repressive power. Collective memory is history’s sole potentiate and surviving kin. What simply poses as collective memory cannot be such a modality, for collective memory arises from the conscious transmission of mythos through time.

The ultimate goal of power structures (cultural/historical/political/juridical) is to destroy truth and history through co-optation, for it is in the sociopolitical and cultural superstructure that we are confronted with objects that we cannot refuse, for in doing so, we refuse the primary political identities that we have come to ascribe as our “own,” within the broad narrative of nationhood. In a series of a million tiny erasures, the collective memory of a nation is essentially corrupted, until such time that what was once traitorous and mass-murderous now had the malignant aura of a messiah.

Memory and remembering as they apply to the creation of truth have never been as vital to our survival as a nation as the present time. For as we speak, vulgar revisionism has laid waste to the national imagination, causing people to substitute reason for demagoguery and mass slaughter of one’s own in the restless search for “peace.” We now live in a period of heightened alienation and national divisiveness, which at any moment, can cause spontaneous crises across scarred and mutilated boundaries. The previous boundaries, which were spelled out easily before by the political gloss of the yesteryear no longer apply. The boundaries that we now toe carefully are naked impositions, created by years of political abuse and state terror. These boundaries are guarded by formerly passive elements of the population. A violent mutation has caused these elements to attack others with varying degrees of effectiveness in an effort to stamp out dissent. The autological policing of the national Self can only be the result of two things: a reconfiguration of the local spectrum of madness, where a massive shift has legitimized newer methods of repression or second, it can also be a heightened expression of ideological renewal, expressed by the national majority vote and the unnatural glorification of the resulting dispensation.

What we’re experiencing now is a continuous and alarming breakdown of the collective memory of the nation itself. Another urgent observation is that “history as truth-telling” has been largely absent from the public psyche for many decades now and in its place is merely passive consumption of “historical texts” via structured pedagogy [schooling]. For a country with rich oral traditions, we have become almost completely silenced by institutionalized miseducation to the point that a peep of dissent already seems excessive and outright resistance to the established order becomes punishable by death.

To add to the mayhem is the fact that storytelling in popular culture has descended to so much empty posturing, to the delight of commercialists everywhere. Digital technology has also offered no respite from the bludgeoning of structured storytelling, which is essential for the foregrounding of history. Robert Kearny writes:

“We are entering a civilization of depthless simulation inimical to the art of storytelling… Narrative is being superficialized and consumerized out of existence.”(10-11)Traditionally, the saturation point of popular culture adjusts itself constantly through the reformulation of the same images, sounds and narratives, to prevent a jaded public from abandoning it completely. This would explain why popular culture remains persistent—people are spinning it, the scratched disc that it is.

If history is the stuff of memory and our collective memory helps constitute the foundation of national identity, then we must do everything in our power to protect our memory from further corruption. Anne Whitehead contemplates the Lockean perspective of memory and identity:

“Taking the most extreme case, that of a man who has entirely lost the memory of certain parts of his life, beyond any hope of retrieving them, [Locke] observes that while it was the ‘same man’ who did these actions, in as much as he has bodily continuity over time, yet it was not the ‘same person’, precisely because his consciousness does not extend to that period of his life… [Locke] thus offers a conception of the self that is inextricably bound to consciousness defined by its very ability to remember, and therefore, narrate past experiences in the present.” (57-58)

The loss of collective memory is inimical to national becoming, for it erases vital coordinates in the primordial map of the Filipino Self, at a time when historical erasure and flagrant revisionism has become the norm. There remains a need to protect ourselves from such attacks, so we do not lose ourselves in the end, because we need collective memory to remain intact as a nation so we can defend ourselves against internal and external aggression instead of contending with internal confusion. Whitehead further argues:

“[Collective memories] describe ‘shared communication about the meaning of the past’ that are ‘anchored’ in the life-worlds of individuals who partake in the communal life (of the group.)” (Whitehead 130)

And this is why its resistive power becomes even more vital to the discussion. It counteracts the maddening misinformation that has become our daily feast, especially in social media.

—Marius Carlos, Jr.

Is there a solution? Could there be a way out of this epistemic mess, this growing pollution of what we know of our national history and consequently, what we stand for as a people?

Let’s get one thing clear from the get-go: power naturally despises truth. This has been the “core” of new historiographies and critical efforts for more than seven decades now. But the conundrum remains—how do we arrive at truth? How do we reformulate the matrix of communication in everyday culture to integrate the resistive inflection of truth?

We may use the concept of parrhesia from Michel Foucault’s archival work. Parrhésia is “free-spokenness (franc-parler), [it is] a modality of truth-telling.”2 What parrhésia entails is a conscious and willful act of finding an audience and engaging in the narrative activity of alethurgy, where “the production of truth is manifested.”3 Foucault takes the concept of truth-telling from ancient Greek culture, and notes that the political activity of parrhésia predates the Judeo-Christian mythos,4 which implies that this properly ethical norm is something that wasn’t necessarily passed down to us through the activity of Christian confession. It is, Foucault contends, related to a central axis which is no less than the “Socratic principle of ‘knowing yourself.’”5 What this means is that this modality of truth-telling should occupy a central position in everyday life and it should not be considered an esoteric practice, reserved for moments of extreme curiosity or boredom.

The parrhésiast, or the person who engages in truth-telling becomes a fountainhead of epistemic renewal in the midst of crisis, for the parrhésiast is primarily concerned with parrhésiazesthai or telling all. Therefore, “the parrhésiast is the person who says everything.”6 The concept of parrhésia sounds incredibly simple and yet, from the backdrop of political practice and social fragmentation, one can plainly see that we have a long way to go before this model of arriving at historical truth can hold sway. And this is why its resistive power becomes even more vital to the discussion. It counteracts the maddening misinformation that has become our daily feast, especially in social media. To add an element of genuine dialogism and perhaps even dialectical questioning to the equation, we reaffix the narrative structures that allow for meaningful communication between individuals.

Now, one cannot do it alone. Parrhésia cannot be accomplished alone. To engage in genuine truth-telling would be to engage in a parrhésiastic game where another Person (which may be anyone—a friend, politician, tyrant or mob of angry people) becomes willing to play the role of the receiver of truth. Foucault reiterates: “If he wants to play the role proposed to him by the parrhésiast in the telling the truth, [he] must accept the truth, however it may hurt generally accepted opinion in the assembly, the Prince’s passions or interests or the individual’s ignorance or blindness.”7

So the success of parrhésia in practice is dependent not only in our willingness to “tell the truth” and “tell everything” but also in our capacity to accept other peoples’ truths no matter how much it would hurt our own sensibilities. Parrhésiastic games will revitalize the consciousness of people at the level of plain, day-to-day existence, insofar as it creates critical dialogic spaces for popular opinions to be explored and subsequently cleaved in the middle.

Are we ready for more parrhésia and less divisiveness and fragmentation?

I hope we are. We have to be.

[1] Procrustes is an Attican bandit in Greek mythology who attacked individuals by placing them in an iron chair and mutilating them. If the person was too tall to fit the chair, he would be sawed, if he was too short, he would be stretched to fit the frame.
[2] Foucault, Michel, The Courage of the Truth (The Government of Self and Others II) Lectures at the College de France 1983-1984. USA: Palgrave MacMillan, 2012. p. 2
[3] Ibid. p. 3
[4] Ibid. p. 5
[5] Ibid. p. 4
[6] Ibid. p. 9
[7] Ibid. p. 12

Works Cited:

Benjamin, Walter. Illuminations. Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968, pp. 257-258.

Foucault, Michel. The Courage of the Truth (The Government of Self and Others II). Palgrave Macmillan, 2012, pp. 2-4,9,12.

Kearny, Richard. On Stories. Taylor & Francis, Psychology Press, 2002, pp. 10-11.

Whitehead, Anne. Memory. Routledge, 2010, pp. 57-58, 130.

Marius Carlos, Jr. is a storyteller, essayist, and journalist. He is the current editor-in-chief of Revolt Magazine. He is also the English editor of Rebo Press Book Publishing. He is an independent researcher focused on transnational capitalism, neocolonialism, empire, and pop culture. You can reach him via social media at Minds and MeWe.

Bearers of Democracy: Media and Liberty in the Age of Fascism

This was written in response to a Facebook post by a certain Jonathan P. Nacua, stating, “PRESS / MEDIA is the PROXIMATE CAUSE of many predicaments we’re facing as a nation.” Mr. Jonathan P. Nacua is an educator, principal, and immersed in the campus journalism circuit in the country.

I have read Mr. Nacua’s post several times to gain a better understanding of the message. I am well aware of the complexities of nation-building and its relation to the state. One of the modern state’s key characteristics is its assemblage of repressive apparatuses that exist with no other purpose but to maintain the power of the state. Statecraft and nation-building are two different things. However, people often confuse the government with the people and the bayan.

Nacua posted on his personal Facebook account that “PRESS / MEDIA is the PROXIMATE CAUSE of many predicaments we’re facing as a nation.” (Screenshot: Facebook)

The government becomes a sacred cow of sorts, and some portions of the population attribute all success to the state while connecting failures and upheavals to the people. People ‘claim’ the state as theirs, mistakenly believing that the state represents the absolute will of the people.

—Marius Carlos, Jr.

Consequently, messages like the one above are shared when people cannot extricate themselves from the false binary of government vis-à-vis nationhood. The government becomes a sacred cow of sorts, and some portions of the population attribute all success to the state while connecting failures and upheavals to the people. People ‘claim’ the state as theirs, mistakenly believing that the state represents the absolute will of the people. But the reality is far from this absurd conceptualization of what the state is. And to state that the press is the proximate cause of the problems that plague our country is mangling of the purpose and role of media in a time of hyper-fascism, as the gyres of transnational capitalism widen the gap between the most moneyed nations and the starving Global South.

The media necessarily includes alternative media and citizen journalists—and the minuscule rights and freedoms granted by antiquated constitutions and criminal laws globally are all journalists and alternative media practitioners have as protection against state repression. Mr. Nacua, you have it all wrong. The media and the press do not cause problems. The state hunts down journalists and kills them, with no remorse and no second thought about the consequences of the loss of media practitioners in a country that barely recognizes its histories. You also mistake the private sector’s natural traitorousness against all classes and especially the people’s rights and interests, as an undeniable reflection of media practice in the country. With the same logic, we can also say that school presses and independent publications contribute to whatever ‘problems’ there may be. As far as I know, we are all struggling with a murderous government, unemployment, underemployment, poverty, the COVID-19 pandemic, and an inadequate healthcare infrastructure that cracked the first chance it had. How the media contributed to these problems, I cannot fathom. The statement harms not the media conglomerates but the individual practitioners risking their lives every day in the face of COVID and government pressure to ‘report fairly,’ which is simply an insidious and despicable order to help perfume the government’s façade. How anyone can fail to see this is beyond me.

The modern state’s long history of violence and repression will never be erased. Not by propaganda machinery. And certainly not by individuals who blame the media for unspecified problems. The path of the current government is strewn with the blood of those murdered by different regimes globally. Those who write against government abuses are the true bearers of democracy. They are not sources of these problems. They serve as the organic and continuously evolving reflections of the conscience of the people, however imperfect they may be. They write with the risk of losing their livelihoods and their lives as well. If we deem these as insufficient risk for something that provides so little in return, then perhaps we are now absolutely lost in our understanding of the value of democratic principles and the various ways that the people genuinely express themselves to protect the nation. The ‘will of the people’ has been compartmentalized in several ways—first through questionable local and national elections, and second through the farcical recreation of the masses’ consciousness through the propagation of the idea of the public. The existence of this concept allows for the further mangling of what people ‘think’ others are thinking. Without a critical lens and an open field where actors/agents can practice the freedom of the press, we fall into a dangerous minefield where only the state’s mouthpieces and machinery are the sources of truth. Have we become so enamored with that demagogue and his allies that we now hand over the press to him, too?

A lot of journalists brave insidious situations in the country to sustain the flow of information. (Photo: Rolex dela Peña/European Pressphoto Agency)

We cannot, in good conscience, ignore human rights abuses such as this against the ones who bear the daily burden of speaking truth to power. Countless journalists brave insidious micro-practices in the country to sustain the flow of information necessary for democracy to continue.

—Marius Carlos, Jr.

Whenever we speak about the free press and even just the idea of freedom of expression, let us also bear the burden of individuals like Houshang Asadi, a journalist, writer, and translator, who was captured twice —first in 1974 during the Shah’s regime and second, shortly after the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Asadi was tortured severely for two years and was forced to make a false confession that he was a spy for the Russian and British governments. Asadi was eventually sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment. After six years, he was freed, and he escaped Iran. His exile took him to Paris, where he has stayed ever since with his wife. (Asadi i) Asadi’s eventual flight prevented the Iranian government from once again abducting and torturing him for his writing.

We cannot, in good conscience, ignore human rights abuses such as this against the ones who bear the daily burden of speaking truth to power. Countless journalists brave insidious micro-practices in the country to sustain the flow of information necessary for democracy to continue. We cannot function as a nation without critical eyes on the ground. And we also cannot continue to repair and uphold our democracy if we keep mistaking the state as the nation.

Works Cited:

Asadi, Houshang. Letters To My Torturer. Oneworld, 2012, p. i.

Marius Carlos, Jr. is a storyteller, essayist, and journalist. He is the current editor-in-chief of Revolt Magazine. He is also the English editor of Rebo Press Book Publishing. He is an independent researcher focused on transnational capitalism, neocolonialism, empire, and pop culture. You can reach him via social media at Minds and MeWe.

Silence and the Alienation of Expression

Contrary to popular history, European imperialism’s greatest and most insidious achievement was not the production of vast armies, ballistic weapons and transcontinental vessels of war, but the codification and subsequent legitimization of the colonial act itself. The codification of imperial ideologies split the Earth into two domains, ripe with contradictions: the “civilized European world” and the “heathenish non-European lands.” It would be downright fallacious to assume that we now live in an era where colonial exploits are a thing of the past and that imperialist tendencies have been doffed off, like a dirty rag, by the old inquisitors of the “howling wilderness.”

At what point did Europeans begin to reorganize the world according to the demands of endless imperial hunger?

A quick examination of the roots or bases of international law, which is widely regarded as the universal law of modern nation-states, would show that what should have been codified to protect all socio-political and cultural classes was actually designed to uphold the ideals and interests of imperialist powers. The European powers expressed themselves and ingrained their own worldview and laws in the manuscripts and codes that would later become the standard of international jurisprudence in both imperial and colonized states.

 One of the most primitive origins of European international law can be found in the 16th century works of Francisco de Vitoria, a Spanish Dominican jurist and theologian. Vitoria’s influence was apparent as he was even consulted by Emperor Charles V on matters of moral principle. Vitoria’s writings and beliefs on Spanish colonial pursuits exhibited a more naturalistic bent as opposed to simply appropriating the “divine law” of the Church. Antony Anghie, Professor of Law at Utah State University, writes:

“Vitoria denies that the sovereign, the Emperor, could have acquired universal temporal authority through the universal spiritual authority of Christ and the Pope. He questions whether divine law could provide the basis for temporal authority, methodically denies a number of assertions of Papal authority and concludes that “The Pope is not civil or temporal lord of the whole world in the proper sense of the words “lordship” and “civil power” and goes even further to assert that even in the spiritual realm, the Pope lacks jurisdiction over the unbelievers.” (19)

 Vitoria’s central contribution to the Spanish colonial framework was the idea of jus gentium, which was closely associated with the concept jus naturale (“all beings.”) Jus gentium meant “every people,” which meant the narrative expression of Spanish imperialism substantiated its right to impose its force on foreigners (necessarily, outside the Spanish sovereignty). This is in sharp contrast with jus civile which referred to law that only applied within the (Spanish) state. Through a central expression that was founded on the belief that both Spanish and non-Spanish individuals are free to roam the world and trade, the naturalistic jus gentium doctrine legitimized the continuous movement of Spanish forces well beyond the borders of its own state. While Vitoria’s writings seemed to imply that Spanish colonialist-traders and the Indians were of equal footing, what he truly suggested was that through reciprocity, the Indians should, without a doubt, trade and accept the hostile encroachment of the Spanish colonists wholesale. Anghie reiterates:

“Seen in this way, Vitoria’s scheme finally endorses and legitimizes endless Spanish incursions into Indian society. Vitoria’s apparently innocuous enunciation of a right ‘to travel’ and ‘sojourn’ extends finally to the creation of a comprehensive, indeed inescapable system of norms which are inevitably violated by the Indians. For example, Vitoria asserts that ‘to keep certain people out of the city or province as being enemies, or to expel them when they are already there, are acts of war.’” (21)

Through the enforcement of imperial logic on colonial states, Spain was able to create a unitary reformulation of the national identity of colonized peoplesbased on the principles inspired by jus gentium. Not even the divine powers of the Church could reverse the central dogma of jus gentium at that time, as evidenced by the fact that colonial states answered to the Spanish crown and not to the papacy. The assiduous manner in which Thinkers like Vitoria invented the identity and roles of the “Indian” or “Saracen”in what would soon be colonized territories demonstrates the power of narrative fiction and the consequences of codifying largely imaginative discourse. The [re]invention of the Other, the heathen native, took place even before the imperial powers had full engagement with the actual population of the “heathen territories.” All forms of violence that took place after full engagement only served to extend the narrative that begun after the codification of jus gentium. Colonized peoples were expected to engage in trade and commerce as if they were Spanish natives and were ultimately penalized for not thinking, speaking and acting like the colonizer.

The imposition of the “heathen identity” and necessarily, new ways of life, may be the most painful and long-lasting of all the forms of violence inflicted upon dominated peoples. Evidence of harm on a national scale can be found in what Filipino critic Neferti Xina Tadiar termed “fantasy production-“a product of the sexual economies which animated the New World Order. Working closely with the contours and boundaries of Philippine political economy, Tadiar demonstrates the “hyperfeminization” of neocolonial Philippines in relation to other economically advanced states:

“Thus subjected to extensive and intensive penetration of its economy by powers such as the US, Japan and the rest of the OECD Five as well as the NICs, the Philippines finds itself hyperfeminized in its relations. It is not an accident that the American expression ‘to fuck someone over’ means to exploit or abuse someone, and ‘to be fucked up’ means to be abused in a perverted way… The way in which this dominant fantasy of sexual relations has developed into an essential condition of advanced capitalism might be traced through the history of imperialism up to the present.” (49)

The neocolonial domination and violence that we continue to grapple with can be apprehended, though not always easily, through the fictive logics that drive them. However, before we can actively participate in the politics of resistance and decolonization, there is the serious matter of our scandalous subalternity. The Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci first examined the idea of “subaltern classes” (originally a British military term which meant “of lower rank”) in his seminal work Notes on Italian History.1 At the core of subaltern analysis is the eternal tension of authenticity, which necessarily questions – who speaks, for whom and to what end? These questions encompass not only instances of actual speech between individuals where “nests of intentions” are immediately questioned, but also to dynamic-emotive dialogues that occur in various forms of text.2 Since a text is often regarded as an alter-entity capable of performance, it also follows that any kind of text is capable of signaling its own deconstruction. Deconstruction often leads to the destruction of textual logic and for good reason, too. Historicity is key to understanding the material origins and associations of all cultural artifacts, including speech. Deleuze and Guattari’s deterritorialization of the book is a good example of how simple deconstructive logic can pave the way for future imaginings that are perhaps closer to truth than what was previously available, by way of thinking:

“A book exists only through the outside on the outside. A book itself is a little machine; what is the relation (also measurable) of this literacy machine to a war machine, love machine, revolutionary machine, etc. – and an abstract machine that sweeps them along?” (4)

It is our ethical responsibility to engage the world critically, for it is only in the unfamiliar territory of smoke and mirrors do we begin to see our collective state of becoming. In philosophy, the concepts of being and becoming have been argued endlessly since the time of Plato and Aristotle. What has kept the conversation going all these centuries was our natural need for apprehension and understanding. Giorgio Agamben writes:

“All living beings are in the open: they manifest themselves and shine in their appearance. But only human beings want to take possession of this opening, to seize hold of their appearance and of their own being-manifest. Language is this appropriation, which transforms nature into face. This is why appearance becomes a problem for human beings: it becomes the location for the struggle for truth. The face is at once the irreparable being-exposed of humans and the very opening in which they hide and stay hidden. The face is the only location of community, the only possible city.” (90)

Agamben’s concept of “face as city” is actually a clever re-view of two things: the possibility of change through social struggle and the possibility of social struggle through the apprehension of language, which binds the logics of the current world order. For nothing could be truly apprehended, understood or accomplished in a world where language has completely broken down. All of the machines of domination operate with their own logics and languages and are interconnected to produce desired effects. Some would like to believe that the central machinery that drives everything forward is capital itself – it’s not. To say that faceless capital is the sole source of worldly evil would be to revert to vulgar materialism, which is in itself is morally bankrupt for its inability to comprehend the complexity of human culture and institutions.

The role of the reader-thinker/reader-critic/reader-revolutionary and so on is to determine the historicity of events in the context of dialectical human struggle and to create critical positions which will then serve as expressions of resistance. The moment expressions of resistance begin to manifest on the socio-political map, the state of subalternity or non-speech begins to erode. This allows formerly dominated voices to be heard as they begin to rise up in physical revolt against any form of violence and tyranny besieging them. In the Philippines, let us allow ourselves the luxury of calling all expressions of resistance acts of decolonization. Frantz Fanon in Wretched of the Earth, writes:

“Decolonization never takes place unnoticed, for it influences individuals and modifies them fundamentally. It transforms spectators crushed with their inessentiality into privileged actors, with the grandiose glare of history’s floodlights upon them. It brings a natural rhythm into existence, introduce by new men, and with it a new language and a new humanity. Decolonization is the veritable creation of new men.”

We do not need to look far to see how expressions of resistance can translate to struggle in the real world. The armed conflicts in the Southern Philippines, led by the Moros who are fighting for statehood is a perfect example of how a singular desire – statehood – can transform previously inactive members of the populations into armed combatants. Arnold Azurin, a Filipino social scientist and critic, expounds:

“The hostilities running for several centuries between the camps of holy warriors have been precisely the root cause of the crises, political and military, erupting now and then in Southern Philippines. With vengeance, the Muslims (Moros to those sympathetic to the freedom fighters) have renewed their struggle to restore their lost statehood. For one reason or other, the Mindanaoans of differing cultural and political stripes have begun to follow suit, trumpeting their own claims to self-determination through a presumed federal government structure.” (36)

No number of political stripes, indigenous class divisions and interclass conflict can prevent a large number of people from imagining the possibility of an independent Moro state. And while it’s true that the conflicts that eventually led to the explosion of the North-South dichotomy in the Philippines warrants a more expansive exploration, Azurin’s observation is sufficient to demonstrate the expansive potentialities of expression as it relates to political conflict and social upheaval.

[1] See Ashcroft, Bill. Post-Colonial Studies: The Key Concepts USA: Routledge, 2000. p. 198
[2] Routledge History of Philosophy, Volume X. London: Routledge, 1997. p. 19

Works Cited:

Agamben, Giorgio. Means Without End. University Of Minnesota Press, 2000, p. 90.

Anghie, Antony. Imperialism, Sovereignty, And The Making Of International Law – Cambridge Studies In International And Comparative Law Book 37. Cambridge University Press, 2005, p. 19.

Azurin, Arnold Molina. Beyond The Cult Of Dissidence In Southern Philippines And Wartorn Zones In The Global Village. UP Center For Integrative And Development Studies And University Of The Philippines Press, 1996, p. 36.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. Capitalism And Schizophrenia. University Of Minnesota Press, 1983, p. 4.

Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched Of The Earth With A Preface By Jean Paul Sartre. Grove Press, 2011, p. 35.

Tadiar, Neferti Xina M. Fantasy Production. Ateneo De Manila University Press, 2004, p. 49.

Marius Carlos, Jr. is a storyteller, essayist, and journalist. He is the current editor-in-chief of Revolt Magazine. He is also the English editor of Rebo Press Book Publishing. He is an independent researcher focused on transnational capitalism, neocolonialism, empire, and pop culture. You can reach him via social media at Minds and MeWe.

The Violence of Compliance

Back in 2016, I had written about the “iconography of Duterte,” or how he was [re]created as a messianic figure amidst widespread breakdown of societal institutions. (Carlos, “In/Justice Symbol: The Iconography of Duterte”) He was a demagogue if there ever was one, and his initial posturing became the latent dream text of the illusion of elections and democracy in the Philippines. Duterte was the “butangero” that the “Philippines needed” to exorcise its longest-lasting demons violently.  While Duterte is certainly not the entire picture, he is a central actor in the actual, physical war that took place ‘against drugs.’ In a voice that was not unlike many demagogues before him, Duterte spoke of many things, but mostly, compliance. In a land where spiritual promises rang hollow and where hunger was synonymous with being a citizen, the renewed cult of compliance, bolstered by fiery speeches and punctuated by tears and campaign bravado, promised an abundant, utopian Philippines ‘free of drugs.’ Attention was immediately shifted to the impact of micro-practices, of the impact of shabu in local communities. The “adik” became synonymous with the Devil himself, and the Devil must be stamped out at all cost. Thus became the creed and rallying cry of the online lynch mobs against drug addicts, users, pushers—the actual distinctions became meaningless as the state’s forces were out for blood. The PDEA currently recognizes 5,810 casualties of the PH drug war as of July 2020 (Conde, “Killings In Philippines Up 50 Percent During Pandemic”).

(Photo: Vatican News)

There is a need to examine the events that led to this alarming number of casualties to understand how the state mobilizes resources and its repressive state apparatuses to maintain control of people. It was clear from the outset that the current regime wasn’t going to spare any ammunition in its ‘utopic quest’ to wipe out drugs in the country. Because the truth of the matter is that the drug trade is much more expansive and more powerful than the casualties of the war. The narco state possesses capital and resources to easily infiltrate and expand in chosen territories. The narco state exists alongside the state as we know it in such a way that it can also deploy resources and it also has an army. What makes the situation terrifying for victims is that whether they are an embedded, temporary or actual agent of the narco state does not matter in a local drug war that pits state forces against civilians. The results are often similar and the fact that only a miniscule number of state agents are ever successfully prosecuted speaks of how the state has openly legitimized this violence against citizens. This is no different from interstate war scenarios, where enemy states callously hit civilians instead of armed forces. This is the origin of the euphemistic “collateral damage” a common term in PH political gloss for decades. (Chenoweth & Lawrence 23) Of particular interest here is the analysis on the relationship between political interests and the state’s measure of success: “Finally, in certain circumstances, belligerents set their sights on civilians, on purpose, targeting them as a means to achieving their military goals in the war.” (Chenoweth & Lawrence 23)

(Photo: AFP News)

The narco state possesses capital and resources to easily infiltrate and expand in chosen territories. The narco state exists alongside the state as we know it in such a way that it can also deploy resources and it also has an army.

—Marius Carlos, Jr.

The PH government has exhibited an extreme preference for police-backed and militarized responses to all crises. To no one’s surprise, political violence and repression have also increased alongside newly configured methods of state violence. The continuing repression of farmers, Lumad communities, labor union organizers and human rights activists are indicative of the allowable threshold of state repression vis-à-vis the state’s current political needs. Additionally, regional and national task forces organized to ‘end local communist armed conflict’ were formed to bolster ‘nation-building’ fantasies by further demonizing legitimate protest and resistance against the state’s widening and worsening fascism.

The current instability in the country is by no means an event trapped in a vacuum. Models of biophysical instability have shown “PV pandemics” long before COVID-19. These pandemics arise as a result of globalization, and the further emaciation of the Global South. The world has become “a far more unstable place, facing a dramatically higher scale of PV pandemics.” (Ahmed 40) While the language of biophysical modelling is a far cry from the polemics of cultural studies or even postcolonial studies, we take what we can from the extensive data available to us. The increase in PV pandemics signify civilian unrest and increasing resistance from the people against different states that are in various modes of evolution. What is completely clear from the modelling of political violence is that agents of resistance are finding more and more reasons to put themselves and their resources at risk in the name of bringing their grievances to the state. This is a most opportune time to bring up the increasing acceptance of violence against civilians (as in the case of regime supporters who are also drug war supporters). According to Chenoweth & Lawrence: “Historians have suggested that attitudes about the use of violence changed between 1700 and the twenty-first century, with a growing antipathy toward cruelty of all kinds and attempts to limit the ubiquity of warfare in everyday life.” (2) While individual tendencies will fluctuate, the lack of widespread protest

The state & COVID-19

Slovenian Marxist and avowed “Christian atheist” Slavoj Žižek was quick to point out that there was a decidedly “un-Maoist” treatment of Chinese citizens, even at the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. That Chinese citizens expressed anger at the disappearance and death of the “Chinese Snowden,” Li Wenliang. Wenliang was the first person who discovered the epidemic. Žižek commiserates with the Chinese and declares Wenliang an “authentic hero.” (7)

Žižek continues by describing the order at which power and legal reasoning are applied at the precipice of societal collapse: “Chinese authorities ever more often resort to a particular procedure: a person (an ecological activist, a Marxist student, the chief of Interpol, a religious preacher, a Hong Kong publisher, even a popular movie actress) simply disappears for a couple of weeks before they reappear in public with specific accusations raised against them, and this protracted period of silence delivers the key message: power is exerted in an impenetrable way where nothing has to be proven. Legal reasoning comes in distant second when his basic message is delivered.” (8)

(Photo: Rappler)

If anything, the urgency of the responses needed for the coronavirus pandemic in the PH has stripped all existing illusions of government preparedness (…) to maintain a semblance of order amidst the chaos.

—Marius Carlos, Jr.

Legal reasoning, for all the bluster that the state expresses in “upholding the rule of law,” loses all meaning on the ground, where all the insanity of COVID-19 is taking place. If anything, the urgency of the responses needed for the coronavirus pandemic in the PH has stripped all existing illusions of government preparedness. In response, the PR machineries kicked into even higher gear to maintain a semblance of order amidst the chaos. The lockdown of Luzon is the longest in the world, and continues to haunt communities who have been literally deprived their livelihood and mobility.

If Russia had a regular TV programme, Vremya, that propagated the general idea that the Western elites are to blame for the spread of the disease (Žižek 11), in the Philippines, the epidemiological narrative is just as ludicrous and unscientific, bordering on the insane: that the disease has kept spreading because Filipinos “lacked discipline” and “didn’t like wearing masks,” among other fallacies propagated by the state propaganda machine, despite proof that Filipinos are among the most compliant in the world when it came to basic social distancing protocols and mask-wearing guidelines. There was also a massive effort to avoid mentioning the origins of the disease and the lack of government action early this year. These laughable but no less deadly omissions and lapses are probably the worst demonstration of the “[allocative and authoritative resources] available [to the state] that depend in large degree upon the management of time-space relations” (Giddens 7)

We wait for the end of it all, whatever form that end may take.

Works Cited:

Ahmed, Nafeez Mosaddeq. Failing States, Collapsing Systems. Springer, 2017, p. 40.

Carlos, Marius D. “In/Justice Symbol: The Iconography Of Duterte”. Medium, 2020,

Chenoweth, Erica, and Adria Lawrence. Rethinking Violence: States and Non-State Actors in Conflict. MIT Press, 2010, pp. 2, 23.

Conde, Carlos H. “Killings In Philippines Up 50 Percent During Pandemic”. Human Rights Watch, 2020,

Giddens, Anthony. A Contemporary Critique Of Historical Materialism: Volume 2 Of A Contemporary Critique Of Historical Materialism. 1st ed., Macmillan, 1995, p. 7.

Žižek, Slavoj. Pandemic! COVID-19 Shakes The World. OR Books, 2020, pp. 7, 11, 8.

Marius Carlos, Jr. is a storyteller, essayist, and journalist. He is the current editor-in-chief of Revolt Magazine. He is also the English editor of Rebo Press Book Publishing. He is an independent researcher focused on transnational capitalism, neocolonialism, empire, and pop culture. You can reach him via social media at Minds and MeWe.

PH Democracy and Ersatz ‘Public Opinion’

Any speech, dialogue or debate about democracy ultimately hovers around the concepts of life (as in the “value of life”), liberty (“how free are we? / what is the cost of being free?”) and freedom of expression. Freedom of expression is more than muddled—it appears to have lost all meaning and significance in the age of surveillance capitalism and absolute state terror. The breakneck speed of AI and machine learning, coupled with the murderous harvest of personal data on the Internet ala Cambridge Analytica, has produced the opposite of utopian dreams of the forties and fifties. That we live in fear of ourselves as we create and consume information is telling of our impending demise.

But what kind of demise? Chaos theory cautions us against running simulations against imperfect models. The prediction of human behavior through the billions of fragments of actions across digital systems has changed the shape and value of ‘human action.’ To act digitally is to act quantifiably. And the quantifiable is turned against mere people as weapons of political control in the present. We live in a digital vacuum where the origins of control are invisible, and therefore, ‘do not exist.’ Some like to compare this to constantly social hallucinations, like ‘public opinion.’

A day ago, two media websites were abruptly taken offline. There is a sense of panic when the URLs constantly redirect to seemingly parked pages. Unseen hands have prevented users in the Philippines from accessing the websites. Another media outfit reported the blackout of the websites, and as of this writing, they continue to be clueless as to what truly took place. VPN-mediated access showed that ABS-CBN was accessible in Singapore and other countries, except Taiwan. Why only Philippine users are blocked from viewing the websites is distinctly self-explanatory. It was a message, and it doesn’t matter who the messenger was—the act was the message: we can bring down anyone.

ABS-CBN News’s official website was taken down. (Screenshot: Revolt Magazine)
GMA News’s official website was taken down. (Screenshot: Revolt Magazine)

Public opinion has long been used to defile democracy and human life. If the concerted and well-funded attacks on democracy since 2016 are not indicative enough, we can continue looking upward to other forms of defilement: the buzzards of a dying economy, the militarization of ancestral lands, the continuing conversion of agricultural lands, and what Slavoj Žižek candidly pointed out as “government response fatigue” (questionable, in all cases) and “state crimes caused by the state trying to fight crime” (Žižek, “The Will Not To Know”). Žižek further isolates COVID-19 as the “latent dream text” and poses a familiar question: do we accept the ‘will to ignorance,’ or do we ‘act differently’ in response to the pandemic? To shift lenses, do we accept the physical threat to free speech, or do we reconstruct the value system that we accord to writing and expression as a response to these threats? Both have substantial impact on human life, and it appears that much like the average response to COVID-19, we are all waiting for a magic bullet or vaccine that will systemically ‘fix’ the outright attacks on media and local journalists.

The heady dissonance within ironclad social media chambers reeks of ‘public opinion.’ Public opinion is a ghost index, one that is made to be inconsistent and inaccurate to ensure higher penetration and better spread. Public opinion is comparable to the monastic practice of control, where meaningless cycles of repetition are regulated by a central power (Foucault 149). The degree of defilement of free expression and the democratic invention of ‘public opinion’ has surpassed what Hardt & Negri imagined as merely a ‘field of conflict,’ which must be countered by cultural production and iterations of biopolitical life (263). I propose a reversal of concepts—public opinion, if fabricated by the state, is an abomination, an anti-life invention, and does not deserve such signification at all. There is no possibility of public opinion given the conditions of the Philippines. Nor will there be any possibility of it after the current regime. All that we see that is constructed as public opinion are headless simulations that pertain to nothing but the reproduction of the state as it crowns itself the protector of democratic life. This has long been the case, but it has become more pronounced in the uneven landscape of digital media and the compressed transmission of information across a digital-ideological landscape.

The solution is painfully clear: there has to be a move to reconstitute the public life of the people outside highly controlled environments, where censorship and control can happen in a blink of an eye. Digital panopticism has its limits, and behavioral projections cannot take into account the actions that take place well away from the echo chambers. We have to relearn how to think, speak and act outside the rigid format of social media. That which central control cannot understand, becomes dangerous, because it causes errors and unstable variables that destroy the projection. It is that simple and that hard, given that every known platform is created by the same systems we seek to dismantle.

Works Cited:

Foucault, Michel. Discipline And Punish. Vintage Books, 1995, p. 149.

Hardt, Michael, and Antonio Negri. Multitude: War And Democracy In The Age Of Empire. Penguin, 2004, p. 263.

Žižek, Slavoj, “The Will Not To Know”. The Philosophical Salon, 2020,

Marius Carlos, Jr. is a storyteller, essayist, and journalist. He is the current editor-in-chief of Revolt Magazine. He is also the English editor of Rebo Press Book Publishing. He is an independent researcher focused on transnational capitalism, neocolonialism, empire, and pop culture. You can reach him via social media at Minds and MeWe.

Ang Isang Siglong Apoy ni Lola Igna

Ang Lola Igna ni Eduardo Roy, Jr. ay isang entri sa Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino, taong 2019. Pinangunahan ang pelikula nila Angie Ferro (bilang Lola Igna) at Yves Flores (bilang Tim). Kasama rin dito sila Meryll Soriano (bilang Ana) at Maria Isabel Lopez (bilang Nida). Bagama’t ang pelikula’y noong nakaraang taon pa ipinalabas, mainam pa ring sariwain kung bakit naging epektibo ang pagbaligtad nito sa maraming paniniwala at temang karaniwan sa mga pelikulang komedi sa Pilipinas.  

Ang opisyal na trailer ng Lola Igna. (mula sa YouTube)

Ang Nayon at si Lola Igna

Ang puso ng kanayunan ay si Lola Igna mismo, bilang pinakamatandang residente nito. Ang kaniyang palayaw na “Igna” (mula sa Ignacia) ay nangangahulugang “apoy” sa wikang Kastila. Sa antas ng metapora, si Ignacia Rivera ang isang apoy na isang siglo nang naglalagablab. Para sa mga kanayon, ang kaniyang patuloy na pamumuhay ay nagsisilbing init at ilaw sa komunidad. Mapanglaw ang kasalukuyan at hinaharap ng nayong tinitirhan ni Lola Igna. Pagsasaka lamang ang pangunihang pinagkakakitaan ng mga tao. Malayo sila pare-pareho sa bayan, at hindi karaniwang kumikita ng sapat ang mga tao. Makikita ito sa biglaang pagtitinda ng mga kapitbahay ni Lola Igna nang siya’y simulang dalawin ng mga turista na nakita siya sa telebisyon. Sa ganitong paraan din siya natuklasan at napuntahan ni Tim, ang kaniyang apo sa talampakan.

(Screenshot: Netflix)

Ganoon na lamang ang pagpapahalaga ng mga tauhan kay Lola Igna sapagkat sa kulturang Pilipino, isang natatanging karangalan ang magkaroon ng kapamilyang matanda. Simbolo daw ang pagtanda ng karunungan at pagiging dalubhasa sa buhay. May anggulo ring handog ng langit ang mahabang buhay. Ang mga matatanda rin ang madalas tanungin  tungkol sa mahahalagang pagpapasiya, kapag ang pinag-uusapan na’y mabibigat na bagay tulad pag-aasawa, pagpili ng karera or propesyon, pagbili ng bahay at lupa, at madalas din, kapag may hidwaang hindi masolusyonan ng mga nakababatang miyembro ng pamilya.

Sa antas ng metapora, si Ignacia Rivera ang isang apoy na isang siglo nang naglalagablab. Para sa mga kanayon, ang kaniyang patuloy na pamumuhay ay nagsisilbing init at ilaw sa komunidad.

—Marius Carlos, Jr.

Ang pangunahing kasabikan sa pelikula ay ang posibilidad na magawaran ang matanda  ng parangal na “world’s oldest living grandmother.” Sa posibilidad ng parangal na ito nabuhay ang nayon at nabaliktad ang minsa’y tahimik na buhay ng matanda. Ngunit siya mismo’y hindi kumbinsido sa awtentisidad ng nasabing parangal. Sa isang eksena, tinanong niya ang kaniyang apong si Nida: “Punyeta, tumanda lang pararangalan na? O, e paano yung mga tumandang wala namang pinagkatandaan? Puro kayo kalokohan.”

Buhay sa Gitna ng Kamatayan

Naging isang malaking pasakit sa matanda ang kaniyang patuloy na pamumuhay. Malinaw sa tauhan ang kaniyang pagnanais nang mamatay. Ang kamatayan, ayon sa kaniya, ay hindi dapat katakutan. Taliwas naman ang paniniwala ng mga mas bata niyang kamag-anak. Walang nagnanais na pag-usapan ang posibilidad ng kaniyang kamatayan kahit siya 118 na taon na. Ito ang sentral na absurdidad ng naratibo na nagkakawing kay Lola Igna sa buong bayan.

Walang may nais na siya’y pumanaw. Walang may nais isipin na may katapusan din ang napakahabang buhay ng matanda. Alam ng matanda ito, kaya paulit-ulit niyang isinisingit sa mga usapan ang kagustuhan niyang mamatay. Lumampas na si Lola Igna sa antas ng pakikipagkompromiso sa langit—sabik na siyang sunduin ng kaniyang yumaong asawang si Carias.

(Screenshot: Netflix)

Sa tagal ng kaniyang buhay, pakiramdam niya kasi’y pinagdamutan na siya ng langit.

—Marius Carlos, Jr.

Sa tagal ng kaniyang buhay, pakiramdam niya kasi’y pinagdamutan na siya ng langit. Nag-iisa na lamang siya sa lumang buhay, at binibisita na lamang ng pamilya ng kaniyang apong si Nida. Sa isang eksena kung saan nanggaling sila ng kaniyang apong si Tim sa burol ng pinakaunang taong tinulungan niyang iluwal, nagngangalit sa galit ang matanda sa kaniyang naging kapalaran.

“Mga anak ko, nauna pa sa akin, aking asawa, at lahat ng aking kaibigan. Bagot na bagot na ako sa buhay. Hindi ko na kilala ang mga tao rito. Hindi ko na kilala ang bayang ito.”

Hindi lang siya ang pinakamatandang residente ng nayon. Siya rin daw ang nagpaanak sa halos lahat ng tao doon. Nagsilbing kumadrona si Lola Igna sa matagal na panahon. Ang unang batang kaniyang tinulungang isilang ay nauna ring mamatay sa kaniya. Sa huli, tinigilan daw niya ang pagkokomadrona at tila sa bawat batang kaniyang tinutulungang isilang ay humahaba lalo ang kaniyang buhay.

Sentro ang Laylayan

Tampok rin sa kuwento ang malinaw na pag-eespasyo ng bayan: ang apong si Ana na matagal na panahong nawala ay simbolo ng migrasyon o internal na diaspora mula sa mahirap na kanayunan patungong ‘matiwasay, masaya at masaganang’ sentro (tulad ng Maynila). Ang periphery/margin/laylayan naman ang kanayunan. Ang signifikasyong ito ay nagmula sa mas malawak na sistemang sinimulan ng imperyalistang Europeo, kung saan ang Europa naman ang ‘sentro’ habang ang buong mundo ang ‘laylayan’ (Masood, “Center/Periphery”).

Ang tuwirang naratibo ang marka ng awtentisidad ng paglalahad, at tapat ang representasyon sa katotohanang mayroon ngang penomena ng migrasyon dahil sa kakulangan ng pagkakakitaan sa kanayunan.

—Marius Carlos, Jr.

Iniwasan ng pelikula ang karaniwang paghahambing at fetishismo sa sentro sa mga simpleng paraan. Hindi humihingi ng paumanhin ang nayon sa mga taga-sentro o bayan. Ang kapayakan ng pamumuhay ang siyang normalisado, at sa pagkakataong ito, ang taga-sentro (ang apong si Tim) ang kailangang makibagay at umayon sa patakaran ng nayon. Ang tuwirang naratibo ang marka ng awtentisidad ng paglalahad, at tapat ang representasyon sa katotohanang mayroon ngang penomena ng migrasyon dahil sa kakulangan ng pagkakakitaan sa kanayunan.

(Screenshot: Netflix)

Ang naratibisasyon sa Lola Igna ay kahilera ng pagkukuwento ni Jun Cruz Reyes sa Ang Huling Dalagang Bukid at Ang Autobiography na Mali: Isang Imbestigasyon:

“Nangyari ito kung kailan halos wala nang interes na magbungkal ng bukid. Tinatamad na ang mga magbubukid. Ayaw na nila sa bukid. Hayaan itong tubuan ng talahib kung tag-ulan. Hayaang ahasin. Hayang magkabitak-bitak kung tag-araw. Hayaang hangin na lang ang kumilos at damo ang mabuhay. Pati ang kalabaw ay pinagpahinga na rin. (Reyes, 11)

Ang Pagkatanda ni Lola Igna

Ang katahimikan sa nayon ay hindi garantiya ng kapayapaan. May pakla at galit sa pagitan ng magkapatid na Ana at Nida, sapagkat inaasahan ng lahat na mananatili ang pinkamalalapit na kamag-anak upang mag-aruga ng matatandang kapamilya. Isang pagtatanong din ang pelikula sa nakasanayang gawi na ito. Si Lola Igna ang siyang sagot sa katanungan. Ayon sa kaniya, hindi niya pinigilan ang pag-alis ng kaniyang apong si Ana noon, sa pag-aakalang sa pupuntahan ni Ana matatagpuan ang kaligayahan ng apo. Walang bahid ng paninisi ang matanda, sapagkat ninais lamang niyang maging masaya ang kaniyang mahal sa buhay.

Makikita rin ito sa kaniyang masuyong pagtanggap kay Tim sa biglaang pagdating nito sa nayon. Na kahit ayaw niya sa mga “bagong uso” tulad ng selpon at digital camera ay pinayagan niyang i-vlog lang siya nang i-vlog ng apo sa talampakan. Taliwas ang mga paniniwala ni Lola Igna karaniwang ideolohiya ng walang katapusang utang na loob na pinaiiral sa kulturang Pilipino, kung saan ang mga kamag-anak na tinulungan at sinuportahan ay kailangang mag-alay ng kanilang buong buhay sa mga magulang o kaanak na tumulong. Hindi na nalalayo sa pang-aalipin ang sistemang ito sa kasamaang-palad ay palasak pa rin sa iba’t ibang uri ng Pilipino.

(Screenshot: Netflix)

Pinakita ni Lola Igna ang uri ng “pagkatanda” na marunong umunawa sa pagbabago ng panahon at pangangailangan ng mga tao sa paligid. Tanggap niya ang mga pagbabago, ngunit may hapdi ring dulot ito sa kaniya—ang pagbabago ng bayan sa loob ng mahabang panahon ang siya ring nagbura ng kaniyang pagkakilala sa sariling bayan.

Ang elementong ito ng absurdismo, ng isang taong humihiling nang mamatay ngunit hindi pinagbibigyan, ang nagbibigay ng mas matingkad na pagpapahiwatig sa eksistensiyal na mga katanungang bumabagabag sa mga tao…

—Marius Carlos, Jr.

Sa kabila nito, nananatiling masuyo ang matanda sa kapwa. Ang kaniyang mga hinanakit ay sa pagitan lamang niya at ang langit. Gabi-gabing nagtutuos si Lola Igna at ang Diyos sa kaniyang kinahinatnan. Ang elementong ito ng absurdismo, ng isang taong humihiling nang mamatay ngunit hindi pinagbibigyan, ang nagbibigay ng mas matingkad na pagpapahiwatig sa eksistensiyal na mga katanungang bumabagabag sa mga tao paminsan-minsan, tulad ng “bakit nga ba kailangan pang mabuhay?” at “ano/sino ang nagbibigay ng saysay sa buhay?”

Sa huli, nagsilbing ilaw si Lola Igna sa madilim na espasyong hindi natin tinitingnan, sapagkat ito ay kabaligtaran ng buhay: ang kamatayan at ang mga posibilidad at pangangailangan para rito, at kung paano natin ito maaaring yakapin bilang bahagi na rin ng ating pananatili sa mundo.


Raja, Masood. “Center/ Periphery – Postcolonial Space”. Postcolonial Space, 2020,

Reyes, Jun Cruz. Ang Huling Dalagang Bukid At Ang Autobiography Na Mali. Anvil, 2011, p. 11.

Si Marius Carlos, Jr. ang kasalukuyang punong patnugot ng Revolt Magazine. Isa siyang kuwentista, manunuri/kritiko ng panitikan at midya, malayang mananaliksik, at isa ring manananaysay sa wikang Filipino at Ingles. Mahilig siyang makipagtalo sa sarili kung matutulog pa ba siya o hindi na. Ipadala ang mga komento o suhestiyon ukol sa kaniyang mga akda sa Revolt Magazine sa Maaaring siyang kapanayamin sa social media sa Minds at MeWe.

The Science of Disposable Lives in F.H. Batacan’s Smaller and Smaller Circles

F.H. Batacan’s Smaller and Smaller Circles (Soho Press, Inc., 2015) holds the distinction of being the first modern crime novel in the Philippines. Batacan’s work has received substantial recognition (National Book Award, the Palanca Award, and the Madrigal-Gonzales First Book Award). It has also been adapted as a motion picture by Tuko Film Productions and Buchi Boy Entertainment.

While other writers would argue that Smaller and Smaller Circles is more of a mystery novel, this writer argues that because of its extreme focus on both criminal and anti-crime agents’ psychological drives and the environments in which they operate, the novel is primarily crime fiction. From a broader perspective, Smaller and Smaller Circles follows the tradition of works like Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest).

Cracking religion

Unlike other crime novels where law enforcement agents are usually at the front lines, Batacan reconfigures the world of crime in her novel by putting two priests at the forefront of the battle against a serial killer. The serial killer in question had a penchant for cutting open young boys, eviscerating them and removing their organs and genitals. In addition to the removal of organs, the serial killer also ‘depersonalizes’ the victim through the methodic removal of its face, beginning with a deep incision under the chin.

This writer finds it fascinating in Batacan’s crime discourse because the main characters, Fr. Saenz and Fr. Jerome, never did focus on the fact that they were formally members of the Roman Catholic Church, except when they needed to question and openly criticize it. In many ways, Smaller and Smaller Circles is an open criticism of the various scandals of the most important religious institution in the Philippines.

Through subtle developments in the plot, Batacan allows the reader to enter the world of a religious scandal, where church elders much prefer ‘in-house discipline.’ The moment the church’s protective mechanisms for its priests are set into motion, the role of law enforcement is blurred substantially even if a “man of the cloth” is involved in what any layman can quickly identify as a crime—specifically, sex-related crime.

The novel can be lauded for its sincere desire to recalibrate the discussion on religion and its power on people and even the law because of its broad base of support. While Batacan avoids any overly philosophical discussion of religion, she does clarify that there is a pressing need for increased transparency within religious organizations. The text disagrees with the idea that the religious organization itself should discipline potential sexual offenses.

The fact that this does happen in real life shows that the Roman Catholic Church is not merely an institution, as many are led to believe. Instead, it has become a small, parallel state that invokes its laws and rejects many forms of intrusionincluding law enforcement.

The fact that this does happen in real life shows that the Roman Catholic Church is not merely an institution, as many are led to believe. Instead, it has become a small, parallel state that invokes its laws and rejects many forms of intrusionincluding law enforcement. If you want an easy comparison, think of the Philippine narco-state with all its guns and gangsters.

In Smaller and Smaller Circles, the constant blurring translates to the impunity of the worst kind. In this kind, church elders openly disdain the idea of transparency in the name of organizational stability.

Science, crime & power

At one point, venerable Director Lastimosa of the National Bureau of Investigation requested the main protagonist Fr. Saenz to help examine a string of gruesome deaths that have stopped the agency dead in its tracks.

Smaller and Smaller Circles reiterates that mere structure is not enough.

There has to be compassion and a genuine hunger for justice.

Father Gus Saenz is described as a “forensic anthropologist,” trained in France for his Ph. D. He runs his show as an independent agent in SSC’s world. Batacan brings Fr. Saenz head to head with church elders and law enforcement agents. He is an amalgam of several archetypes and mythic figures in literatureincluding Sherlock Holmes and Freud’s All-Father (ironically, everyone in the novel calls him ‘father.’) He is a mild, cool-headed man who is eventually drawn to the core of a serial killer’s world.

Together with his closest ally, Fr. Jerome, Fr. Saenz unleashes old fashioned logic and the love of science on a law enforcement landscape that is deeply marred by nepotism, political appointments, and entrenched prejudices of ambitious state agents who have forgotten their codes of honor. Saenz’s foil, Ben Arcinas, is a caricature of a high-level officer who always looks out for number one (himself). Arcinas is further depicted as a soulless bureaucrat who prioritizes social mobility over the compassionate delivery of justice.

Batacan makes it clear that men of science are superior to people who can exercise power simply because the state allowed them to do so. This is another open critique in the novel, this time of the Philippine government and its “semi-open” system of appointing agents and administrators at whim.

While organizations like the NBI certainly have formal structures in place, Smaller and Smaller Circles reiterates that mere structure is not enough. There has to be compassion and a genuine hunger for justiceespecially for those who are unable to fast-track their way into [in]justice by using various forms of capital to attain favorable legal outcomes and preferential treatment while working with law enforcement agencies.

In the absence of genuine commitment to justice, the line that separates criminals and state agents is distorted significantly. Batacan creates jarring dissonance in the reader by showing how even the most powerless of state agents (a driver in the NBI) can exhibit the same predatory behaviors in the name of clinging to some semblance of stability in a broken organization.

While Smaller and Smaller Circles is certainly a ‘slow burn’ kind of novel because of its moderate pace that continues to the end of the book, it remains a positive contribution to Philippine literature in English because of its attempts to understand why institutions tend to rot and fail despite their age and continued funding (either from willing spiritual followers or a government that has no real alternatives). As a final note from this writer, however, Batacan’s defensive position that favors science is curiously not extended to freedom of expression, as the text quotes “too much freedom of the press,” at one point. Ironic in a bad way, as the novel form itself is the dialogic epitome of freedom in literary expression.

Marius Carlos, Jr. is a storyteller, essayist, and journalist. He is the current editor-in-chief of Revolt Magazine. He is also the English editor of Rebo Press Book Publishing. He is an independent researcher focused on transnational capitalism, neocolonialism, empire, and pop culture. His column Parrhesia tackles the cultural, political and the personal—all at once.
You can reach him via social media at Minds and MeWe.