In the ninth decade of her life, my mother had chosen to turn away from the world. Only when I called out –“Mama!” -- did the butterfly of her soul return from its fluttering from memory to memory; she would look out of her eyes and break into a smile, saying “o, ano? (How’s it?)” I would become five years old again, innocent of borderless wars, assassinations, disappearances, women exported into unspeakable conditions, life in another country…
This was what I lost when the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo government of the Philippines chose to harass three women, myself included, under its Human Security Act. The first impact of the HSA upon us was instant insecurity. In the middle of a typhoon, with everything flooded, I burned interview notes, documents and pictures – all moist, the air itself so laden with water matchsticks would not ignite – for fear of endangering those who had spoken to me. Afterwards as we ran through possibilities with GABRIELA Philippines, Gabriela Women’s Party and GABNet members, I was shocked to learn I was in the most vulnerable position. The consensus was I could be detained and/or arrested or assassinated.
Throughout meetings, all I could think of was my mother. Because I couldn’t stay for long periods at her house (it could be watched, could be raided; I could be ambushed), our interaction was reduced to a “hello, mama” upon arrival, “goodbye, mama” a few minutes later as I rushed out, carrying a change of clothes. I had planned to spend time with her, have the house repaired, pretend, as it were, that my fate had been that of a dutiful daughter, even if only for the week following the end of WISAP10, the bi-annual conference sponsored by GABPhil. Alas, it was not to be.
I had only one instance of sustained interaction with her. Still imperious in her wheelchair, she had watched as I drunk coffee and then pointed to the cup. I said no, this was bad for her. She pointed to it again. It’s bitter, I said. She pointed. I took a tablespoon of coffee to her lips. She sipped, made a face and then stuck her tongue out. Bitter, bitter. Thereafter, each time I said bitter, she stuck her tongue out. It didn’t matter that she barely recognized me. It was enough that she was happy even with the stranger I had become.
Bitter, indeed, was this recent trip to the homeland; shocking, indeed, to find it still in the grip of such poverty that tyranny had become a necessary component of the social order. A slow balkanization of the archipelago is underway, as more and more Filipinos leave for work overseas and more and more “foreigners” enter: a hundred thousand Koreans are in the school system; thousands more of Taiwanese; Mindanao has become the land of banana plantations edging out poor communities; educational tourism, medical tourism, sex tourism, military tourism (which is what the Balikatan exercises are), tourism everywhere while Filipinos watch television shows with unfamiliar faces, strange histories and different mindsets, imports from other parts of Asia, imports from the US, with Filipino actors re-cast in local versions of the American Idol, Big Brother, and so on. In the 7,100 islands, the process of dispossession is on-going, slow but certain.
Throughout all this, the Macapagal-Arroyo government's hatred remains directed at those who would affirm that there is such a country as the Philippines, such a people as Filipinos, such women as Filipinas, who are due genuine independence, freedom and rights.
Underpinning it all is the madness of the unjust, the puppetry of the greedy. It would not be far-fetched to think of the Philippines as slowly disappearing, an entire country disappeared, murdered by war and occupation and dispossession. Then, the souls of the millions of us scattered throughout the world will be as butterflies flitting from memory to memory, lovely but easily crushed. -- ##