From two years of experience, i.e., actually living in this country, suffering in real time the daily bombardment of anti-people rhetoric, the large-scale violence that is happening on our streets and in the countryside, the heavy burden of inflation and price hikes, the general exhaustion of having to deal with an incompetent unkind leadership, one already has a sense of how Rodrigo Duterte and his people operate. It is in fact a by-the-textbook populist strategy, one that they’ve been using since the campaign, one that they have continued to use with much success — he’s still President after all — the past two years. We’ve thought this government out-of-control, we’ve thought the communications team stupid and idiotic, we’ve called the President bastos and misogynist — but all of that is part of the plan, it is all chaos-by-design.

The announcement that the President will be speaking to the nation today, September 11, is no different. And because we’ve been here all this time, and we’ve heard Duterte doing his slurred, confused speeches too many times the past two years, we can already imagine what it is he’s going to say. Because unsurprisingly, he is redundant, and repetitive, and goes around in circles like a crazy person. And the only way we can continue to be productive and not get caught up in the shock of hearing him saying something offensive (because he will) and oppressive (because he will), is to already prepare ourselves for the worst. And with Duterte, everything IS already at its worst.  (more…)

After Robin Padilla revealed on the second day of his Mocha-Uson-worthy performance at the Senate parking lot that in fact coup d’etat was in the air because it was the reason why “he” wanted to see Trillanes arrested, so many days after, the President himself confirms the same — in so many words, in his signature confused rhetoric and garbled messaging. Asked about his revocation of Trillanes’ amnesty and whether there was a need to do a loyalty check on the military since Trillanes is a military man, Duterte got to this point after a page of transcribed answers:

But itong mga intriga na kudeta-kudeta, look, I am here to enforce the law. ‘Yung kay Trillanes, alam mo ang totoo niyan ang nag-research, si Calida, just like kay Sereno. He was the one who was…

Uh, no, Mr. President, no one asked you about a coup d’etat. But we get that it’s in your head. If we are to be optimistic, it means there is in fact the possibility of pushback from the military. If I am going to be optimistic, a nationalist military that will stand with the people against you, because: killings and wars, flouting our laws, installation of your own elite and oligarchs, the lack of transparency and accountability, inflation and the manufactured crisis of imported rice and galunggong.


It’s easy to dismiss the Duterte decision to revoke the amnesty that Senator Antonio Trillanes was given (along with 299 others) by President Noynoy Aquino in 2010, as just another way for the government to silence a critic. After all, this is consistent with what Duterte has done the past two years: from Senator Leila de Lima to former CJ Lourdes Sereno, from Teddy Casiño, Liza Maza, Ka Paeng Mariano, and Ka Satur Ocampo to Sr. Patricia Fox. This is the way Duterte has moved against his perceived “enemies,” who are so quickly transformed as he and his followers see fit, into “enemies of the state” for being critical of his policies, for questioning the wars he wages, for pushing back against his anti-people policies.

It has been a successful strategy for them so far. A government that operates on shock is able to keep the populace frazzled and distracted and always preoccupied. The smaller shocks are those soundbites (drop a rape joke here) and the moves that flout the law (order the police to kill or illegally detain citizens here) or dismiss questions about government’s accountability (insert economic managers defending TRAIN here). When those are not enough, have your team create a show of idiocy (insert Mocha here), which can easily be dismissed as government enemies just nitpicking on Duterte and his people (insert anti-elite and anti-Dilawan statements here). 

The bigger shocks are of course the systemic ones: a tax reform law that is taxing the poor and middle class to oblivion, a questionable infrastructure program in the billions that buries us deeper into debt while making traffic even more unbearable than it already is, the highest inflation rate in nine years, two wars that have killed thousands and pulverized a city, the militarization of farmers’ and indigenous people’s lands for big business, a food crisis, a lack of transparency and accountability, an economic crisis. (more…)

You do not know Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino.

Yet you’ve seen her often on television and in film. She’s that archetype of a mother in the soap opera factory, as she might be the secondary character we forget in that recent rom-com. You might remember her as the mother of Basha in One More Chance, in that one scene where she asks if Basha’s okay, kung kaya pa ba ang heartbreak kay Popoy. She is also the mother of Teptep in Maybe This Time, the one who for most of the film is inexplicably disapproving of her daughter but who breaks apart as mother who forgives and understands and loves.

Of course you are wont to forget her, or imagine her to be the every-actress whose name you do not know, and whose face – when you see her in another film, another TV show – you will remember but can’t quite place. That this is the way the cultural system has created us into audience goes without saying.

That Centenera has an enviable body of work in theater, and holds the reputation of being one of few actors who can breathe life into any role at all, is the ironic twist to this story. And tragically so. (more…)

NOTE: An old piece remembered because Oca Villamiel’s “Back To Nature” just ended its run at Finale Art File, and still takes from this kind of magnitude. 

In 2012, I happened upon Oca Villamiel’s “Stories Of Our Time,” which was a deceptively simple set of art assemblages made from old dolls, with expectedly missing heads and limbs. I was on a gallery run with Singapore art journalist Mayo Martin, driving all the way to Fairview for Light and Space Contemporary to prove a point: look at how large this city is, and how difficult it is to even look at all exhibits at any given time. It’s so unlike Singapore! I was telling Mayo.

But of course there’s the kind of art one encounters in Manila so distinctly different from SG. Specifically, there was Villamiel’s work, filling up the various galleries of this art space, playing with old dolls not just through framed and contained assemblages, but also by filling up a whole space with dolls hanging from the ceiling. The effect was an eerie curtain of bright wide eyes and lifeless bodies.

We were on our way out when someone from Light and Space told us there was more outside, in one of the warehouse-spaces. We followed him down some steps, and as he opened the warehouse doors, our jaws dropped. Within that large space was a garden-like installation of doll’s heads and body parts attached to flimsy sticks. At the center of this garden was a shanty filled with dolls and doll parts. Walking around the garden, walls were filled with shadows of uncanny flowers and growth, almost pretty, absolutely breathtaking. This work was entitled “Payatas.” (more…)