Monday, September 25, 2006

Anomalies of remembrance

WE ARE unraveled by the commonplace, a daily route that diverts to the unexpected, a scent from childhood, a notebook left in a classroom I am about to close for the weekend.

Why did I pause in my locking up? Young people don’t need their notes on Friday night. Second, the cover had no identification. I did not recognize the penmanship on the pages. The owner might come back for it.

Fortunately, after scanning the notebook’s entries on the journalism topics I lecture on, I came upon tips for writing a thesis. The teacher handling the subject was in the room-next-door so I left the journal with her.

Monday morning, I saw the notebook on Irish’s desk.

What is it about a notebook that cannot be abandoned in a locked room?

Willie Marbella, a peasant organizer from BicoI, records the death threats he receives in his 2004 planner. According to the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Sept. 21, 2005 feature, Marbella’s dark blue mini-diary is his insurance against “disappearance.”

Marbella preserves his diary, legal papers, photocopies of controversial coco levy certificates and news clippings. Should he be killed, Marbella wants the authorities to have leads in finding his killers.

No one lives forever. But a notebook may keep your enemies from erasing all traces that you once existed.

Hard to imagine how flimsy paper kept together by wire or twine can keep forgetting at bay. As a mass communication undergraduate pursuing a martial law story required by my journalism teacher, I witnessed the many anomalies of remembrance during visits I made to the local office of the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP).

About torture and the final indignity of pain effacing humanity, the photographs did not lie. But I could flinch away from photographs.

As for the ones that disappeared, what physical evidence can be collected for a crime perpetuated by nullifying existence?

But I could not forget the writing. Accounts brought back by the fact-finding missions demanded two acts of courage: to take up the pen and record what was witnessed; to read and never forget.

Today, martial law is just some event the media report about 33 years later. The 706 persons who disappeared, 880 massacred, 154 tortured, and 2,491 summarily executed have become interesting infographics played up inside a box.

When Sept. 21 comes around, space can be spared for a feature or two about martial law. On the other hand, the Marcoses are more reliable news copy. The refrigerated former dictator, his wife crying over stolen baubles, their eminent politician-children, specially the photogenic daughter so quotable on matters ranging from a president’s impeachment to a hero’s burial. Memories are eminently seducible.

If not for some stained notebooks read as a student, I would buy this news reality. I, too, see the convenience of burying the dead and writing for the living.

Only a notebook can hold anomalies to challenge this truth.

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