Saturday, May 03, 2008

Then and now

IN THE future, historians will have an easier task of examining us. With so many now taking videos on their mobile phones, will there be a lack of evidence to indict us?

Yet there is this paradox concerning technology. In the recent controversy involving some doctors and nurses of the Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center (VSMMC) being probed for violating the privacy of a male patient, one realizes that the means for empowerment may leap and bound, but the subjects for empowering may still limp behind.

In TV replays, a video showing the VSMMC medical staff laughing, hooting and recording while a canister is removed from the anus of a male patient leads to lopsided comparisons:

Were these professionals who sacrificed effort, years and resources to practice a vocation ennobled by the power to relieve suffering and save lives?

Or did we just witness mob frenzy, the mindless tyranny that lynches a person and howls from some base gratification unknown in beasts?

What contrast can be starker than those healers’ behavior and the pristine uniforms covering their faces and hands?

On the other hand, what can be grosser than the similarity between the part of the anatomy being operated on and the like-sounding hypocrites that might drive Hippocrates to disavow collegiality?

What does a teaching institution like VSMMC inculcate in its interns and staff? That extraction of foreign bodies is less difficult and more enjoyable than issuing an apology (the male patient was operated on last Jan. 3; as of Apr. 16, hospital authorities have yet to conclude an internal probe and decide whether an apology is due)?

In possession of technology, do we necessarily advance?

Four centuries ago, the Jesuit priest, Ignacio Alcina, crisscrossed the Visayas. He nearly perished from sea mishaps, disease and hostile encounters. After more than 30 decades of recording and writing, he left a monumental and unrivalled documentation of prehistoric Bisayans.

Alcina recorded, among others, the religious and social prominence of effeminate men called “asog” or “asug” in the 1600s.

Another priest, the lexicographer of Bisayan terms, Mateo S├ínchez confirmed that, along with the women, these “asug,” “bayug” or “bayugun” were the ancient ministers of native idols. The differentiation was so distinct that there was a term for men who ended up living as women: “asugasugan.”

Father Sanchez wrote that men who were cowardly were not called asug but “bantut” or “buyayaw.” From this, we can infer that effeminacy was not looked down upon. Using the same term to refer to animals that do not produce offspring, ancient Bisayans considered the asug as a force of nature, not an aberration.

In precolonial Philippines, the asug, like women priestesses and sacrificers, were respected. Although they were incapable of entering marriage, asugs wore their difference with distinction. Father Alcina wrote that the asugs even wore “lambung,” a skirt that went down to the feet “so that they were recognized even by their manner of dress.”

He observed that “all those who were such, performed their tasks of sacrifice because the ‘diwata’ chose them for this ministry, they believed.”

After more than 300 years of languishing in Spanish archives, Alcina’s obra was translated and annotated by two priests in 2004. Dense and voluminous, his work has yet to seep into classroom lessons in history.

In contrast, the VSMMC episode was instantaneously captured and transmitted by camera phones, uploaded in YouTube, then removed from the popular site, but uploaded again in the wake of the current controversy.

Far from correcting, technology may even abet our misshapen, lopsided collective memory.

mayette.tabada@gmail.com/ mayettetabada.blogspot.com/ 09173226131


* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s April 19, 2008 issue

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