Dear Dom Pantaleon,
I admit I opened your email last night because of its subject: “Rachelle Mae.”
I wondered if you were reacting to last week’s column, which ruminated on the impact of Cebu Press Freedom Week on student writers, who may or may not be aspiring to be future journalists.
Despite my optimism, I digressed last week on the Sept. 18 death of nursing graduate and campus journalist Rachelle Mae Palang during an encounter with the military in Dauin, Negros Oriental.
I’ve come to expect either sympathy or an argument from readers. I did not expect a “Thank you very much!” from the Pulang Mt. Talinis Front Command of the New People’s Army (NPA).
And the three poems attached with your email sunk me deeper into the unease I feel over Rachelle Mae’s dying.
On one hand, an email is an improvement over the handwritten notes that were handed down by different couriers during martial law. An email is more readable despite one’s glasses, which, though old and familiar, tends to blur scrawls, especially those made in white heat (or should I say, revolutionary fervor?).
But I am now 43, less romantic than I was at 16 and just initiated to Emman Lacaba, Fr. Ed de la Torre, Pablo Neruda and the libertarian theologists.
Now, when I open an attachment emblazoned at the top with red fonts, I think, “cool,” and ask my older son to show me which software can make the same letterhead. The graphics remind me of graffiti sprayed by spelling-challenged punks or a movie victim’s last message, scrawled in blood.
Once, long before Red letterheads became the vogue, letters passed from hand to hand were also typed. Pica or elite. More often than not, pica was used because the portable models used the larger type (a portable typewriter made it possible for a friend to type tracts while hiding in the hollowed-out middle of a bamboo stand, but a university dancer lost her bearing after years of moving from place to place, even during raids, with a typewriter strapped to her back.)
Emails do not have personalities like a letter. Once, one learned to watch out for quirky signs to establish a letter’s authenticity; one group’s typewriter’s “s” key always jumped and left a space after it so “kasama” became the vaguely patriarchal, reactionary “kas ama.”
Your email could have been sent by anyone: punk, trying-hard movie victim or Red fighter of the NPA Pulang Mt. Talinis Command.
I confess that when I opened the attachment, “HALAD SA MGA MARTIR.DOC,” I worried more about potential virus. After scanning the three poems, I sent my standard reply: thank you for your contribution. I no longer edit for a paper but you may wish to contribute this to…
It is hours since I emailed my reply. I am still uneasy.
I realize now my mistake of seeing the forest for the trees. I should not have worried over the contradictions in who you said you were: a “Red fighter” whose nom de guerre of “Ka Dom Pantaleon” includes a title synonymous with “don,” adopted by royalty and Church hierarchy since the word’s root lies in the Latin "dominus," meaning "lord” or “master."
I should not have searched for authenticity in the empty militancy and stiff imagery of your poems: “Build peasant organizations/ In the heat of agrarian guns.” I fail to see how a poem entitled “S.O.W.” (for the revolutionary jargon of Solid Organizing Work) can be a tribute to fallen comrades.
I don’t write poetry. (I have too much respect for it.) I don’t believe in making a religion out of martyrdom. (We are diminished by any death, Red fighter, soldier or bystander.)
Dom Pantaleon, stay alive. Write and do not line your grave with a tired cause and petrified metaphors.
firstname.lastname@example.org/ mayettetabada.blogspot.com/ 09173226131
* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Oct. 5, 2008 issue