Sunday, May 10, 2009

Romancing the phrase

THIS stall along Pelaez St. makes bouquets for everything, from lovers to wakes.

The stall is called “Blooming Fields,” well-suited for a business that must be a regular earner.

But that’s not the reason why I paused in my walk when I first spotted the stall. Decades back, there was a movie made about the friendship of an American journalist and his Cambodian translator. Their bond enabled both to survive the anarchy that turned the Cambodian countryside into the “Killing Fields,” which is the movie’s title.

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Might that stall’s name been inspired by the movie? Perhaps the owner is a: a) frustrated journalist who believes in immortalizing the power of the pen to make sense of a world gone haywire; b) a ‘60s remnant, a peacenik who unrepentantly believes in humanity; c) a movie buff who still replays the film for that first glimpse of an unknown named Liam Neeson, who fills out a bit role with his thespic and animal magnetism; or d) a bottomline watcher who never watches films just to analyze these, and simply chose the adjective “blooming” because that’s what flowers do best when a load of dried manure is dumped on them.

Such is the evocative power of words.

Mind you, poets don’t monopolize the art of the subtle association.

Recently, the Court of Appeals (CA) coined the phrase “an unplanned romantic dalliance” to justify the dismissal of a lower court’s rape conviction of US Marine Daniel Smith in 2006.

“Dalliance” evokes a particularly Victorian feel, as if the trysting parties are merely half-bored and playing at love, stealing glances or, at worst, a limp kiss, while waiting for one’s chaperone to wake up from snoring in the corner.

Perhaps that is why the courts are the best arbiter of guilt, not fervid writers.

According to Sun.Star Cebu’s April 24, 2009 report, the Court of Appeals made “a careful and judicious perusal of the evidence on record,” which convinced a “prudent mind”—by inference, embracing the courts and rejecting writers—that what took place at the back of a van in Subic on the night of November 1, 2005 was the “unfolding of a spontaneous, unplanned romantic episode.”

I wonder why the CA balked at declaring it was consensual “intercourse” or “sex” (if one prefers the shorter, clearer word). The plain word is easier to reconcile with the images summoned from the testimonies of the rape accuser Nicole and witnesses: the groping in the bar and in the van, the disrobing and penetration while Smith’s companions watched, the street dumping of the partially naked Nicole, the used condom sticking to her jeans.

Perhaps the “prudent mind” of the court rejected these details, sworn and attested to, as being imprudent, creating great risk.

Risk to whom? Perhaps risk to the images created by Nicole’s recent affidavit, made just before the CA’s ruling, in which she confessed to “losing inhibitions” because of the alcoholic beverages she imbibed that night and her own “attraction” for Smith.

In the long history of our country’s relations with the US, the Nicole-Smith episode is a mere wrinkle in time, a pebble in the sea of abrasions (or perhaps, “pea” is the more apt metaphor since it recalls another princess in a fable, complaining about bedside irritations).

For Filipinos like me, though, the case begs answers. What is rape? Is it not rape when an intoxicated woman does not have full control of her mental faculties and thus can only verbally oppose but not strenuously resist a partner who forces intercourse?

Can there be rape when RP-US relations are at stake?

The vindication of Smith seems to redefine a rape victim as anyone other than those who hang out in bars, dance with strangers, leave a public area to enter into the treacherous realms of “spontaneous, unplanned romance.”

For such women, they cannot be called victims: they deserve what they get.

I should not be so surprised. In this country, one can daily walk past the unexpected: florists becoming wordsmiths, and justice moonlighting as romance writers.

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* First published in Sun.Star Cebu's Apr. 26, 2009 issue

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