BOOK REVIEW: Scissors, Papers, Water, Stones

Title of the book: Scissors, Papers, Water, Stones
Author: Maria Frencie Carreon
Publication: 2017, by Claretian Communications Foundation, Inc., Quezon City, Philippines
Pages: Introductory (xviii); body (115)
Printing: Softbound, with colored pictures inside

The book is a set of essays, categorized into four sections (Scissors, Papers, Water, and Stones), and constituting 24 short chapters. It contains the foreword, prologue, epilogue, author’s note, and author’s bio-note. The linguistic style of the book lends for a wider readership. One can easily breathe between pages and between short chapters. Fonts are not too small nor too big.

The book is poetically chaptered. It starts with a section on “Scissors” with six short chapters. This section narrates a lot of individual struggles and pain. The migrants to Zamboanga City are faced with the “blades” of society cutting them off from their rights and worse, inflicting them with neglect and demolitions. As the book develops in the next section, “Papers,” with five short chapters, it begins to show hope against the seemingly hopeless conditions of the migrants. “Papers” symbolizes legal documents worth fighting for in gaining legitimacy and self-determination. The next section is “Water,” with seven short chapters, which showcases some improvements and recoveries from the water-related difficulties and atrocities. This section embodies the symbolic meaning of water – giving life – in the form of pintakasi, women leadership, empowerment of the poor, and building on water, among others. The book then ends with the section “Stones,” with six short chapters, which lays the foundation of empowerment, self-determination, justice, and public service. It highlights the efforts of the NGOs and the community organizations in journeying with the migrants and the neglected. The section also leaves a tinge of challenge and meaning in the name of public service.

The author, in this book, uses her journalism skills in relating the varied stories of individuals as well as organizations, about human rights issues, specifically the right to shelter and security. Although not explicitly written in the pages, the purpose of the author may have been to share the plight of the migrants to, as well as native dwellers of, Zamboanga City against land owners and the local government unit. Part of the purpose perhaps is also to share inspiring individual, as well as social movements responding to the said struggles. In every short chapter, the readers can find pockets of individual and communal values serving to inspire them in their real life situations.

The stories in the pages of this book are unusual stories one can find in prints, much less in books. At the time when newspapers are resource-dependent on the elite, if not politicians, stories like these do not land on the papers. The stories of human rights struggles are usually showing the negative side of power holders. This book then is bold. In a sense, it is a social and political critique in the local and national contexts. It particularly shows how migrants develop dissatisfaction to the supposedly public servants – the local government – and slowly find hopes in the non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Even some NGOs find the same dissatisfaction when collaborating with the local government. By extension, the book challenges the practice of journalism and media in the face of undeniable plight of the less fortunate and in the face of being politicized.

So, for those in the same plight as the characters in the stories, you can find inspiration and practical tips in this book. For the NGOs, which still want to make better impacts in uplifting the conditions of the migrants and the oppressed, this book would be a good investment.

What in this book is enigmatic for me is when I juxtapose the prologue and the epilogue. They highlight something Filipino, something contextual, something local – the game locally known as Jak-en-Poy. In this game of chance, the two players bet in the process of quickly and simultaneously showing a hand gesture, either in the form of a scissors, a paper, or a stone. Each of this symbols either wins or loses against another. The results can be a tie or one wins while the other loses. Here, the author seems to activate a local game in opening (prologue) and closing (epilogue) the book. Since the title of the book is Scissors, Papers, Water, Stones – one may wonder where the water is in the game. Note that in the prologue, there is a line that reads: “Raindrops started to fall;” while in the epilogue: “The drizzle was gradually stopping.” What is the author trying to say here? Be excited in finding out for yourself.

[Dr. Robert N. Panaguiton. He is the head of the School of Liberal Arts, Ateneo de Zamboanga University. He is the author of a book on Zamboanga’s history.]