THE SMILING FOREHEAD: My President Goes to War

ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews / 11 Aug) – That eerie and chilling sight and sound would not leave me for days. It kept running through my head like a sad song; waking my sleep like an unwanted replay of a nightmare. There he went reading that kill list. Was it tears of sorrow, anger, frustration or all that he was holding back? Yawa! Intermittent curses were all he could do to contain his almost exploding self. Around him were four caskets. The four souls to be laid to rest and the rest of 60 million of us were hovering. We were, suspended in disbelief, all wakeful in the virtual funeral that the country mourned in the dead of night. In my time and generation, this is reality TV.

My small hometown of Jolo may just be an ink smear in the map but its history runs deep and its heritage impacts and influences the rest of the archipelago if not the entire country, and far and wide to the rest of Southeast Asia, the Nusantara. To strangers especially those from up North, our small dot of an island town has a running reputation as the heart of the deep dark south and they quiver at thoughts of how its backdoors we zealously guard. With an exotic sometimes mystic backdrop, tellers of urban legends would relish painting my hometown red, replete with its own petrifying tales ranging from violent conflict, bizarre underground trade and economy, ruling outlaws and pirates, and, yes, narcopolitics.

In the wake of national war on drugs, it is in such nights that my little red blob in the middle of the sea visits nightmares and makes people sweat in their sleep. But little did they know that ordinary foot soldiers have their own battles to fight, too, that’s why they are conscripted.

Sitti’s war is of 20 years. She sleeps and eats with the enemy. He came in and out of rehabilitation, went through professional psychiatric treatment, counseling and was on distemper drugs for years. After his addiction gave a near fatal myocardial infraction, the family finances were depleted just to make him come-out clean. He came and went from infected to clean then slipped back again, then the vicious cycle of rehabilitations and relapses. Unemployed and fully subsidized by Sitti’s wages, in Tausug patriarchal culture still he was considered the family head, and he was unstoppable. He sold the family car, brought their small computer shop business to bankruptcy and the household was constantly under police surveillance. With everything gone, and giving him the pleasure of the last slap and broken lip, Sitti had to decide to cut off for good. Only a divorce procedure which devastated their two children so much finally unhooked herself from her own addiction to him. She ran away from her own home. She had lost that battle, and this time she vows to win the war that President Digong leads.

WJ Badi is more candied in his confessions of how evil that begets evil potentially recruits evil. “As a young college student, I aspired for good education. Hoping to escape unpeace at home, I went to Manila to study. There, I was victimized by addicts and they left me for dead along Madonna Street in Pasay in the 1990s. But I survived anyway, then I bought a handgun and for around five years, I did not wash my maong pants and t-shirt because everyday for 5 years I wanted to get back at him. But I couldn’t chance upon him, he was slippery as could be! Fortunately, he was felled by another victim’s bullet before I succeeded about my evil plan, otherwise I would have been ruined too and turned evil because of what that addict did to me!”

In Hamza’s case, war is raw and bitter. Hamza just recently surrendered to his barangay captain who turned him over with the rest of 300 plus remorseful “users” to the local SAF. Just like the rest of them he wanted only one thing: to come out clean and give himself another chance. But since he started revealing the monster that lurks within, his world has tumbled over. His parents and sibling would hardly talk to him now and his friends have distanced themselves. If it seems not enough that Hamza had to have his hair shaven off, is it the shame that the soul inside should be made to suffer more? Yet, more than the piece of waiver he signed, and after staining and tainting his name, the local authorities can do nothing to help him help himself. So like a proverbial Tausug juramentado, he joins his war, and offers himself as a self-timed bomber if only to wipe out smirks from his own face each time he reads snide remarks by people protesting against drug lords and criminals getting killed EJK-ly and henceforth labeling “empaths” those hating the President’s war. It is only an FB and TV war, he reminds himself, although he knows it would take time perhaps another 40 years before Human Rights and Justice will mean anything respectable again.

Police officer Adil could only shake his head in regret as his buddy lady-police Pacita quietly took the name of the last of sweaty basketball “tambay” they have politely lined up one early morning in a city-slum neighborhood that has not swam out of a July flood. “Who will spend for them?” was the good officer’s perplexed reply to questions if they have rehabilitation plans for the self-surrenderees. Household members have been pressing down the trash for as long as they could because nobody wanted to take out the garbage. Now that it is collected out of their homes, they feel as though they have dumped them by the street-side themselves. Most families would not wish to give their rubbish a second look anymore, some even want compensation and make it as though government is indebted to them. Meanwhile, self-claimed do-gooders and human rights fighters are taking turns cursing the garbage collectors and spitting at the dump trucks. And how about recycling and reusing the throw-aways? That’s an altogether new war to wage in the homes and heart.

Next, I let my smiling forehead smile at how we fight our local war – I mean, this, his war, and who wages it in homes and hearts.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Hadji Al, 45, is a young Tausug entrepreneur, partly owning and managing a famous café and watering hole Dennis Coffee Garden in Zamboanga City. He is an active member of the Jama’ah Tableegh and considers himself a jester in the court of Bangsamoro politics.)