Down to earth

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“You can take the boy out of the farm, but you cannot take the farm out of the boy”. So goes the old saying.

Yes, I was born on a farm; my parents were farmers by heart and soul, totally in deference to the earth and its mysteries. In fact, they strove to live in step and harmony with the cycles and patterns of the creation and we offspring were immersed and nurtured in this world philosophy. If we have managed to keep our bearings in the face of life’s ordeals, it can only be due to the instincts of survival gathered from growing one with the earth.

Thus has the pandemic aroused the earthling in me. In the face of concerns and threats, nothing can offer me serenity more than working the earth. Trowel in hand, working my pepper and cabbage patches and humming tunes to myself, my thoughts wander across stretches of time and space, sorting out gems of adventures from mischance, fitting together puzzles of fortuity and twists of fate in an iffy attempt to reconcile circumstance and destiny.

Curiously, the terrestrial exercise primes up the now rusty wordsmith in my head to cause my earthbound hands to pine for the type keyboard. Somehow, I cannot help but suspect that perhaps Lewis Caroll was working his garden when he got the inspiration of the Walrus on “cabbages and kings.”

I guess one’s writing ability, unused for a long while, gets moldy and sluggish. Like some old hard disk, there is a need to defragment, discard broken entries and delete duplicate files to do an efficient reboot.  Nonetheless, when one is not the prolific type who can churn out material at a snap, one needs some stir up mechanism to start the train of thought rolling.

At the close of day, after the ground implements have been stowed away and the frail seedlings are sheltered from rainfall, as one powers up the word processor, he is faced with a dilemma: Among the myriad of themes, from the mundane to the esoteric, which one deserves the distinction–or notoriety–of being the subject of choice?

Indeed the quarantine isolation provides the moment to reflect on human frailty and meditate on undoing the ruin man has brought upon himself, but the pedestrian distractions have been far from few.

When the issue of ABS-CBN came up, I was tempted to write about the role of this last bastion of sugar politics in history and how the inequities in sugar production drove me to join the revolutionary underground of the 1970’s. But then, I figured out my tale of dissent would not stand a chance of note alongside the epic narrative of SPO1 Ricardo Dalisay defecting to the Pulang Araw, later to be joined by Philippine President Oscar Hidalgo and some of his top officials after an assassination attempt by his Vice-President Lucas Cabrera. Why, that would even reduce Victor Corpus’s story to a cheap potboiler.

Then there’s Maria Ressa and her freewheeling view of press freedom.

I cannot help but sympathize with Ms. Ressa in her noble crusade. After all, forty-seven years ago, at the age of nineteen, I spent some fourteen months in a Fort Bonifacio detention facility. But then I guess I was not as fortunate and blessed as she is. I did not head a media outfit that had the material support of a big-time local businessman, nor that of an international “philantrophic investment” firm. I was nowhere near the darling of international media, much less TIME Person of the Year. All I did was edit and publish in mimeographed form an inconsequential small-fry “probinsyano” paper called Paghimakas. I was certainly no celebrity, much less BBC Hardtalk material.

Further, my case was neither libel nor tax evasion. All I was charged with was “inciting to rebellion” and “conspiracy to commit rebellion.”

On the other hand, perhaps I did have my share of dubious fortune too. In 1992, Fidel Ramos signed into law an act repealing RA 1700, thus effectively erasing the crimes I and hundreds of others were charged for.

Isn’t it a sad joke of history that by some legal and political sleight of hand, we found ourselves in debt to the very same person who hunted us down as chief implementer of martial law, while he, with a stroke of a pen, implicitly absolved himself and his minions of responsibility for the injustices of the period? It did not stop there, though; to add icing to the cake, “compensation” was offered to victims of abuses, charged against the alleged ill-gotten wealth of his boss. (I have a confession to make: I did not claim a cent of compensation)

Some 28 years have passed since, and the world has changed a whole lot. Yet today we see a reincarnation of the Republic Act 1700 in the recently signed Anti-Terror Law. Does this indicate that the repeal of the Anti-Subversion Law did not actually diminish the threat to national security against which the law was drawn for?

So one asks, is press freedom violated when one is arrested for publishing a paper that advocates violent means to overthrow the government? Is membership in an organization that seeks to overthrow the legal order tolerable? Where does individual right end, and community welfare begin?

I am tempted to state my two-cent worth of thought on these issues, but then I suppose that would be no match to what millions of dollars in Philippine Depositary Receipts can inspire. By the way, while I am not a dual-citizen, I can sing and recite the English versions of Lupang Hinirang and Panatang Makabayan.

Indeed, this old farm boy, some 50 years after joining the revolutionary underground has seen a good amount of correct ideas from social practices that have come and gone, time bound as they are. I have witnessed phenomenal changes in the world, the price of which no 20% senior citizen discount can mitigate. I’ve been down, up, and around, and I always find solace in the world philosophy of my childhood and youth, that man is just a speck in the totality of the universe, at the mercy of its laws. So I guess I’d just go back to pondering on planetary movements, phases of the moon, equinoxes, and solstices and their influence on creation, humans and COVID-19, no less.

Tomorrow, at the break of day, I’ll hold my trowel in hand, work my pepper and cabbage patches while humming tunes to myself, and have my thoughts wander through time and space once more. With apologies to Mr. Caroll, I’ve lost my knack to weigh in on worldly musings; I leave it to the Walruses and Carpenters in Congress to do the debate on “damages and Kengs”.

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