Curtain call

2017-05-08 16.23.25

In one lechon-perfumed room in a (literally) dusty hall in U.P., my last class in law school ended with applause and the customary photo shoot with the professor. We were talking about quasi-delicts and how motorists were always at fault when hitting pedestrians and how hitting them with our car’s side-mirror could be our own way of urbanized revenge. This was a four hour make-up class but it was all lectures now since time was of the essence. The room was filled with only my professor’s voice – trying to hack its way to the end of the syllabus and wrap up this review class. Outside, the waxing moon hung under a clear, night sky peppered with its many stars. The walk to the car took a minute or two since I was parked in the annex, which I dubbed as ‘The Swamp’ since during the rainy season it does turn into a veritable swamp. The way was dark, serene and peaceful — a perfect opportunity for me to be mugged.

On the walk back, I thought about Room 307 and how I had my first class there during my freshman year. Ugh freshman year, I thought, how stupid of me. I remember classes in Persons and Family Relations and Legal History and Constitutional Law 1 and how I had absolutely no clue what I was doing. Many times, time just went by in flashes, like broad strokes in some post-impressionist, modern art painting indistinguishable from vomit: exams here, recits there, a head hunched over some papers under a lamp, empty cups of coffee by the side, the tune of jazz in the background, a rosary by the book stand, a stack of books, notes scribbled on loose sheets scattered on the floor, a jacket hanging on the back of the seat, hands aching from shrinking text to fit between the lines in the codal, memories of 5s and of 1s, victories like making it in the OPF and staying there, defeats like Oblicon, deus ex machinas like Oblicon and the 2013 bar results, wondering if I should join a frat, deciding not to, dates with Urie and our movies and dinners and chats – my sanity in this endless sea of unreason.

In hindsight, I could do with more walks in the oval now that school is over and only a few exams stand between me and graduation and then the bar and then I shall fade and diminish and sail over the sea to Valinor.

***

To friends who left ahead of me:

Eager eyes with hopes we had
when we set our roots to the earth;
a seed in the wind, dust from the wings of moths.
To grow we must at nature’s call:
a journey’s end, four years to come;
with faith and hazard our only friends.
True: in the rains do branches wear their leaves
so ripe and green — the shades above our heads
from dangers yet unknown, unseen
What story could they tell of an inferno — those that
have yet to feel its heat? August passes and April
comes with its thirsty glare. Up we gaze to see
no clouds but the sky: blue and bright with our
death — and some fall: brown and crisp to the earth.
And here we remain to see another May
until for need of lumber the axes come
and take for them those of us as they say.

 

the last LD

Nothing in OLA is ever simple. Waking up at 530am and waiting a whole day for a 10-minute meeting to soak up insults is something I could never get used to. We wait all day and she expects us to thank her for allowing walk-ins. I was never too good at kissing ass and have always mistrusted flatterers, sycophants, and bootlickers. What has OLA brought me other than anxiety, countless hours wasted, and money thrown away on that false altar? And for what? Two letter P’s – since that’s what we all get on our transcript. Nothing else matters.

But one song played in my head as I left that infernal office:

Death of a roach

A roach crawled into my bathroom this morning. It measured about two inches and was wholly disgusting. I don’t know why the sight of roaches trigger those sensations. They just look damned awful. Luckily for me it wasn’t airborne. In fact it was dead still – which gave me ample time to briskly walk to the kitchen to find the Baygon. At last I found it. Armed with a full can of roachkiller spray, I made my way back into the fray. The roach was right where I left it – just at the corner of the shower door. I fixed the spout of the Baygon spray and configured it to fire in a stream (as opposed to a mist for mosquitoes). I squeezed the button and jet of white liquid shot out of the spray and covered the roach. It came alive. Despite being covered in Baygon spray, it managed to crawl to the wall behind a stack of drawers. This roach knew how to find cover. After moving the stack aside, I aimed the spray and squeezed a second time. Another jet of white death rained on the roach, which was now on its back. It was still alive. Its legs were still twitching until bit by bit the Baygon spray kicked in and the twitching gradually halted into a dead stillness.

It was a strange sensation to watch that roach die. I wondered what was in that Baygon spray to kill insects. After a quick google search, I found out that the spray actually had some neurotoxins that caused spasms on insects. Perhaps it was of the strength of the spasms that caused the roach to flip over on its back while it slowly attacked the roach’s neurosystem. Life to death in a few seconds. The whole episode struck me. To think that chemists in a lab created that neurotoxin that killed the roach. Remind me not to mess around with chemical engineers. (!)

Notes on the Anti-Discrimination Bill (HB3312)

Comments on HB3312

There are probably two ways how Pedro can win an argument. One way is for Pedro to convince the other on the merits of his position, with the ultimate end of producing a consensus. The other way is for Pedro to speak his position, and before Juan can start, say Juan is stupid, walk out of the room, and declare himself the winner. Some time ago I found a tweet that said that there is no rational reason to oppose an Anti-Discrimination Bill. Now, it must take a certain form of hubris for one to draw the limits of rationality so nonchalantly. When persons refuse to listen, expect obedience, and label all opposition as irrational, what we have is not a world of progress, but sheer dogmatism. This blog is merely an inquiry: if support for that Anti-Discrimination Bill is rational while dissent is irrational, it might be worth a minute to examine exactly how rational it is. Because some of us at least would like to hear the other side.

House Bill No. 3312 is an Anti-Discrimination Bill endorsed by 17 members of Congress. Essentially the Bill, in its current form, seeks to (1) define discrimination and impose (2) punitive and (3) preventive measures to combat it. The bill seeks to impose certain negative obligations (obligations not to do) on public and private individuals. In other words, it imposes an obligation on individuals not to discriminate on the basis of certain grounds provided for in the law and penalizes noncompliance with imprisonment (just two to six years or even six to twelve [!]) and/or a fine (just P100,000 to P250,000 to P500,000 [!]). Below are some notes on the bill.

The public and private distinction is gone

The explanatory note mentioned two State policies: (1) that the State values the dignity of every human person and guarantees the full respect for human rights and (2) the duty of the State to ensure the fundamental equality before the law of women and men. Equal protection clause is also invoked: “x x x nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws.”

These state policies are generally guidelines that we, the people, impose on the State towards its citizens. The Bill of Rights is a document that guards individuals against the abuses of the State, hence it refers to prohibitions on the State’s legislative power with the words, “No law shall…”(e.g. the equal protection clause itself refers to “the laws”). That is the reason why mall security guards do not need a search warrant to look into someone’s bags or that evidence illegally seized by private individuals can be used in court, unlike those illegally seized by the police. Now, this bill is interesting in that it imposes that duty of the State on ordinary private individuals. In our liberal, democratic framework, there is a clear distinction between private individuals and public officers. Is this bill saying that private individuals are now public officers to carry out the policies of the State? If private persons can violate your right against unlawful searches and seizures, why then should private persons fall under this obligation?

Invoking provisions from the Bill of Rights against private individuals is not proper, unless of course we are willing to concede that private individuals perform sovereign functions (but wouldn’t that be fun?). The freedom to contract, for example, or the principle of delectus personae in forming partnerships, or any fiduciary relationship entails some form of discrimination based on a person’s qualities. A private individual is perfectly within his right to refuse to contract with another on the basis of good looks, body odor, or intelligence. A man may validly refuse to enter into a contract with another if he believes the latter is a scoundrel, or simply because he smells bad, is ugly, or is dumb as a rock. Generally, there is no obligation to enter into a contract with another; otherwise it would be almost akin to involuntary servitude.

Fundamental equality before the law of women and men?

It’s interesting that the explanatory note cited this State policy since it invokes the binary perspective on gender. So should we deny persons who are neither women nor men fundamental equality before the law? Perhaps that wasn’t what the framers were thinking. Note also the clause “before the law” and the distinction between public and private spheres.

* * *

Before anything else: is all discrimination unlawful? The word is thrown about so many times in the document and in media that it has veritably turned into a Pavlovian invocation of social justice to its proponents. The definition of discrimination in Section 3(b) lists definite grounds but then there’s that clause, “or other status” and there is also that clause in Section 5(k) that punishes “other analogous circumstances – any analogous acts which have the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment, or exercise of the person’s human rights and fundamental freedoms are also prohibited.” (NOTE: This catch-all clause also happens to be punishable by imprisonment of 6-12 YEARS – the same penalty as homicide! – and/or a fine of P250,000 to P500,000) Does that mean that I can’t discriminate based on looks, smell, intelligence, or even the sound of one’s voice? It’s also worthwhile to consider two freedoms that give us the right to discriminate – freedom of association and freedom to contract. In partnerships, for example, the principle of delectus personae literally means selecting people and being associated with the people one chooses. How does this bill square with these other freedoms? It gets even more complicated when religious beliefs get in the picture.

At any rate, the bill defines discrimination as: “x x x any distinction, exclusion, restriction, or preference, or other differential treatment that is directly or indirectly based on ethnicity, race, religion or belief, sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, disability, HIV status, or other status, which has the intention or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of political, civil, economic, social, and cultural rights. Discrimination, which also includes incitement to discriminate and harassment, is a result or a product of stigma.” (Sec. 3[b])

Note: “Stigma” is “the dynamic process of devaluation that significantly discredits an individual in the eyes of others. When stigma is acted upon, the result is discrimination.” (Sec. 3[m])

The provision distinguishes itself as one that is as broad as it is convoluted. At any rate, it has the following elements:

  1. First it speaks of an act, i.e. “any distinction, exclusion, restriction, or preference, or other differential treatment.” (DERP+ for brevity)
  2. Second, there is the first qualification of the act: “that is directly or indirectly based on ethnicity, race, religion or belief, sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, disability, HIV status, or other status.”
  3. Third, there is the second qualification: “which has the intention or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of political, civil, economic, social, and cultural rights.”

There is also a rider: “Discrimination, which also includes incitement to discriminate and harassment, is a result or a product of stigma.”

First element: the act (DERP+)

The catch-all clause “or other differential treatment” requires elaboration, lest we penalize the sneezing in the general direction of a protected class. Without bringing in the qualifications, we can appreciate the sheer scope of the provision in that it virtually covers every human interaction based on another person’s different human traits.

I can’t help but wonder as to the kind of “person” being described as the subject of the equality visualized here. We befriend people mainly because of those characteristics we find desirable, and not merely because he is a fellow member of the human species. What is a person without his specific and identifiable traits? Every day we make choices among things and people – are those choices now going to be scrutinized by law? It appears that for equality to be fully realized, it would be preferable to treat everyone as if they were some kind of Cartesian ego of disembodied existence. What’s in a name, right?

Second element: to be directly or indirectly based on…

The act must be based on a specific ground. My first inclination would be to consider this as part of the element of intent. However, this interpretation may be unwarranted from a reading of the third part of the provision, which uses the word “or” to refer to “intent or effect.” This means that the actor need not even know he is discriminating against a “vulnerable community” to be considered a bigoted, intolerant bastard so long as the effect is manifested. Therefore, it would be a mistake to say that the basis of the act is solely intent.

Still, the bill uses the word, “based on.” So what does it mean? Who is to determine the basis of the act? We have three options: (1) the actor, (2) the victim, and (3) the courts. The actor is out of the picture since he could be violating the law even without intending to do so. If the victim determines the basis, the actor is placed entirely in the mercy of the victim (but who cares right? He’s the oppressor! He deserves to suffer!). Then we have the courts, which still have to formulate an elaborate test only after probably 10 years of appellate procedure.

Third element: with the intent or effect

The act must have the intent or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of political, civil, economic, social, and cultural rights. The most fascinating word in the clause is really the “or” since it forces us to conceptualize the act done (1) with intent but without the effect or an act done (2) without intent but with the effect. The provision then covers the actual bigots who do not effectively harm these “vulnerable communities” as well as those who are not actually bigoted but effectively act in a way that harms them.

The disjunctive use of “or” is bizarre to me since bigotry has always been defined as some form of prejudice (literally pre [in advance] judice [of judgment]) and which begins essentially in the mind. Here, won’t sending someone to possibly 12 years of jail time even without any malicious intent on his part create the same resentment that the bill is seeking to prevent? Six to twelve years is reclusion temporal which is the same penalty as homicide!

The rider: incitement to discrimination and harassment?

Is this effectively a content-based speech regulation?

***

All in all, the bill raises many questions that some of its proponents are all too willing to dismiss outright. If this is indeed considered as the “rational” position, then the proponents should have no problem in supplying the answers. Essentially, however, this bill is introducing this: that a vulnerable group can wield state power to coerce (yes I consider the threat of 12 years in prison as quite coercive) society at large, private individuals.

We see quite clearly the limits of tolerance in society today. The bill marches to the tune of tolerance, yet considers the intolerant as criminals who must be incarcerated. It is curious indeed how much intolerance can be licensed in the name of tolerance. The sheer breadth of application of the bill’s provisions should already put any law abiding citizen on guard and to label concern for such issue as irrational is not argument, but plain totalitarianism.

Worthiness?

Earlier this week in response to the proposed conferment of an honorary degree to the Du30, reactionaries deployed their deadliest weapon: the hashtag. By the time I got wind of #DuterteNotWorthy, he was already in the news declining the degree (how anticlimactic). My news feed was also flooded by a “I’m against conferring an honorary degree…etc.” template. Years ago this would have been a chain text (pass to five friends and your dream will come true!). Some cried he wasn’t worthy while others, after the customary tirade of ad hominems, cried that he was worthy. UP, after all, boasts the badge of “Honor and Excellence” on its lanyards and baller bands! This was sacrilege (in a secular sense of course). After fomenting rage at the comfort of their twitter feeds, the reactionaries then decided to put up an exhibition in the AS steps. Surely, if these reactionaries raged over bestowing honors on a dead dictator in the LNB, a living one was no exception! A few days after the incident, the rage, and the protests, what do we have? Business as usual and a messy news feed.

The whole event passed over Manila like rain clouds – stopping by to pour, and then shuffling off into the sunset. But what struck me was how it struck my fellow schoolmates’ sense of honor and excellence. Here’s a question I’ve been mulling over since my freshman year: is there even a place for excellence in our halls these days? And I mean it: excellence as virtue – the practice of virtues. Once upon a time, people argued over the question of “WHAT IS GOOD?”. Once upon a time, when Aristotle wrote that the supreme good as acting rationally in accordance with virtue, a.k.a. excellence, areté. Now ask anyone what areté is and they’ll likely say it’s just that building under construction in AdMU. Once upon a time people knew the weight of the word excellence, and now as Jack Nicholson said in A Few Good Men we “use it as a punchline!”

Uncontroversial: that’s the word I could use to describe the events of #DuterteNotWorthy. It’s not uncommon in law school to have a few students just slipping through the cracks here and there to graduate. Some who deserve to pass fail and some who deserve to fail pass. It almost feels like living in a Homeric epic where profs, the mythical gods, hold our lives and balance our fates on their crooked scales. Yet we must believe, if only to create a fiction, that those who get the degree worthy. Life, after all, has many fictions. For example, one of them is that we all know the law in Article 3 of the Civil Code, but if everyone knew the law we wouldn’t any lawyers now would we? We live in many fictions – and it’s helpful to tell what are fictional and what are not.

Bad theology.

I recently came across some of my old readings from college. For the most part, I find myself scandalized when I look back at the some of the material I was required to read back then. I can’t help but also feel some sense anger and betrayal at those who required me to read them. Those undergraduate years were, after all, my formative years in that I hadn’t the faintest clue about theology or philosophy and where I took everything in at its face value. Every philosophy and theology reading was almost like gospel truth, since I did not feel the need, nor did I have the capacity, to detect their fine philosophical errors. I took it for granted that I was in a Catholic school. I thought I was safe. Ateneo, yes AdMU, is (or was – are Jesuits still Catholic?) a Catholic school so I assumed that the readings brought people closer to the faith. I was wrong. I can remember some times in my philosophy of religion class where we even talked about Dawkins, Harris and the New Atheists. My professor told us about the idea of “Non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA),” which thinks that science and religion are in constant conflict. Now, I have only anger at my ignorance for those times where I just drank the koolaid, sitting in my armchair without the slightest clue of how to respond. This was pure paganism coming out of the mouth of my professor and I had no idea. When I had naively thought my professor was Virgil, hindsight was the only one so kind as to show me how mistaken I was. The anger comes not so much at having been exposed to so many errors, but also that the presentation seemed to be skewed in their favor – it wasn’t a fair fight. Aquinas, for example, was just a hiccup with an hour and a half of class time for his Five Proofs.

Then there’s theology. In Th151, which has as part of its course description “Through guided study and research activity, the course leads college seniors toward a personal interior assimilation of Christian faith in their lives. This is done through the exercise of developing a personal integral faith synthesis, centered around a core theme, and selected from a plurality of suggested doctrinal, moral, or liturgical prayer topics or themes.” Whatever that means. In that class my professor had us read Timothy Radcliffe’s What is the Point of Being a Christian? Only recently did I see Radcliffe’s name again in the news with the headline “Vatican appointee says gay sex can express Christ’s ‘self-gift’” I promptly junked his book along with Fr. James Martin’s book of finding God in all things.

Apparently, even the theology department has its own dose of the social justice bug. To have a class of young, impressionable men and women at one’s disposal is just ripe for any professor to cram his or her liberal, social-justice agenda down their throats and grade those poor students on how well they can regurgitate the same. It started with liberation theology, then feminist theology, and now queer theology – all trying to mix and match God and some leftist agenda as if it was some damned combo meal at a food court. Looking back only infuriates me since I know I was in that same position – a fresh mind without any formal training who gobbled up all their ideas like a sponge. Meanwhile, God takes a backseat while the car drives off over the cliff of social activism.

More and more I think that the deliberate pushing of the liberal, social justice agenda in subjects like theology is intellectual dishonesty. For example, I remember how one of my theology professors remarked with disdain at the “Pre-Vatican II days” of how it was only because of that council (Vatican II) that we can now see the priest in mass. Back then, I didn’t even know that there was an old rite to begin with, much more question the validity of a rite that I was born into. Then it was only a few days ago when I read Benedict XVI’s Spirit of the Liturgy, and this passage appeared: “The turning of the priest toward the people has turned the community into a self-enclosed circle. In its outward form, it no longer opens out on what lies ahead and above, but is closed in on itself. The common turning toward the east was not a ‘celebration toward the wall’; it did not mean that the priest ‘had his back to the people’: the priest himself was not regarded as so important. For just as the congregation in the synagogue looked together toward Jerusalem, so in the Christian liturgy the congregation looked together ‘toward the Lord.'” (195 of 582, ebook). This was never brought up by any of my theology professors. What a shame. What a waste.

Footsteps of ghosts.

Last Sunday I went on a hike up a mountain with some friends. Mt. Ayaas was roughly an hour away from Quezon City in the Sunday traffic. An hour’s drive showed the highway diverging onto a two-laned path lined with trees, which slightly zigzagged its way to the end. It was paved and smooth at first but later carried pockets of broken asphalt and eroded ground. The sight of trees by the side of the road later faded into heaps of garbage – almost two or three stories high – full of old tins of cooking oil and plastic bags and decomposing food. Dogs went here and there while some children played alongside the road, rolling a deflated tire with a bamboo stick. They had smiles on their face.

When we arrived at Brgy. Mascap – a place of which I know is just somewhere in Rizal – we signed a waiver that basically waived any responsibility the guides had for our safety. Given that it had rained quite hard earlier in the morning, we thought it best not to think about it too much. From then on, we climbed – first along paved inclines and then into the muddy earth with stones and trees and vines and sharp things brushing against our arms and legs and faces. The forest air enveloped us with the smell of wet earth and plant life. It was the breath of the jungle right after its shower. Bugs crawled and flew across us while others clung to our skin. Many times we walked along a narrow path. It had room for only one man, and at times only one foot so we had to walk with one foot over the other as if on a tightrope. In those times we had the mountain wall on one side while the other only had the view of a perilous slope to the bottom.

We were not the first ones who climbed the mountain and we will not be the last. The footprints of those who went before were already etched on the earth. The grooves of their feet dug deep – deep enough for a good foothold. I looked out for these prints like hints from ghosts on how to negotiate the mountain. A thought came to me of how the media tends to glorify the new and the different. “Stop living in the past,” they tell us. But in this mountain climb – the past is really all the difference between the summit and the abyss.

We eventually made it to the top at around noon. I made a dreadful mistake of packing only one asado siopao for lunch but it still felt like it was the best meal in the world after that climb. After some pictures and a rosary, we climbed down and made our way back to the barangay hall. On the way back, we stopped by a small water fall where some of us took a dip into the shallow but cool lagoon. After our brief respite we decided to take a tricycle back to the barangay hall since we were all spent by that time.

With aching legs but full of cheer we drove back to Manila. We passed through the mountains of garbage, the lines of trees, and to Commonwealth Avenue just as the sun was setting. And as darkness crawled over the skies, we said our goodbyes and parted ways.

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