Soyez Realistes (Be Realistic)

The music video for Linkin Park’s hit song Shadow of the Day begins with the band’s lead singer Chester Bennington waking up close to midnight, reluctantly pulling himself out bed, and getting ready to face a day that had already ended before it even started.

Bennington goes through the routine: he eats a frugal breakfast while watching news about ongoing protests, he washes his face in the bathroom sink. Nothing says going through the motions more than Bennington shaving his face, which barely has any beard growth worth shaving.

He steps out and walks calmly down a street that is anything but calm. We see authority figures in full riot gear positioned all over the streetscape. At first they are presented as simply looking on benignly, but then we are shown that they are in the midst of active combat. One raises his rifle to aim and shoot, two more drag a civilian from a building, effecting an arrest. A following scene shows a mass arrest of several more persons kneeling down with their hands clasped behind their heads. From below street level, a pair of frightened eyes peek at the stomping military feet.

As Bennington walks on we find that the people are beginning to have none of this. There is a tense pause as protesters converge near where the police forces are positioned, until the former group musters the courage to go on the offensive.

But their molotovs and makeshift weapons are no match for the high-powered firearms of the state forces, and for a long moment all seems lost. But Bennington is a steady presence all through the scenes, up to the final chorus, which he ends by turning his back on the audience and to face the flames.

I remembered this song and video upon hearing that Bennington had passed away. Because I was at fieldwork at that time, by the time I accessed it on YouTube the approval of the extension of Martial Law by the majority of the Philippine Congress was also weighing heavily on my mind.

The video immediately cues images of the 1999 Seattle WTO protests, the unrests related to the 2008 financial crisis, the Occupy Movement, and other similar episodes in recent US history. But for me it remains as fresh in this current context of a rising dictatorship and in what is now quickly becoming the most significant form of response that must be taken against it.

The first part of the video shows Bennington in a state of nearly habituated ennui. We don’t know if he is going to work or why he is going outside at an ungodly hour, but neither does his countenance make us care. Is he one of the many that has, whether after a long struggle or a quick capitulation, fallen prey to that most reliable ally of oppression: “getting used to it”?

This is no different from the inaction that gripped many parts of the nation throughout Marcos’ 14-year dictatorship; remember Amanda and Julian Bartolome’s inertia until Martial Law hits home with the extra-judicial execution of their son Jason in the novel Dekada ’70? There is, after all, a reason why the statement “All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing” is a cliché – it has been repeated too often, no less than in the Philippine experience.

If media reports are to be believed, Martial Law version 2017 is deemed acceptable (even desirable) in the name of fighting terror and enforcing discipline. This is no different from the historical revisionist take that has gripped many Filipino youth (and the not so young), which became dismayingly visible when this administration tried, and succeeded, to bury Ferdinand Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani. As one former student of mine bluntly insisted, Jason Bartolome deserved to die because he was doing drugs.

That logic woefully remains with us, with or without Martial Law. It’s what allows the drug wars to continue, it’s what places the blame on Kidapawan farmers for getting themselves shot. It’s what derides activists as troublemakers and rallies as provocations.

But let’s take another cue from the video. It is not the citizenry that first acts as provocateur, but the state which picks people up en masse. It is the state which, for one reason or another, denies them their freedom (this is what the protesters in the video chant that they want back). It is the state which installs fear as part of ordinary life.

The violence breaking out at the climax of the video then is not just rock-and-roll street cred for a metal band, but is a thought-through conclusion based upon the context it earlier set. I’m sure there are those who will still insist on condemning those acts, even if fictionalized. But it is undeniable that it stands upon ample precedents in history, including our own, and with positive gains that must be remembered and defended.

What to do now on what could well be the eve of another such historical episode? Like the man Chester Bennington performs in the video, gripped by a spirit and changed by the injustice around him, what to do now is not to resume walking through the crowd as if in a stupor, but to squarely face the violence and brutality, and to bid those who deserve it, that the sun will set for them.

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