There’s the Rub

Personal revenge

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P-Noy said some very interesting things on the 40th anniversary of martial law last Friday. Visiting Fort Magsaysay where his father, Ninoy, and Jose “Ka Pepe” Diokno were detained during martial law, he said (translated into English from Tagalog): “You can probably imagine how much I wanted to take revenge on those who oppressed my father and our nation.”

In time, however, his anger ebbed at the thought of the beacon of light his father and Ka Pepe became “in that dark chapter of our history when our freedom was taken, our rights were trampled on, and we were thrown into the pit of misery.” Through their efforts and those of countless Filipinos whose sacrifices contributed to the dawning of a new day, we have put a distance between us and those times. He himself, P-Noy said, was giving special importance to human rights, the better to transform the military, then an instrument of torture and terror, into a true protector of the people. In the end, our destiny lies in our hands. “Together, we can shape the course of our history by directing our efforts toward the right path.”

When I heard this, I remembered a song sung by Jackson Browne called “My Personal Revenge.” The following gives you an idea of how it goes:

“My personal revenge will be the right /Of our children in the schools and in the gardens /My personal revenge will be to give you /This song which has flourished without panic /My personal revenge will be to show you

“The kindness in the eyes of my people /Who have always fought relentlessly in battle /And been generous and firm in victory.

“My personal revenge will be to tell you good morning /On a street without beggars or homeless…” And so on.

This is in fact the translation of a poem by Tomas Borge, one of the founders of the Sandinistas, and who held various positions in government, among them minister of the interior, after the Sandinistas swept into power in Nicaragua.

I’ve always loved this poem/song because of the tremendous insight it gives, from the perspective of one who has suffered grievously, on how to wreak the completest revenge on one’s oppressor. That is not by doing to him what he did to you but by doing to him just the opposite. Or more to the point, by building a world that is the opposite of what he made. Instead of fetters, freedom. Instead of terror, peace of mind. Instead of lying, cheating, stealing and killing, an order dedicated to realizing the national, and human, potential. And making the world—and him—see it.

That is the complete refutation of an oppressive rule. Borge’s concept of “personal revenge” is richly ironic. In one sense it is personally gratifying, in another it is also collectively satisfying: It is not just one person’s revenge, it is all of the people’s too. In one sense it is getting back at someone who has done a colossal wrong, in another it goes beyond it to righting colossal wrongs. It gives whole new windows to personal revenges.

Without articulating it that way, P-Noy seems to share in its spirit.

Doing the opposite of what the oppressor did does not of course mean letting him and his co-conspirators get away scot-free in the name of spurious reconciliation. It means punishing them in the name of true reconciliation, which is reconciling with the oppressed, who are the people. P-Noy came a little too late to do something about the Marcoses but he didn’t come too late to do something about the oppressor that came immediately before him. His resolve in making her and her cabal pay for their sins is impressive, and you wonder how he would have done had he been the one to come after Marcos. Well, he can still do something about them. Better late than never.

But more than this, what he has done, or at least begun to do, in terms of building a world that is the opposite of what his immediate predecessor did is far more impressive. It’s the direct refutation of it, and an indirect one of a more distant tyranny, which is martial law. We caught a glimpse of it in his Sona, which is one of the reasons he has soared in the public esteem. That Sona conjured a vision if not exactly of hordes of children occupying the schools and gardens as a matter of right, of streets devoid of beggars and homeless, of song bursting in the hearts of a victorious people, at least an echo of it.

We caught a glimpse of it in global perceptions about a recovering economy, which is a slap in the face of a regime that kept crowing about its economic deeds without them ever being felt by the people. As well indeed as that of a more distant regime that kept claiming the same thing while marching the country backwards to become the doormat of Asia. Which advances the view that truly there are no  mahirap  where there are no corrupt, that truly there are no limits to what you can do with a decent government.

Indeed, we’re catching a glimpse of it in a new mood, buoyed by an emerging culture of honesty, a burgeoning sense of capability, a spreading belief that a government can actually strike up a bargain with the people. Which is an indictment of a regime that extolled the vice of rottenness, that punished the good and rewarded the wicked, that made government something to want to avoid rather than go to. And a more distant regime which did the same thing but worse. Far far worse.

Of course the reason we’re only seeing glimpses of the changes is that they’ve just begun. There’s a long way to go, in a road full of uncertainties. But P-Noy hews closely to it, the road hitherto not taken, and he may yet have the satisfaction of finally getting back at his family’s oppressors, at his country’s tormentors. He may yet find the satisfaction of wreaking on them his complete revenge, his ultimate revenge:

His personal revenge.

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