‘Hinog sa pilit’

I shouldn’t have done it,” David said, slapping the banana skin on his empty plate and ruing. “It tastes bland like glue!”

“What is it?” I asked, surprised by the sudden change in his tone and the topic in the conversation we were having during our daily breakfast of oatmeal and fish paksiw, a combination only Filipinos can think of.

“This banana,” he said, pointing to the sickly yellow peel of the lacatan on his plate. “I was afraid the whole bunch would get stolen so I harvested it, hoping it would ripen soon enough. But look at the result!”

I knew all along the bananas would end up being still edible but not pleasant to the palate when he lugged the bunch home. It took a month before the slim fingers turned tentatively ocher in the bowels of a kaing covered with dry banana leaves, plastic sacks, and discarded jeans. The bananas were now served on the table, but we still kept looking inside the fridge for some other dessert. The bananas were “hinog sa pilit” (harvested prematurely). We could not even offer them to guests or give them as “pabaon,” as they were embarrassing to look at and taste even worse.

Around here, some people resort to harvesting fruits prematurely for quick money. Pineapples sold during off-season months usually get a dose of ethyl, a liquid chemical to force fruiting and another swab on the base of each fruit to ripen it for the market. The fruit may look impressive, but it’s unhealthy yellow inside with an unpleasant “bite” when eaten.

Hinog sa pilit. Forced, just like how Charter change is being pushed by lawmakers by calling their campaign as people’s initiative. As I took my customary brisk walk around the house that morning, I reflected that I am part of those “people’’ in the people’s initiative. But I cannot find any valid reason that would guarantee a better life by changing the Constitution now. What needs changing is the composition of people holding power at present.

The ingeniousness with which local municipalities solicit signatures among their constituents using government machinery and money clearly shows that the move is not from the people, but from the government. That in itself kills any creative initiative people may have. As part of the masa, I hate the thought of being manipulated by my own government simply because I am regarded as a simpleton and in such dire need that I would do its bidding at all cost. That includes being swayed to put my name on a piece of paper for a few kilos of rice or a hundred pesos.

I don’t want my government to misinform me that my signature can help change the entire Constitution, when in fact the whole exercise has no legal basis for lack of an enabling law. I am repulsed by a government that distorts facts and realities to advance its own selfish interests through my signature, because it is afraid of its own shadow cast by shady deals, corrupt practices, and questionable election into office. I am outraged by a government that bamboozles me into obedience through orders disguised as part of democracy.

The frenzy, the hysterical optimism, and the speed with which the so-called people’s initiative is being rammed into the consciousness of the nation are desperate attempts by this government to foist its version of hinog sa pilit on us, a move that is altogether unripe, out of season, unreasonable, and unconstitutional. And anything forced to ripen before its time, before its natural maturity arrives—whether pineapple or political process—comes out distasteful and disappointing, if not repulsive. In politics, it could be explosive.

“I won’t pick any fruit until it’s ripe for the picking again,” my husband resolved during breakfast that morning. He stood up. “If it gets stolen, so be it.” As he rummaged through the fridge for something else to eat, I smiled to myself. Would the government allow its power to be “stolen” through a real people’s initiative of sustained civil disobedience, perhaps? Like not paying one’s taxes until the biggest tax evaders pay theirs, boycotting certain products and services, overseas Filipino workers withholding their remittances from the government, employees absenting themselves from work?

I wonder how things would turn out when our people finally rise and say “tama na, sobra na (enough)!” It may or may not come to that. One thing’s sure: Ang hinog sa pilit ay mapakla at mapait. Anything forced is acrid and bitter.


Evelyn Miranda-Feliciano, 64, was formerly the resident writer of the Institute for Studies in Asian Church and Culture.