Fear has found a home | Inquirer Opinion

Fear has found a home

Fear is something so intimate yet unfamiliar to me. It has disclosed itself in front of me at every family gathering, every searing class recitation, and even in the random bouts of my panic attacks. However, on some days, fear seems like a strange concept as if adrenaline has numbed the imminent unease and disquiet.

My experience as a campus journalist is one where fear allowed me to thrive. I would go out and beyond to cover a story: during mobilizations, fact-finding missions, rallies. Every day, I confronted my fear and anxiety to empower and give voices to the unheard. I was never one to bail out from the thrill. But it became clear that fear had not truly revealed itself until I encountered you—laying bare all its skeletons, transcending from its previous eerie form to something far more grotesque and cruel. Suddenly, fear became raw and revolting. It involved matters of life and death. As the distance between us closed, it was not hard to spot the blood in your hands despite your disguise of a seemingly reputable camouflage uniform.

I was coming to love the feeling of fear as it meant I was doing something out of the ordinary—not until fear changed. Fear became a dark cloud of paranoia and when fear knocked on our door, fear settled in and never left. When former president Rodrigo Duterte signed Memorandum Order No. 32 which allowed the deployment of additional troops in Samar, Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental, and Bicol to quell lawless violence, it was not the rebels who were targeted but the student journalists and activists. Somehow, it made sense. We are young, idealistic, easy to intimidate, and have everything to lose: our studies, our future careers, our families’ safety, and unfortunately, even our young lives.

The first time fear knocked on our door was in the form of a letter from the barangay. State forces wanted to talk to me and my parents. Suddenly, horror dawned on us—I was already on their list. I knew because reports of surveillance and crackdown on our alumni and senior editors have been circulating for the past months. I knew it was only a matter of time until they identified me, the editor in chief of a university student publication at the time.


The succeeding months became long, agonizing episodes of unannounced and repeated military visits, surveillance, invasive personal questions, and baseless accusations. Soon, disbelieving questions were repeatedly brought up at the dinner table, one that used to be our safe space, free from interrogations as heavy as this. The thing about fear is that once it enters one’s mind, it spreads incredibly fast like a virus. And it did, at least in our family.

The military used psychological warfare to target my parents’ emotions and they knew it was working. The only flaw in their tactic was that their propaganda was based on lies—and lies never win. One time, during their first request to meet me at the barangay, I firmly said I would only attend in the presence of a lawyer or media. When my parents communicated this condition, the military was quick to react by saying this may indicate that I am already in communication with the Left groups as I am making absurd requests. Minutes into the conversation, the facts became clear to my parents; I was being Red-tagged by the state, and turns out, months before the letter came, I was already being surveilled by them too. After the first request, the military came back and harassed my parents five more times, like an impending doom we hate to anticipate before each day ends.

By this time, fear has clung to our family, leeching off on our withering mental disposition and emotional well-being. I remember receiving messages from my mom on random mornings advising me not to go home in the meantime as the military was asking for me. My dad would make me wear face masks every time I went outside due to fear that I was being watched.

My social media account would be bombarded with spam messages and comments from accounts with no face, calling me names.


It was not just me whose existence became a sudden military interest. There was Pia, a fellow Bicolano student journalist, whose mother was visited by the state forces and was explicitly told that Pia was an NPA. There was Tino, a student leader, who was forced and intimidated to sign a document declaring he aided the front groups of CPP-NPA. There was Abby, a journalist, who was relentlessly being surveilled and pursued by the military for merely doing her job.

And there was me, who relived the fear and anxiety after encountering a random police checkpoint months after the harassment subsided. You spotted my uniform and I panicked when you asked about my course. I stuttered, overwhelmed with terror over a single small talk, and lied. I could not bring myself to say it properly and proudly. The regime has taken away so much, fed on our fear too much that seeing those men in uniform is enough to make my skin crawl.


What I wanted to say that day was I am a graduating journalism student who will soon join the industry. What I wanted to say that day was I got traumatized and the fear they caused has found a home in our family. What I wanted to say was I am innocent. I am not a terrorist.


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Lou Marie Cuarto, 21, is a graduating journalism student at Ateneo de Naga University. She was former editor in chief of ThePILLARS Publication and former chair of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines-Camarines Sur.

TAGS: Fear, opinion

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