Saturday, September 18, 2021

Tabada: Storytime


TELL me a story.

“Story ‘ta, Pang,” I would cajole my father, who favored comic books, Walt Disney animation and movies we rented in Betamax and VHS formats.

My younger sister and I had an eclectic diet because Papang took stories to be an eat-all-you-can buffet: you sampled a little of everything and went back for what you really liked.

I discovered for myself, though, that the storyteller and the listener are not the only ones controlling storytime. The story itself can disrupt the flow, nipping the scruff of consciousness as a mother cat moves kittens in her litter.

In “Huwebes, Huwebes,” the Sugbuanon language took me back to Cebu but the journey home was insidious.

The Drug War is the backdrop, with bodies littering the three independent tales strung by the film: “Takot Reef,” directed by Don Gerardo Frasco; “Pa-burger sa Camotes,” Kristoffer Villarino; and “Maharlika,” Januar Yap.

The narratives of law enforcement and extrajudicial killing merge on the surface of these stories. Illegal drugs are “salot sa lipunan,” the plague invading communities, sparing no one, not the nearshore villagers in “Takot Reef” and “Maharlika” nor the blind daughter living alone in the city hovel, unaware that her “drug personality” father has been executed in “Pa-burger sa Camotes”.

Even as the bodies pile up and the unanswerable questions steam from the putrefaction, many of us continue to believe the fiction of being rescued and saved by those removing the snatchers, pickpockets, thieves, rapists, murderers, leeches, bloodsuckers and cannibals.

Put the others away before all of us are lost in the plague. Thank you.

Into the dark spaces where we don’t want to look, don’t want to ask, the children of “Huwebes, Huwebes” shine a light. I am the child who asks her father to buy an ice cream cone, this fisherman who may be protecting the marine sanctuary or using it as a pretext to trade in drugs in “Takot Reef”.

I am the boy in “Maharlika,” discovering poetry from its flipside, pain. Street runners of shabu are lowest of the low. When he slips money for a fickle mother, buys groceries for an incarcerated father, and picks up the handwritten poem never opened by his girl, why do these discordant chords in a drug mule’s life give me pause?

There are two fathers in “Pa-burger sa Camotes”. When the true one finally speaks to the daughter, who mistakes him for a dead man, it rubs like salt on an open wound that the Drug War leaves no one innocent, not the child-victims, not the killers who are themselves killed, not our respectable selves, too decent to pull the trigger, blood-soaked in the complicity of looking away.


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