Saturday, September 22, 2018

Amante: Bee in my bonnet

STARTING tomorrow, motorcycle drivers who hide their faces using masks or bonnets will be accosted by traffic enforcers if they drive through Mandaue City. Why anyone thinks a bonnet goes well with a motorcycle is mind-boggling. Wouldn’t the ribbon get caught in the handlebars and cause an accident?

This is a bonnet: a cloth cap, sometimes trimmed with ruffles to frame the wearer’s face, and secured with a ribbon under one’s chin. The last time it was fashionable, Jane Austen still lived. A bonnet was what Lydia Bennett, the flightiest of the Bennett sisters in “Pride and Prejudice,” bought when she had set her cap on a potential husband. Yet scan any police blotter in any present-day police station in the Philippines, and you will probably find an entry that describes a suspected criminal (burglar, robber, gunman) as having worn a bonnet.

For years, I tried to persuade colleagues who used to cover the police beat to replace “bonnet” with “mask.” Once, I pitched “balaclava” to a colleague but he quickly shot the idea down. Being more realistic, he perhaps suspected there was no way he could suggest “balaclava” to his police sources and still be taken seriously enough to be allowed to tag along during raids. “Ski mask” was another non-starter. It just didn’t make sense in our tropical context. But I kept trying to argue that “bonnet” wasn’t right, unless one meant the cloth cap or, for those who love to sound British, the hood that covers a car’s engine. It approached obsessive levels, this proverbial bee in my bonnet.

Surely, the Supreme Court would never allow such an imprecision. How wrong I was. In May 2002, the Court upheld the guilty verdict handed down on two men in San Isidro, Davao Oriental who had been charged with robbery with homicide. “The one carrying a gun had a bonnet over his face, with only his eyes exposed,” the Court said in its decision. “The other one carrying a knife had the lower half of his face covered with a handkerchief.” Either man would be stopped if they happen to ride in Mandaue City, starting tomorrow, in such fashion.

Yet, there it was, proof that no less than the highest court of the land had found “bonnet” acceptable. Here is an excerpt from People of the Philippines vs. Joel Gonzalez, Joseph Bernaldez, and Romeo Bernaldez (G.R. 142932):

Question: “How is it that you can recognize his voice and his movements...considering that he was wearing a bonnet and he is not even your neighbor?” Answer: “Because at the time he said, ‘Silence’, I recognized his voice, Your Honor.”

The decision does not state what color the bonnet was or what type of material (Plain or floral? Cotton or straw?) it was made of. It does point out, among other things, that the men who barged into that home in San Isidro nearly two decades ago took P2,425 cash, a Sanyo cassette recorder, some clothes, and a Seiko diver’s watch. It is only in the matter of the bonnet that the story is imprecisely told.

And yet precision matters, or at least it should. It is a lack of precision that makes some writers of government reports admit “negative slippage” when “delay” would be more exact and more honest. Don’t get me started on “negative growth.” I am not sure why “salvage” has taken on sinister meanings in our country; how something that means “to save or recover” has come to mean “to kill or execute.” I do love the assertion of linguistic ownership that has transformed “evacuate” to “bakwit” but I cannot, will not, accept “bonnet” just yet. Good luck to Mandaue City’s traffic enforcers as they start looking out for Austenites on motorbikes starting this week.

(On Twitter: @isoldeamante)