A typewriter on fire, Aquino in a prison cell
SAN FRANCISCO – An old typewriter on fire, real flames dancing on the carriage.
It was an odd, fascinating image, an artistic display so intriguing I was immediately drawn to it.
You can watch it above. Unfortunately, I could take only a few seconds of video. Standing in front of it, at the Hess Collection in Napa, California, I couldn’t help but stare and watch and reflect for several minutes.
The installation, called “Hommage,” was created in 1974 by Argentinean artist Leopoldo Maler. (More about him on his Web site.)
The old Underwood typewriter which he creatively set ablaze belonged to his uncle, a journalist who was killed, as the Web site puts it, “for the inflammatory content of his political essays.”
The flaming typewriter speaks to Argentina’s experience with repression. It also speaks to ours.
As the 40th anniversary of the rise of the Marcos dictatorship reminded us, our history is filled with stories of journalists, writers, artists, dissidents who got in trouble, who were thrown in jail, or were even killed, for “inflammatory content.”
Kudos to friends and colleagues in the Philippine media for the in-depth, thoughtful, and passionate commemoration of that dark chapter in our history. It’s a history we share with many Latin American countries.
September 11 is not just the birthday of the Filipino dictator, a date we were forced to remember as children. It was also on this date in 1973, a year after Marcos imposed dictatorship on the archipelago, that a Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet, began his reign of terror.
It was in Argentina that the term “desaparecidos” – the disappeared – became widely-used to refer to those made to disappear by brutal dictatorship. We now use it too. We have our own list of desaparecidos.
Another image, this one from last week: President Benigno Aquino III, standing in the cell shared by his father, Ninoy Aquino and Pepe Diokno, shortly after Marcos seized absolute power in 1972. President Aquino is grim-faced as he appears to stare at a corner of the tiny room where his father was imprisoned by the dictator.
“Sa lugar na ito tinangka ng [diktadura] na tuluyan nang burahin ang kanilang prinsipyo’t durugin ang kanilang diwa,” he was quoted as saying in the Philippine Daily Inquirer report. (In this place, the dictatorship attempted to erase their principles and crush their spirit.)
The president recalled how his father wrote against the abuses of the martial law regime. (I imagine that Ninoy, himself a journalist, wrote it on a typewriter.)
“Dahil sa paghahayag niya ng katotohanan, pilit pinatikom ang kanyang bibig sa paraang laganap at kinasisindakan ng madla: ang malupit at marahas na kamay na bakal ng diktadurya (Because he exposed the truth, they tried to silence him in a way that would strike fear among the people: (by using) the iron fist of the dictatorship).”
“Our experience is shared by thousands of families who suffered the wrath of martial rule,” he continued. “Their relatives were arrested or had disappeared, and have yet to be found to this day.”
Aquino knows about dictatorship, which is why his words and some of his actions are not surprising.
He appointed a veteran activist and torture victim, Etta Rosales, to lead his human rights commission. He blocked the bid of Marcos’s allies for a hero’s burial for the dictator.
Some of his reactions to criticism have been awkward and even incoherent. But overall, he has been respectful of the media and of people’s right to express dissent.
His remarks as he unveiled the Aquino-Diokno Memorial and his call for an honest and detailed account of the Martial Law era are encouraging. And so is the Department of Education’s effort to find ways to teach young Filipinos about the dictatorship.
But then, a discordant note: Just days before the martial law anniversary, Aquino signs a bill that has rightfully been criticized for being a stealth assault on freedom of expression.
The Inquirer editorial called the cybercrime bill’s inclusion of a vaguely sweeping anti-online libel provision “a blow against free speech.” As the editorial and others have noted, it has now become unclear if such actions as tweeting or “liking” a post that is deemed “libelous” could now also become illegal.
Beyond the vague implications of the new rules for Filipinos on Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites, the new provisions could make it easier for power-wielders, including politicians, to use the law to intimidate critics, particularly Filipinos who have demonstrated the power of social media.
In fact, Journalist Raissa Robles’s excellent reporting shows that the provision was pushed by Senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, in what appeared to be a childish, churlish reaction to justified outrage over allegations that he plagiarized the works of bloggers and the late Robert Kennedy.
And let’s remember this: these offenses were exposed by Filipinos using social media before they were picked up by the mainstream media.
The core of the new law was aimed at serious problems, such as identity theft, but it appears to have been hijacked and distorted by a vindictive trapo.
In a puzzling twist, two senators who also knew dictatorship and who would have been expected to oppose a law that could potentially curtail Filipinos’ right to free speech voted for this law. Kiko Pangilinan and Koko Pimentel (we’re not related) are fellow UP alums who were both active in the movement to defeat the Marcos regime.
What happened here? A lapse perhaps?
But Aquino and other lawmakers can still fix this. It’s a good sign that communications undersecretary Manolo Quezon, himself a respected journalist and social media personality, has acknowledged the outrage over the law.
“It is important that a discussion is taking place,” he was quoted as saying on Rappler. “A consensus is emerging. It is not written in stone, and the more that you are able to get others to join your point of view, and find a sponsor who will amend that.”
In fact, another Senator, TG Guingona, is already moving to do just that, apparently understanding the implications of the new provision and the ways by which it could easily be abused.
In Filipino Facebookdom and beyond, many are already speaking out — and even gearing up for a fight.
Chances are some of these young Filipinos don’t use typewriters. But they have laptops and smartphones and tablets and desktop PCs.
They’ll find ways, creative and defiant, to set them ablaze.
On Twitter @BoyingPimentel. On Facebook at www.facebook.com/benjamin.pimentel
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