Culture, Human Rights, Progressive politics

Brutal Cowardice

Pan's Labyrinth

Watching Jovito Palparan on television campaigning – fumbling with words, perspiring as he struggled to make a coherent statement in defense of the utterly indefensible – a realization came to me: the man is a complete coward.

Trading his camouflage uniform for that ridiculous yellow chaleco, The Butcher does not scare anyone. Not the least his seatmate in the show, Dr. Rey Lesaca, head of Bayan Muna and a noted psychiatrist who I expect had his fare share of psychopaths in his chair. Physically, The Butcher looked nothing like his reputation: his face permanently contorted, his eyes constantly looking down, his voice quivering like a kid off to the prom. He looked frail, no trace of the fearsome military man he had been portrayed as.

But beyond his pathetic physical presence, Palparan shows his complete cowardice by running for office via a party-list that, as demostrated by his vain effort to explain what Bantay was, he knows nothing about. He had never been in that kind of line of fire (although some argue he never had much experience in actual battle either), and he must have been scared shitless.

About two weeks ago, after a press conference, Marie Hilao-Enriquez, secretary general of Karapatan (the organization that Palparan loves to hate because it stands against everything about him), shared to me their thoughts on The Butcher’s foray into politics: “Just like (Rolando) Abadilla and (Rodolfo) Aguinaldo [who were to Marcos then what Palparan is to Arroyo now], Palparan is running to escape persecution,” she said. “He knows we are determined to make him legally answerable for his crimes.”

How ironic that the man who Gloria says “fights the enemy, not backing down until he succeeds in bringing down the dreaded night in our communities” would now run as far away from prosecution as possible by running for Congress as a nominee of an alleged partylist (Comelec sources tell of a P3-Million payment from The Butcher to secure a first nomination). In contrast, we see the likes of Satur Ocampo, Crispin Beltran and other militant leaders of sectors Palparan and Arroyo considers to be their enemy, gamely fighting the harassments, physical threats, and all sorts of dirty tricks hauled at them.

It is my belief that bravery is always on the side of righteousness, and that monsters like Palparan must never be feared. As Eduardo Galeano says: “The torturer is a functionary. The dictator is a functionary. Armed bureaucrats, who lose their jobs if they don’t do their tasks efficiently. That, and nothing more than that. They are not extraordinary monsters. We won’t grant them that grandeur.”

***

A few weeks ago, a friend told me about “Pan’s Labyrinth”, a film that he describes as “tungkol kay Palparan”. Actually, it is about a girl named Ofelia who, with her pregnant mother, came to live in a military camp of Franco’s army. The camp is ruled by a Captain Vidal, an unabashed fascist who had empragnated Ofelia’s mother and awaits the birth of his unborn son. Vidal as Palparan is the head of a unit tasked by Generalissimo Franco to crush the remaining rebels in the hills after their defeat in the Spanish Civil War.

Vidal as Palparan is the guerrillas’ executioner and torturer, employing immense brutality on enemies caught or mere civilians suspected of sympathizing with the rebels. Meanwhile, Ofelia is caught in her own world of fauns and fairies, of a mystical kingdom that awaits freedom with her return as “princess”. The film ends in a brutal juncture of imagination and reality where evil is evil and those who abhore it must bravely stand up against it. Ofelia, innocent and therefore unafraid of death, is pittied against the monster Captain Vidal whose brutality is matched only by the latter’s cowardice in the face of actual battle.

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