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The Day Manila Fell Silent (Part I)

[Talk at the Bliss on Bliss Studio, New York City;  September 9, 2012;  part of Re-Collection, A Commemoration of the Anniversary of the Declaration of Martial Law in the Philippines]

Ironically, the most quiet day in Manila of contemporary times began with noise:  a loud pounding on the glass door of the penthouse apartment where I resided at the time.  The friend who was hollering and shouting and bruising his knuckles on the glass, blurted out, as soon I slid the door open, “martial law na…[martial law already]”  A split second of silence, then I turned and clicked on the radio.  Nothing but white noise.  Turned on the TV.   Nothing but a white screen and static.  The friend, looking pale and distraught, said, “no TV, no radio station… everything’s closed down.”  We eyeballed one another.  I suddenly remembered the last item in the late night news:  a visual of a demolished car, its roof collapsed; a male voice saying that the car of the Secretary of National Defense had been attacked but he was not in it…  My immediate thought had been “what?  They attacked an empty car?”  The news was so truncated.    And as I was going to bed, I noticed that the government building behind our apartment building was all lit up:  floor after floor, from top to bottom, all the lights were on.   I said then, “something’s happening;  and it’s happening all over the city.”


Now this friend blurting out his news, his eyes crazed with fright, triggered a kaleidoscope of memories.  This would become a habit with me ever after, this going into mental hyperdrive, correlating incidents and data.  The final memory that cascaded down was that of the smiling Senator Benigno Aquino, as he said to me, as he stood in the red carpeted foyer of the old Senate, “Marcos will not catch me lying down.”  I said, somewhat facetiously, “ah well, good talking to you, President Aquino.”  It would be my last face-to-face with the senator.  In 1984, when he was assassinated, I muttered to myself, “I’d better fix my papers; Marcos will fall.”  I was in New York City by then.  I had filed for political asylum but it was just on file. 

What is the point of this recollection?  It is to stress that martial law was personal… PERSONAL.  Everyone felt it, was affected by it, had an opinion, a thought, a feeling, about it.  The day it was declared, with a friend standing there, his hair practically on end, I remembered how, a week before, a minor journalist on the military beat had generously offered to check if my name and address were on an arrest order.  Young though I was, I wasn’t exactly naïve.  I gave him an old address.  Sure enough, the place was raided. 

Building a Gestalt

On September 10 of this year, the first batch of students at the AF3IRM Summer School of Women’s Activism graduated, each lighting a candle in memory of a woman of significance in her life.  I have witnessed this ritual time and again, seen the tense pause as each participant dove deep into her personal memory to find that person who summed up, with her own life and fate, the meaning of a commitment to women’s liberation.  As story after story is told briefly, often in a quivering voice — of this woman from Puerto Rico, that woman from the Philippines, of the mother from Guatemala, or another woman from yet another country — their images seem to rise in the circle’s center, witnesses to the eon-long struggle which had involved great-grandmothers, mothers, sisters.  This is the instant of connection, when a gestalt of history is created, when each woman stands with a long line of women stretching back to the dawn of history.

            The class had started three Saturdays before;  I used  this poem:


            At last I am free


            At last I am a woman free!


            No more tied to the kitchen,


            Stained amid the stained pots,


            No more bound to the husband


            Who thought me less


            Than the shade he wove with his hands,


            No more anger, no more hunger,


            I sit now in the shade of my own tree


            Meditating thus, I am happy, serene.


                                    Sumagalamata, 600 BCE, India


The poem seemed so alien in the 2011 mid-Manhattan summer setting of  AF3IRM’s school.  On the other hand, it was terribly familiar, underscoring the persistence of women’s vision, of a world where she could have “the shade of my own tree,” for space safe enough for her to be, independent of her mandated social roles.  The stories from the participants of their own mothers, grandmothers and aunts underscored the continuity of this struggle for women’s rights, equality and emancipation, and made this ceremony of remembering even more soul touching.

(This essay appears in full at the journal.)


Turned the caption of the picture below into a parody.
Sometimes I crack myself up. 
3 pigeons (alas) checked out the tree
this morning
are you ill, asked one
beak prodding a drying branch,
or are you just being

Piece at Ms Magazine blog

access here:

While doing research for this, I was struck by two things:

a)  Women workers had to create autonomous space for themselves even in terms of organizing as workers to be able to address the specific characteristics of their class oppression;
b)  How women organizing transformed the labor union movement, which in the aftermath of the militancy of women workers, opened its doors to both women workers and black workers. 


(Written for the Atlas of Transformation, edited by Zybnek Baladran & Vit Havranek, published with the assistance of the Czech Republic and the City of Prague, available at; 720 pp)

The world of healing pays scant attention to a different type of amnesia -- that which comes from a surfeit of memory, in contrast to the common medical definition of the disorder as a loss of what should be remembered.  In the amnesia of a surfeit of memory, thought processes are truncated, warped, aborted, so that one plus one never becomes two but rather, diverted from the path of completion by counter-propositions, arguments, labels, myths, artifice and polemics, one plus one remains forever one plus one…

Thus, 23 years after his overthrow and on the 92nd anniversary of his birth, the dictator’s widow is treated to a tribute, whereby those in charge of codifying and preserving the best of the national experience labor mightily to produce a few minutes of “fabulousness.”   Opera singers strain their larynxes, prima ballerinas, their ankles while composers wring the last note of bathos from their storehouse of musical notes  -- so that this “fabulousness” can overlay the odor of blood, sweat and decayed flesh;  the echo of pain moans and outraged screams, and the redolence of a thousand pairs of shoes assaulted by mold.  The dead are thereby not simply forgotten but removed from having existed, despite the list of names chiseled into stone at a shrine of “martyrs,” alongside the statue of a goddess who, if logic were to be followed, should have been faulted with having allowed the travesty to occur in the first place, rather than praised for a victory wrested by 25 years of struggle.  It is a denial of the people’s ability to transform their own social environment by attributing their success to some mysterious higher power, preferably imported.  The subtext is the preservation of a people’s reliance on authority and of a people’s faith in their powerlessness.

The dictator’s overthrow, it would seem, had wrought finished to all of that, the judgment already hammered into stone but to a people and a nation constructed from a series of historical accidents and the desires of Others, a summing up does not sum up, the past is always malleable and neither truth nor lie are absolutes.  To such a people, amnesia is not a state of being; it is a willful act of conciliatory remembering, of preferring an artificial memory of pleasantness because it is unpleasant to recall the unpleasant and easier to pretend that life experience does not provide lessons.  Besides which, lessons are only derived from summings- up, or what Einstein defined as the schematic representation of experience.  The amnesiac cannot make the leap from perceptual to cognitive knowledge.

This willful substitution of a simulation for reality comes easy to a people who have forgotten even the name of their favorite and most common dish even at the instant of their chewing upon it, this repast of pork chunks and chicken pieces simmered slowly in a broth of soy sauce and vinegar, with a concoction of spices.  What is it called, what is its name?  No one remembers and all are reduced to referring to it by the Mexican term adobo which in truth is far from the dish as can be.  If food itself loses its designation, then there’s nothing out-of-kilter in towns, villages, streets changing names, or languages altering in accordance with every change in rulers.  This is not a frailty but a virtue; it is celebrated as an infinite capacity for adaptation.  Hence, in Japan, the women acquire local names and wear kimonos;  in Saudi Arabia, they don the hijab while in Europe, their children acquire hazel and blue eyes and light skins.  The men serve under flags of every sea-faring country in the world, spending their adulthood in unbounded oceans, their moorings reduced to portable memories:  photographs of wives, children, parents, a song or two...  This malleability is said to be what enables them to survive, even in the most perilous of the 198 “host” countries to which globalization takes them, chattering in Italian at the piazza where once a week, they gather to cease soul-shifting just long enough to enable their strangeness to surface and morph into familiarity by virtue of numbers. 

Soul-shifting from a surfeit of memory is peculiar to a constructed people who hold in their psyche several complete and competing operating systems, their worldviews swinging from one to the other to ensure survival.  A Japanese is; an American is and the French is French…  A constructed people, on the other hand, is always something more over and beyond their naked basic essence, carrying as they do an imposed history.   This soul-shifting has become engrained, because colonialism, occupation and neo-colonialism are drawn-out acts of genocide.  The authority of the Other remolds the subjugated into an image of the Other, reflective of His view of the world, and that process of recreation entails the destruction of a people’s sense of what they are.  Having experienced this dismantling of one’s being, the colonized understands that amnesia is necessary and soul-shifting is vital to survival.   It is a complex process done instinctively, without calculation almost, even though it is based on the most profound of calculations. 

On the day of the overthrow itself, even as the shouts of jubilation rise through the air, the process of forgetting is already underway.  The overthrow is hailed as a great victory for democracy and no one remembers anymore how the very system that is being hailed provided the dictator with his ladder to power and the ever-intensifying consolidation thereof, that the onerous impact of his rule was legitimized through the courts, which declared his “executive orders” legitimate and refused to rule on many challenges to his right to govern by decree.  His successor is re-painted as the victor of the just-past elections, this myth of a “democratic” system triumphant substituting for the intensity of the march of a million, two million, and the spontaneous refusal of the majority – clerks, vendors, teachers, farmers, workers – to participate in turning the wheels of social business this one fine day.  The successor won;  the dictator cheated; ignore that instant of stillness, incandescent as lightning and just as swift, that fell over the land when everyone chose to ignore the last decree. 

This affirmation of the correctness of corrupt systems and process of governance, those hailed as sure signs of a democracy,  must now entail the frustration of any thing to the contrary.  Unfortunately, some 10,000 misguided former residents of various detention camps run by the dictator filed a precedent-setting case against his estate – for he has, by now, peacefully and sans accounting, escaped through death’s door – and won, thus documenting for all of time the intolerable vile acts of perfidy and treason perpetrated by  institutions that now serve the successor.  That will have to be nullified, gently if possible, harshly if not.  And thus begins the long wait for justice and balance for the 100,000 who sojourned in the detention camps, as the new government exercised eminent domain and claimed all available wealth of the dictator and his various friends and relations, denying the right of the victimized.  Slowly, that issue is laid to rest because time is on the corrupt system’s side, as not a few of the victimized succumb at last to the wounds and stress of their torture and deprivation.

In this state of amnesia, it is possible once again to commit the same vile acts of perfidy and treason against the people for whom government is supposedly set.  The first decade of the new century is marked by political assassinations, disappearances and the inexorable fall of fear and trembling over the land.  Each successor after the dictator has driven the nation deeper into poverty, selling off land, sea and sky for quick profit, and when all natural resources are gone, then selling off the people themselves without shame, nakedly, and giving them the sop of a tribute as the new heroes of the economy, the better for them to endure their slavery.

By now, it should be clear that this is about the devolution of social transformation, the reversion of its most noble impulses and objectives to the single principle of power – the acquisition thereof, the monopolization thereof.  Because one plus one is never two but remains one plus one, tyranny and corruption are a constant, and the idea of a dictatorship lingers as both a sly temptation and objective.  It has never been thoroughly anathematized.  In due time, in ways big and small, the idea becomes flesh and throughout the archipelago, warlord clans accumulate power through the expediency of violence and corruption.  Each lords it over any one of the 150 ethno-linguistic groups which had been forcibly welded together into an alleged nation by historical accidents and by the desire, needs and greed of the Other.

Amnesia is tragic to a people who live on islands afloat on the ocean of storms and tsunamis.  The first thousand buried by mudslides caused by the denudation of forests were speedily forgotten, with the second thousand devastated by a typhoon, who in turn lost their hold on public attention with the third thousand murdered by a deluge, who must thereupon give up their place in the collective memory to the fourth thousand…  And so it goes, as the sea rises higher each year and enters villages deeper.  Though amnesic, the constructed people’s memory is swollen with fabulousness:  the hit tunes of now, telenovelas of today, outrageous romances, impressive displays of wealth, plastic surgery and skin whitening…

This madcap fabulousness that has replaced true memory makes it possible for a warlord clan in the third poorest province of the archipelago to game the system, build a private army and having accumulated power through the naked exercise of nepotism, build more than two dozen mansions for themselves, thus negating poverty as it were from their personal environment and then enabling the casual massacre of 57 people, including 21 women, two of whom were pregnant, and 30 journalists. 

It is a remarkable story which, in due time and much like the thousand other assassinations and disappearances post-dictatorship, will be overtaken by amnesia.  -- ##

Meditation on a Death

The first narrative seemed most fitting: he was armed, shooting, when his foes cut him down, a death deserved by a warrior, not perishing from kidney failure, starvation or diarrhea from the pestilential waters of a Third World ghetto, still acting as he preached, courage and kalashnikov in hand despite white hair and beard…

Since I’d gotten tired through the years of young men/women doing the killing and dying at the behest of old, older and one-foot-in-the-grave men, dying like an old lion in combat seemed appropriate to bin Laden -- an exclamation point calling into question a pattern to which we have somehow become habituated, ever since war was invented.

But then the second narrative arrived: he was unarmed, protected by two women, one of whom was shot in the leg, the other killed, as one bullet drilled his forehead and others stitched his chest. He fell on no magic carpet, wasn’t covered by an enchanted tapestry, did not hear the ringing of djinn bells. He died in an unaesthetic house.

After a second of feeling deflated, I realized that that this manner of dying could dovetail into any variation of the Austere Warrior Myth, evoking photos of his austere demeanor, of him barefoot, wearing that threadbare almost priestly robe, in the desserts of Afghanistan.

That led me to wondering just who were there when a Prophet breathed his last on the cross. Fifteen disciples, I found out – and, except for Jude and John Zebedee, all were women.

As in birth, so in death; women’s faces attend alpha and omega.  #

May Day Statement

From the Home to the Office to the Factory!

AF3IRM marches on International Labor Day 2011 in affirmation of the right of workers to self-organize, to collective bargaining, to conduct strikes and other means of struggle for just wages and safe working conditions and to resist ever-intensifying exploitation of labor by capitalists.

AF3IRM marches on International Labor Day 2011 to denounce the embedded racism and sexism that enables capital to inflict even more acute exploitation upon women workers. 187 years after the first all-women strike in 1824, women continue to suffer wage disparity. White women workers earn only $0.77 to every dollar a male worker earns; black women, $0.64 and Latinas, $0.52. Over a lifetime, women workers lose $380,000 because of wage discrepancy doing the same job as male workers. Only capitalists and Big Business benefit from social tolerance of racism and sexism.

AF3IRM marches on International Labor Day 2011 in condemnation of the continuing attacks on organized labor and labor rights. 186 years since the first all-women union was established in 1825 – the United Tailoresses of New York, Corporate America and its puppet US politicians are moving to dissolve and dismantle the ability of women workers to struggle for just wages and decent working conditions.

Women workers now comprise nearly 50% of all unionized workers in the US and half of them work in the public sector. From Wisconsin to Nevada to New Jersey, Corporate America and its puppet US politicians are terminating labor rights in the public sector, laying off teachers, child and health care givers, social service workers and more, while leaving male-dominated public sector professions intact or barely touched. By so doing, Corporate America hopes that the working class will be so rift by sexism and racism and thereby weakened as to be unable to resist its push toward enhanced exploitation.

Alongside the increasing numbers of unionized women workers is the increasing number of workers of color, of im/migrant workers – against whom Corporate America and its puppet politicians have launched xenophobic attacks. The latter are meant to keep the “undocumented” sans legal standing in the US, so they can be paid subsistence wages and inflicted with intolerable exploitation. 20% of “undocumented” workers in this country work in private households, as nannies and housekeepers.

AF3IRM declares that a man or woman who’s good enough to work in the United States is good enough to stay!

From the house to the office to the factory, women’s work remains acutely devalued by Corporate America and its puppet politicians.

We say ENOUGH! It is time to march and to denounce this effort to savage women workers, to weaken organized labor, eradicate the gains of the labor movement. It is time to march and denounce this continuing attempt to return women workers to 19th century working conditions – the same conditions which triggered the “uprising of the 20,000” – a strike by women shirtwaist workers in 1909 in New York City.


PUSH BACK AGAINST CAPITALIST THEFT OF WOMEN’S WORK – from the home to the office to the factory!

Also on AF3IRM Website:’s-work

Jollene Levid
AF3IRM National Chairperson
Phone: (323) 356-4748
Association of Filipinas, Feminists Fighting Imperialism, Re-feudalization, and Marginalization (AF3IRM)


Desperately Seeking Antigone

The young heroine of a Greek tragedy elected to bury her younger brother, despite the king’s edict that he should lie dead and exposed to the elements.

Not burying the dead is violating their primal right: to lie buried, undisturbed-- Requiescat In Pace.

This was the core template for one of my short stories: Earthquake Weather. I wrote it in honor of several friends killed by Marcos’s military and left exposed in front of various town halls. Being left unburied was one of the direst punishments inflicted under martial law; the other, ironically, was being buried in unmarked mass graves.

What to make, then, of the phenomenon of the dictator himself refrigerated since his death in 1988. Occasionally, through the years, I’d wonder how much it cost, in equipment and power supply, to turn him into a corpsicle. In a country where 80% of mothers cannot afford to refrigerate milk and baby food, this human jerky was symbolic of the excessive self-adulation of the Marcos regime.

Freeze-dried or mummified, dead is dead. Let the corpse return to the elements.

It has also become expressive of the politics of absurdity in the Philippines as recently, following a court-ordered compensation to victims of human rights violations during the Marcos regime, the dead's clan, cronies and supporters have pushed for his burial in the Heroes' Cemetery. 

One would think that the senators, congressmen and governors of the Marcos family infrastructure would have better things to highlight:  good works done, nice legislation passed, lives of constituents made better. But no, it has to be about keeping alive the myth of Marcos and hence, ruling class invincibility, maintained by thought control, historical revision and an undercurrent of a message that tells the Filipino people they're too stupid to pass judgment on someone like Marcos. 

This view is that of a supremely malleable nation (i.e., stupid enough) to swallow hook, line and sinker even the most overt lies that would maintain authority, power and privilege for a few. We’re already seeing reverberations of this mental shifting:  reversals of rulings which had seemed indelible acts of justice in the Vizconde case, Lacson redux, etc.

The Geneva Conventions actually provide for respectful treatment of even the dead: “honorably interred…their graves respected…properly maintained and marked…”

In 2002, a French court decreed that Raymond and Monique Martinot, whose bodies were refrigerated by their son in their chateau’s basement, should be given proper burial – based on the timeless principle that the dead is entitled to Requiescat In Pace.

So the Philippines need an Antigone and frankly, I don’t care how she does it -- float the corpse on a raft in the ocean and give it to its fellow sharks, shove a blasting cap up its behind and disappear it like so many disaparecidos of martial law years, toss it down an unmarked grave in a ravine and let weeds and worms have it.

Just end this necrophilic obsession so everyone can start thinking about the politics of living. -- #