By Tomas T. Talledo
“This hyper vigilant, threat-seeking way of living is exhausting…they build a bomb shelter and live out of it, eating canned beans until the inevitable apocalypse comes.” – Jordan Grey
I. WE’RE ALL PRISONERS
Our days of being “lockdowned” will soon total into months. There are of course variations in our respective experience but only as circumstance warrants. But what’s common in our predicament is the enforced immobility, shrinkage of space and shackled sociality. In a broad meaning of experiences, we are all prisoners. And the uncertainty or absence of deadline for our ultimate release from this confinement exacerbates our isolation and suffering.
Some of us have access to food but many others don’t because of strict regulations or limited supply. This is no different from packed mega jails in the country. We cannot receive visitors, nor we can visit our significant others for consociation. We are required to accomplish sets of documents just to enjoy a modicum range of liberties. We are treated as convicts but without our day in Court.
While on government-imposed quarantine, feelings of helplessness, ennui and anxiety assault our equanimity, our well-being. We watch the world shrinks as our physical body morphs into Kafka’s cockroach as in diurnal dreams. Nightmare is our unwelcomed companion. This imprisonment sentences death of our fun, our desires, our freedoms.
II. SHRINKAGE OF OUR SOCIALITY
The government-imposed quarantine shrunk our sociality that results to narrowing of our humanity, the single dimensionality of vision that are dominated by fear and finally by paranoia. These fear and paranoia are darkly projected on “outsiders,” on those who aren’t part of our immediate circle of people.
While safety rests with the in-groups of household and close neighbors, edginess spurts from possible encounter with strangers, those unfamiliar but suspected to be lethal “contaminants”. We don the cloak of the irascible. Little of our knowing, we slide into behaving as primitive kids of the Lord of Flies tribe.
The pandemic virus appears to be the apparent reason for the shrinkage of our interactivity, but the composite of governmental agencies is the responsible machine that shredded the fabric our sociality. We became estranged from each other when we’re classified by the sanitary regime. And the regime’s project of estrangement is accomplished when “hating each other” comes as default norm.
A living witness, Ai Xiaoming, in his Wuhan Diary with anguish cried:
“We need to ask ourselves about the root causes of this behaviour—of abandoning others, and even inciting hatred. How can we have become so cruel, inhuman and barbaric? It seems that when we are confronted with this epidemic, we lose the capacity for rational analysis and thinking, resorting to methods that are primitive, uncivilized and inhumane” [NEW LEFT REVIEW March-April 2020].
The proclamation of the state of health emergency was hijacked by the government to dismantle people’s solidarities and put in place dictatorial rule that wiped out human, civil and political rights. Thus, grotesquely rises, in the quasi-Hobbesian sense, a all absorbing Leviathan.
III. THE RISE OF HOBBESIAN AUTHORITY AND THE PHILIPPINE STATE
The rise of an intolerant authority presiding over the existence of the state was the pet idea of Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), an English philosopher loyal to monarchy. That the intolerant authority is hostile to the primacy of individual freedom and liberties portrays our current situation. We detect that the Constitutional Declaration (Article II) that the Philippines is a democratic and republican state is hastily now being dismantled. Ironically the insidious instrument in the dismantling of our republican state are unjust executions of laws weaponized against Justice.
Parenthetically, in democracy emergency type of laws exist in principle as temporary remedy to defend the life of the state or when “state of exception” occurs just like the ancient Roman notion of Justitium. The reigning person in this condition claims for himself the auctoritas (necessary authority) that temporarily suspends ordinary laws but never to abrogate them. Justitium was and is to be interpreted as life preserving, never life extinguishing as in the frightening death of the discharged army Corporal Winston Ragos.
The democratic emergency law never inaugurates the lèse-majesté that criminalised an offense against the dignity of the person of the President of the Republic. The holder of that position is not the personification of the state as he is only mortal and ephemeral. The claim for instance of Col. Jesus Durante (Chief of Presidential Security Group) that “threatening people was not right, especially if the target was the President” in the context of an exaggerated social media post of killing Rodrigo Roa Duterte reads absolutist if not ancient [https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1274652/after-teacher-2-more-nabbed-over-bounty-offer-to-kill-duterte#ixzz6MNGTf8nv].
But we have already left the baggage of past absolutisms behind. We now live in the age of modern global epoch of decolonization, of revolutions and of the expansion and deepening rights of persons as citizens of nation-states. And the citizen’s ultimate power to check the rise of a Hobbesian ruler resides in their right to revolution. This right is unstated in the Constitution because it is lodged in the hearts of the people. As Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1787, “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure”.
*Faculty Member of the Division of Social Sciences, U. P. Miag-ao, Iloilo Campus