IA: Thank you for speaking on the difficulty – what a poor euphemism for the cognitive dissonance, most likely the impossibility – of reconciling art and poetry’s limitations with the social and political disaster that is Duterte’s bloody campaign. In light of this, where then to situate apathy and futility, resistance and hope?
CC: Apathy is a luxury enjoyed by those privileged enough to remain unscathed by Duterte’s violent campaign. It’s a sign of literal-mindedness, the dogged inability to step outside of the self and consider the other, the many others whose lives are devalued and treated as disposable by the regime. I think apathy also finds justification in an unexamined hatred of the poor, the primary target of this drug war. Never mind the lack of due process, the unskilled and corrupt police, the state-sanctioned violence against women and children, who are often witnesses to the haphazard operations that result in the murder of their loved ones. Never mind the trauma of children turned orphans, the continued suffering of those who cannot even afford to bury their dead. It is easier to overlook or look away from (and, in many cases, applaud) these crimes committed by the state when the victims are perceived to be the dregs of society. Poverty, from this point of view, springs only from individual weakness and misbehavior, rather than structural inequities bolstered by the elite to maintain their profit and power. This kind of thinking allows for EJKs – extra-judicial killings – to be viewed less as blatant human rights violations and more as the fate of those who lack the perseverance, the know-how, and the willpower to help themselves.
Resistance is in perpetual need of allies, and I think that if you are fortunate enough not to be in the direct line of fire, you shouldn’t let yourself off the hook too easily by invoking futility. Sure, we need only to look at Duterte’s immediate predecessors to see that state-perpetuated violence, though particularly explicit in its forms under the current regime, is nothing new. However, it is also clear that what is old news is getting worse. The status quo is not static. To write it off as unchangeable is, to say the least, inaccurate. The sentiment that resistance is futile reeks of individualism–even when it is despairing, and especially when expressed by those with food security, with job security, those able to retreat at the end of each day to the privacy of their homes. (A side note: I think my acute sense of poetry’s limits as an agent of social transformation is informed by commonplace ideas about writing that fetishise the privacy of the individual – how writing is a solitary activity, how writers need privacy to write, and so on. I think these ‘givens’ tend to remove the body of the writer from collective action, while the work she produces becomes, to my mind at least, an insufficient proxy.) Hope, I think, is embedded in resistance; otherwise, it is merely lip service. To hope is to invest our time, resources, and skills in multiple and mutable forms of resistance against a status quo intent on replicating and fortifying itself.