June 2017: A Read Harder Challenge Update

It’s been a few months! I just wanted to do a quick check-in, since I’ve been making some (admittedly slow) progress but not always with the titles I’d planned to read.

Finished tasks have been crossed out, and the titles that were actually read are bolded and in italics. Over the next few weeks, I’ll post thoughts on some of the books I’ve finished so far.

  1. Read a book about sports.
    Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall

  2. Read a debut novel
    White Teeth by Zadie Smith
    The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

  3. Read a book about books.
    The Novel: A Biography by Michael Schmidt
    When Books Went to War: The Stories that Helped Us Win World War II by Molly Guptill Manning

  4. Read a book set in Central or South America, written by a Central or South American author.
    The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas by Machado de Assis

  5. Read a book by an immigrant or with a central immigration narrative.
    The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

  6. Read an all-ages comic.
    Princeless, Vol. 1: Save Yourself by Jeremy Whitley
    Does Giant Days from Boom Studios count?

  7. Read a book published between 1900 and 1950.
    The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

  8. Read a travel memoir.
    Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory by Peter Hessler

  9. Read a book you’ve read before.
    The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
    Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
    1984 by George Orwell

  10. Read a book that is set within 100 miles of your location.
    Desaparesidos by Lualhati Bautista

  11. Read a book that is set more than 5000 miles from your location.
    Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

12. Read a fantasy novel.
The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu
Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson
Gunpowder Alchemy by Jeannie Lin

  1. Read a nonfiction book about technology.
    The Dark Net: Inside the Digital Underworld by Jamie Bartlett
    Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software by Charles Petzsold

14. Read a book about war.
The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell
The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman

  1. Read a YA or middle grade novel by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+.
    George by Alex Gino
    Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

  2. Read a book that has been banned or frequently challenged in your country.
    Noli Me Tángere by Jose Rizal
    El Filibusterismo by Jose Rizal

17. Read a classic by an author of color.
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

18. Read a superhero comic with a female lead.
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Volume 1: Squirrel Power by Ryan North
She-Hulk, Volume 1: Law and Disorder by Charles Soule
Supergirl: Being Super by Mariko Tamaki, Joëlle Jones, and Sandu Florea

  1. Read a book in which a character of color goes on a spiritual journey
    Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova

  2. Read an LGBTQ+ romance novel
    The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

  3. Read a book published by a micropress.
    Islamic Far East: Ethnogenesis of Philippine Islam by Isaac Donoso

  4. Read a collection of stories by a woman.
    The Complete Stories by Clarice Lispector

  5. Read a collection of poetry in translation on a theme other than love.
    Li Po and Tu Fu: Poems

24. Read a book wherein all point-of-view characters are people of color.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang
Gunpowder Alchemy by Jeannie Lin

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Notes from “The Guns of August”

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Here’s my first book for this year’s Read Harder Challenge!

I first started reading The Guns of August two years ago. “Started,” because work quickly caught up with me, leading to a slow abandonment of the book around the halfway point.

That was a shame, since this is–despite the heft and subject matter–an eminently readable book. Barbara Tuchman retells the ominous mix of personalities, beliefs, and events that led to World War I with clear and graceful prose. Really, it feels like getting a bedtime story from your grandmother with the twinkle in her eye.

I’ve been reading slowly to digest all the brewing chaos properly, so I’ve just passed the third chapter. Still, there have already been some lines that bear saving. Here are a couple that I feel should be read together, considering events in many parts of the world right now.

On Clausewitz’s third object of war, the winning of popular support through crushing victory:

He knew how material success could gain public opinion; he forgot how moral failure could lose it, which too can be a hazard of war.

As much preference as many electorates last year showed for quick, concrete “wins” and supposedly quantifiable results at the expense of many vulnerable sectors of society, I’d like to think that the public won’t permit the total erosion of moral and ethical principles.

Although Tuchman also has this to say:

One constant among the elements of 1914–of any era–was the disposition of everyone on all sides not to prepare for the harder alternative, not to act upon what they suspected to be true.

Does this “constant” persist more than 102 years later, and all over the world at that? Stay tuned.

2017 Read Harder Challenge

I read around 30 books last year, many of them during the later months when work became less hectic. The final 2016 list is front-loaded with a lot of science fiction before turning into a pretty scattershot collection of titles. Since I am one of those corny cheeseballs who theme their new years, I intend to turn 2017 into a time of balance — and that goes for my reading list, as well.

As an occasional reader of Book Riot, I’ve seen (but never attempted) their annual reading challenges before. Dubbed “Read Harder,” each year’s challenge prods participants to read outside their comfort zones and pick up books from authors, genres, perspectives they’d otherwise never checked out before. That’s a goal I can get behind, so I signed up for this year.

Here are the prompts and the books I plan to read for them. I tried to fill each prompt with books I already own but haven’t read yet. Titles subject to change!

1. Read a book about sports.
Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall

2. Read a debut novel
White Teeth by Zadie Smith
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

3. Read a book about books.
The Novel: A Biography by Michael Schmidt
When Books Went to War: The Stories that Helped Us Win World War II by Molly Guptill Manning

4. Read a book set in Central or South America, written by a Central or South American author.
The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas by Machado de Assis

5. Read a book by an immigrant or with a central immigration narrative.
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

6. Read an all-ages comic.
Princeless, Vol. 1: Save Yourself by Jeremy Whitley

7. Read a book published between 1900 and 1950.
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

8. Read a travel memoir.
Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory by Peter Hessler

9. Read a book you’ve read before.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
1984 by George Orwell

10. Read a book that is set within 100 miles of your location.
Desaparesidos by Lualhati Bautista

11. Read a book that is set more than 5000 miles from your location.
Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

12. Read a fantasy novel.
The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu

13. Read a nonfiction book about technology.
The Dark Net: Inside the Digital Underworld by Jamie Bartlett
Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software by Charles Petzsold

14. Read a book about war.
The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell
The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman

15. Read a YA or middle grade novel by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+.
George by Alex Gino
Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

16. Read a book that has been banned or frequently challenged in your country.
Noli Me Tángere by Jose Rizal
El Filibusterismo by Jose Rizal

17. Read a classic by an author of color.
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

18. Read a superhero comic with a female lead.
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Volume 1: Squirrel Power by Ryan North
She-Hulk, Volume 1: Law and Disorder by Charles Soule

19. Read a book in which a character of color goes on a spiritual journey
Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova

20. Read an LGBTQ+ romance novel
The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

21. Read a book published by a micropress.
Islamic Far East: Ethnogenesis of Philippine Islam by Isaac Donoso

22. Read a collection of stories by a woman.
The Complete Stories by Clarice Lispector

23. Read a collection of poetry in translation on a theme other than love.
Li Po and Tu Fu: Poems

24. Read a book wherein all point-of-view characters are people of color.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang

On “Citizenfour”

Last Thursday, I filed my last articles of 2016 for both jobs. Buzzer-beaters, to be sure, but I celebrated all the same by putting on a movie. There was nothing remotely festive on my flash drive, it was a bit too late to dig up alternatives, and the US Congress’ Intelligence Committee had just released its findings on Edward Snowden.

And that, friends, is how someone ends up watching Citizenfour for the holidays.

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The last documentary in filmmaker Laura Poitras’ trilogy on post-9/11 America, Citizenfour drops you into the riveting, paranoiac story of how the world found out that it was being watched. It’s you in a Hong Kong hotel room, conferring with Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill, and Edward Snowden on the US’ mass surveillance systems. It’s you on the receiving end of encrypted (and cryptic) emails with instructions for downloading classified documents. It’s you in the middle of game-changing revelations about privacy and state power. Or, no, that’s not entirely accurate: it’s Edward Snowden in the center, and for 144 minutes, you are an invested and equally vulnerable insider.

Make no mistake, this is an advocacy film. Citizenfour depicts Snowden as an intelligent and resolute NSA contractor who grew increasingly disillusioned with the agency’s ethically questionable surveillance programs. The leaks, Snowden says, were driven by patriotism and principle. Poitras and Greenwald never question him beyond that, nor does the film look at the fallout of Snowden’s actions. Instead, Poitras drills down on the leaks’ implications: millions of civilians under watch without cause or consent, the deception that sustained that surveillance, the alarming lapses in ethics and judgment that entails.
Together, your insider position and Poitras’ choice of focus transform Citizenfour from simple documentary to real-life cyberpunk thriller.

A lot of questions have been raised about Snowden’s motives and methods, and the recent US Congressional report on his ties with Russian intelligence only muddle the picture further. Faith in Snowden, however, is essential to Citizenfour. It creates clarity. That, in turn, lets the film have its high and immediate stakes: glossing over Snowden’s motives leaves him free to inhabit the role of intrepid cyberpunk protagonist, sending dispatches through the internet ether and living on a ticking clock set by sinister governments with motive and means to hunt him down. This is the chase that Citizenfour drops you into; the film’s narrow view indicates an understanding that looking over your shoulder is much easier when you aren’t asking questions about who’s beside you, too.

However, this gives the film an opacity that cuts a bit too close to the characteristic sins of its designated Big Bads. For a film about disclosure, Citizenfour holds back a lot. Like I said earlier, the film doesn’t go into the extent or the fallout of Snowden’s leaks either. There’s no mention or analysis of these disclosures’ effects on the US and UK intelligence communities, of what other forces (and states) can do with the leaked information, of what consequences (if any) the ensuing shake-up will have for civilians. That cuts out even more essential context for the leaks that Citizenfour asks you to judge, even applaud.

Overall, it’s an absorbing and illuminating documentary, though one that asks for more trust than its choices arguably earn. It’s a quality that Citizenfour shares with both Snowden and the agencies he exposes; in that sense, at the very least, Poitras has crafted the perfect portrayal.

Neither a bang nor a whimper

Two major incidents in the South China Sea last week.

On Tuesday, the CSIS’ Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative reported China’s new point-defense fortifications on its artificial islands in the Spratlys. Then on Friday, news broke of a Chinese ship illegally seizing a US Navy underwater probe in Philippine waters.

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Chinese installations on Johnson Reef, care of the CSIS/AMTI report.

A lot of the ensuing analysis has focused on the US response and these events’ implications for US-China relations. That’s understandable, considering the US’ Asia pivot and the friction arising from territorial disputes in the South China Sea. But it’s exactly because of those disputes that I’m driven to examine what these events might mean for the Philippines, which—despite recent walk-backs of our stance on China—remains a claimant to these contested areas.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay recently declared that the Philippines will not stop Chinese construction on these islands. He also insisted that other nations concerned by these new developments can deal with China on their own. To wit:

“There are other countries that will have special concerns insofar as these activities of China are concerned. Such as… the right to the freedom of navigation that they would like to protect and overflight operations – the United States is concerned about this, Japan is concerned about this, the European Union is concerned about this […] Let them take whatever action is necessary in the pursuit of their national interest… and we will leave it at that, for the Philippines, we have our bilateral engagements with China.”

I see some worrying implications from Sec. Yasay’s response, and I’ll try to go into those one by one.

First, it’s important to look at how China asserts its claims in the South China Sea. The prevailing strategy seems to be a push for de facto legitimacy. Perhaps to reduce space for contest, China mainly stakes its claims through practice: however shaky the concept of Chinese sovereignty over the Spratlys (and other territories) might be, China makes that notion “real” by acting as if it already is.

Infrastructure and personnel deployments, of which these installations are just the newest example, form the primary pillars for China’s territorial claims. (In a way, the claims are their own “proof.”) By leaving these new installations unchallenged, we’re giving China free rein in the main avenue it uses to validate its claims: practice, and the situation on the ground. China gains greater control over territories in all but name. Remember that this is the country that refused to participate in proceedings at the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) and later rejected that court’s rulings. It’s safe to assume that “name” is a secondary consideration for China here.

If international opposition or rebuke does not involve substantial effects on its actual control over these islands, or on its global standing more generally, then it seems China will not be deterred.

Second: Global standing is key. The Philippines is clearly disadvantaged in these disputes. (This is also why I’m skeptical of bilateral talks as a means of resolution.) One of the few things we can leverage against China is its status on the international stage: its credibility, and any effects that a blow to its reputation might have on relations with key foreign entities. Those are the only levers we can pull that have real impact on China’s economic, military, diplomatic capacities. (Hence the missed opportunity that is the PCA ruling, I think, but that’s a different point.)

The South China Sea disputes involve many other states. By taking the lead—notably in the PCA case—the Philippines adds weight to its own claims and puts itself in a better position to influence how regional (and even global) powers approach China. International cooperation makes the Philippines a bigger player in these disputes than it could realistically be otherwise.

By leaving other concerned states to deal with China by themselves, we signal an aversion to joint responses or multilateral approaches for these disputes. This weakens diplomacy-based support for our own claims.

That brings me to my third point: Secretary Yasay’s statements are troubling in light of other recent shifts in Philippine foreign policy. Just a week ago, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that the Philippines would “very likely” stop aiding US freedom of navigation patrols in the South China Sea. (There are many problems with US-Philippine military relations, but those are for a different post altogether.) It’s worth noting that US was our foremost military partner for decades. With China far outstripping us in naval capabilities, the bulk of whatever armed presence we can assert in the South China Sea stems from US partnerships.

As Secretary Yasay keeps reminding us, we’ve already put the PCA ruling “on the back burner,” watering down the legal buttresses of our position. Cutting off any involvement with US patrols in the South China Sea signals a retreat from our own claims on yet another front.

Secretary Yasay notes that objecting to these very real developments will do harm, whereas there’s nothing to be lost by keeping silent. Diplomatic rules of thumb generally agree, and we don’t have the military capabilities to pose credible challenges in the sphere that China’s claims are working in (i.e., reality on the ground). But silence disregards and undermines our capacity for opposition in the spheres that our claims work in: legal, diplomatic, conceptual. Any declarations we make about defending our claims hold no water when we’ve already ceded them in practice.

Besides, Secretary Yasay’s assurances that we will “pursue peaceful means at which all of this can be prevented” are belied by his own declaration that the Philippines will refrain from calling or issuing a note verbale regarding these developments. This silence, we are led to believe, will lead to warmer bilateral relations between the Philippines and China.

Meanwhile, the Chinese Defense Ministry justifies its new military installations by reminding everyone that “China has indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha [Spratly] islands and its adjacent waters.” Xinhua reports that China’s seizure of a US naval probe in the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)—well beyond even China’s problematic nine-dash line—occurred “in its [China’s] waters.”

China seems confident in its ability to assert power even within clear-cut Philippine boundaries. Whatever “good relations” are being built between China and the Philippines seem to come at the price of surrendering any credible opposition we might stake against China’s claims in our territories.

Secretary Yasay notes that “we can later on go back into the issue of our dispute with the South China Sea,” once relations have improved. At the rate things are going, those discussions will be moot and academic.

So You Want to Contact Your Representative

So you’d like to ask your district representative and our senators to say NO to considering kids potential criminals, restoring the death penalty, and reversing the Sin Tax Law, among other issues. Well, it’s time to remind our lawmakers to listen to the people they’re supposed to be representing. Here’s how to get in touch:

If you’d like to use social media:

Paolo Chikiamco posted a guide to finding your representatives here. If you need some help with what to say, you can modify the scripts in the “Call Your Representatives” section below.

You can also send emails or letters.

For writing against the death penalty bill: The International Drug Policy Consortium has a form letter that you can use – click here.

(I’m working on templates for letters against lowering the age of criminal responsibility and reversing the Sin Tax Law. Will update the post with links once those are done.)

You can call your representatives!

I know this sounds like a scary or nerve-wracking option, but it’s not as difficult as it sounds! Plus, a phone call is harder to ignore than a Facebook message, email, or letter. If you feel up to the task, here’s what you’ve got to do:

  1. Look up your local representative’s contact details.

This is a list of the current members of Congress. This is what you’ll see when you click that link:

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You can sort alphabetically, by region/district, and so on.

Clicking on a name will show you that representative’s contact details:

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You can also send letters to their offices!

Meanwhile, here is a list of the current members of the Senate, along with their offices’ contact details. Proposed bills need to pass through the Senate before being passed into law, so it helps to contact our senators, too.

2. Call them up!

Worried about what to say? Here are some scripts to guide you:

For calling against the death penalty bill:

Good morning/afternoon!

I am (name), a resident of (area), and I’m calling to ask (Senator/Representative) to say NO to the proposed bill to reinstate the death penalty. There is no solid scientific evidence that this measure will have a deterrent effect on crime, and with our flawed justice system, the country’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens will be hit hardest.

Please ask (Senator/Representative) to denounce the reinstatement of the death penalty and say no to this bill when it comes before the plenary.

Thank you.

If you know your representative has a track record of opposing similar measures, you can say:

Good morning/afternoon!

I am (name), a resident of (area) concerned about House Bill No. 1 calling for the reinstatement of the death penalty. (Senator/Representative) has worked to uphold the principles of justice and human rights before, and we need (his/her/their) help again. I’m calling to express my support for (Senator/Representative), and to ask (him/her/them) to keep fighting for our citizen’s dignity and human rights.

Please ask (Senator/Representative) to denounce the reinstatement of the death penalty and say no to this bill when it comes before the plenary.

Thank you.

To speak out against lowering the age of criminal responsibility, you can say:

Good morning/afternoon!

I am (name), a resident of (area), and I’m calling to ask (Senator/Representative) to say NO to the proposed bill to lower the age of criminal responsibility. Allowing children as young as 9 years old to be considered criminals will not lower our country’s crime rate. Instead, it will subject young children to harsh punishment and prison conditions, and leave them even more vulnerable to neglect or abuse.

Please ask (Senator/Representative) to speak out against the proposal to lower the age of criminal responsibility and say no to this bill when it comes before the plenary.

Thank you.

To ask your representative to oppose the reversal of the Sin Tax Law, you can say:

Good morning/afternoon!

I am (name), a resident of (area), and I’m calling to ask (Senator/Representative) to say NO to the changes to the Sin Tax Law. Since its implementation in 2012, our current Sin Tax Law has helped fund expanded rural health care programs, curb the incidence of smoking in our country, and boost government sin tax revenues. Institutions like the World Bank have praised the Sin Tax Law as a model for transparent and effective sin tax measures.

Please ask (Senator/Representative) to fight for our health and the welfare of our tobacco farmers by saying no to this bill when it comes before the plenary. Instead, please consider supporting Cong. Joey Salceda’s bill for a P40 unitary tax.

Thank you.

If they’ve got a track record of being pro-health/pro-finance and/or supporting the Sin Tax Law, you can say:

Good morning/afternoon!

I am (name), a resident of (area) concerned about Congressman Dakila Cua’s tobacco taxation bill. I’d like to thank (Senator/Representative) for supporting pro-health/pro-finance bills, and ask for their continued support. The existing Sin Tax Law has already done a lot to improve the health and livelihood of Filipinos.

Please ask (Senator/Representative) to say no to Congressman Cua’s taxation bill and consider supporting Congressman Joey Salceda’s proposal for a P40 unitary tax instead.

Thank you.

Whom should you try to reach?

Of course, there’s your local representative, as well as any other representatives and senators you want to contact. Aside from them, though, here are some key figures to get in touch with:

For the death penalty bill: House Justice Committee

Committee Office:

3/F RVM Building, House of Representatives, Quezon City
Telephone no. 9315001 local 7160
Telefax no. 9513027
Committee Secretary: Atty. Narcisa H. Guevarra

I’ve also looked up the voting history for the 2006 bill that abolished the death penalty. (HB04826 from the 13th Congress, if you want to search for it through Congress’ LEGIS records) This being the Philippines, many of the representatives who voted to abolish the death penalty are still in Congress – or have been succeeded by people who are presumably their relatives. Let’s hold them to their 2006 votes (or their relative’s vote) and ask them to oppose the death penalty once again.

For the Sin Tax Law reversal: House Ways and Means Committee

Committee Office:
Basement, Northwing Building, House of Representatives, Quezon City
Telephone no. 9315001 local 7643/7633
Telefax no. 9314955

Reminders and Tips

  1. Always be polite and respectful. I understand we’ve all got strong feelings about these bills – why else would we pour all this effort into opposing them? – but chances are we’ll be talking to a staff member or secretary. Let’s not take our emotions out on them.
  2. Be clear and concise. We want to let our representatives know our thoughts, yes, but more importantly: we want to tell them what votes/actions we think they can take to best represent us. Don’t muddle up communications. State what you’re contacting them for, briefly explain your reasons for reaching out, and then let them know what you’d like them to do.
  3. Don’t expect to get through on the first try. It might take a few calls to even get a chance to talk to someone, or you might not get an immediate response to your email/PM/letter. Keep trying. But once you do get through, don’t flood them. They’ve taken note of your message; now give other people a chance to get through, and maybe wait a day or two before you follow up.
  4. Consider coordinating with friends. Maybe get together for a few hours and email representatives or send messages to different senators. Set a day when everyone you know will call in. We’re not going to spam them, but having a succession of different people contacting them about an issue will leave an impression.
Representatives are not meant to lord over constituents or to impose detrimental policies on us. They’re there to be our voices and craft laws that will benefit our communities and our country. Reaching out is one way to remind them of that duty. Let’s go, friends!

Defining Dictatorship

Last Friday, November 18, the family of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos secreted his body into the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Heroes’ Cemetery) for a long-contested burial. The Philippine National Police and the country’s armed forces secured the area, and a chopper from the national air force flew the strongman’s body down from Ilocos to be interred among the nation’s most revered citizens.

Look, I’m not highlighting the government’s role in this to be petty.

No, I’m pointing it out to underscore how the converse can also be true: just as the participation of government assets helped the event take place, a hero’s burial for Marcos enables certain possibilities for the government, too.

Martial Law is the picture of authoritarianism for the Philippines, and certainly the country’s most recent and most visceral experience of authoritarian rule. The Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board, created specifically to address the abuses wrought during that era, will be processing over 75,000 cases well into 2017. The country itself has been paying off Marcos-incurred foreign debt since the dictator’s ousting, and will continue to do so until 2025. The Martial Law period is a weight we struggle under to this day, and its memory is the strongest cornerstone in any conceptual defenses the country has against the idea – and appeal – of dictatorship.

In that sense, enshrining Martial Law’s chief architect in our Heroes’ Cemetery is exactly the kind of blow that accelerates what seems to be the steady rhetorical erosion of those defenses. For a long while now, various members of the current administration have, in one way or another, presented an increasingly chilling picture of the kind of leadership that they deem necessary to, as they say, “save the country”: disregard for due process and basic rights, especially if “required” to secure the “greater good” (i.e., national stability and progress); awesome executive powers concentrated in one office; ruthless policies, often carried out by emboldened law enforcement and armed forces; unquestioned and unaccountable authority. In that light, the rehabilitation of Marcos’ legacy seems not only understandable but essential.

This sudden hero’s burial is the gravest instance thus far, but this is not the first time that President Duterte and his surrogates have attempted to reframe our understanding of leadership.

And so we arrive, again, at the Marcos burial. Intended or not, it can – perhaps it already does; who knows? – serve dual purposes: erase one of our key reasons for resisting authoritarian rule, yes, but retroactively create a precedent that affirms our current administration’s predilection for strongman rule, too.

Many of the President’s supporters spin the above statements as misquoted or misunderstood; as off-the-cuff pronouncements that shouldn’t be seen as indicators of policy or intent; or perhaps worst, as jokes. But the President himself hasn’t made a secret of his beliefs and methods, and he has a long and public record to belie the assertion that his recent pronouncements don’t hold any kernel of sincerity or truth.

As the Communications Secretary has said: “He already warned the electorate that if you vote for me, there will be bloodshed. …[He] was voted.” In other words, we knew what we were in for.

Besides, campaign promises aside, we have had enough time to see for ourselves. Even prior to assuming the presidency, before he had any 2016 election voters to supposedly woo with promises of swift and total “justice,” Mr. Duterte already defended the kind of governance that deemed shoot-to-kill orders as legal, proper, and moral. As far back as 2001, assassination and targeted killings have been Mr. Duterte’s answer to crime, an approach driven by the idea of “[serving] the greater good no matter what it takes”; unsurprisingly, the Human Rights Watch notes that his political rise “coincided…[with] city mayors [gaining]…greater operational control over their police forces.”

And so on, and so on.

So, pause. Go back. Take a look at those dates. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it is a far-ranging one. The fact is, for all of his apparent inconsistencies, his volatility and his habit of veering off-script, certain key aspects of the President’s statements and behavior have remained unchanged. Indeed, they have been taken up and amplified by many members of his administration, from Cabinet members like Andanar and Aguirre to his many allies in the Congressional supermajority. If these statements are all jokes, un-meant, of no consequence, then we should worry about how much time and vehemence our government has poured into repeating them. And if these aren’t jokes, then we should worry even more.

Either way, intended or not, all of these instances add up. Taken together, these pronouncements can redraw – have perhaps already started redrawing – the lines that delineate what actions and decisions we deem acceptable, even necessary, for the good of the country.

We can quibble about questions of intent and interpretation; it’s tempting to refrain from even mentioning any of these instances in the same sentence as “dictatorship.” Sure. Okay. Nobody wants to be the hysteric. But refusing to even consider these instances in aggregate and to think about what they might mean for the future of our country contributes, in its own way, to the same erosions of memory and resistance that these events are helping along.

By opting for the supposed objectivity of “wait and see,” or by dismissing these statements as jokes or hyperbole, we are not being charitable. Instead, we’re giving a pass to these words and actions – as well as to the particular brands of history, values, and outlook that come with them. Too “trivial” to be engaged with, too frivolous (or alternatively, too important to national welfare) for critique, let alone alarm. In short, we’re letting potential seeds of dictatorship live.

The motto of dictatorship, as authoritarianism scholar Sarah Kendzior notes, is: “It can’t happen here.” But it has happened. Dismissing the possibility of it happening again only makes us blind to recent rhetorical trends that could easily be transformed into the conceptual foundations of a new regime. When we file our own dark history as unthinkable – or worse yet, as desirable – then we unmoor our present from the hard-won anchors that can keep us from being swept away. By forgetting, by agreeing again and again to let things go, we diminish our capacity and willingness to resist.