My friend, Red Tani, founder of Filipino Freethinkers (FF), recently came out with the article “The Ones Who Walk Away From Davao.” The title is a reference to an award-winning short story by Ursula Le Guin, “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.”
The story talks about the utopian city of Omelas where everything is perfect. Everything you could ever hope to find in a city is there. The only catch is that in order for the city to maintain its peace and prosperity, there is a child in a small windowless room who is endlessly tortured — and everyone in Omelas is aware of this. In fact, they can go and see the child for themselves. Some who see the child go home angry at first but soon come to accept that this is the way things are, but there are others who see the child, and instead of going home choose to walk away from the city of Omelas.
And then of course, the reference is now made to Davao, to Duterte supporters, and their complicity in the alleged extrajudicial killings of the Davao Death Squad (DDS). When I showed the article to my other friend, Nick Solana (who is part of the staff of the late Davao City councilor Leo Avila), he pointed out a few things:
- Red writes, “Human Rights Watch has investigated a number of cases where the victims were unintended targets” — targets of what and by whom? Is one merely to assume that victims of gun-toting men in motorcycles are DDS victims? Is this not a case of confirmation-bias?
- Is there any evidence to establish that the DDS is what Red implies it to be — an LGU-sponsored death squad?
- The statement, “So the 16 definitely innocent victims and the 363 potentially innocent victims up to 2008 should be enough to make the Omelas analogy fair,” is not fair at all. To echo the questions in (1) — they are potentially innocent victims of what and by whom? Unless this is firmly established, Red seems to be the one being unfair, not only to a single person who also has rights, but to an entire people as well. If the evidence is so damning, why has there not been a proper case made and filed in court by all these groups or by any “concerned” individual?
As a former teacher of English literature, I appreciate the story very much for the way it makes one reflect and think. But as I learned from my own teacher, Dr. Edna Zapanta-Manlapaz, many years ago, it is possible for excellent literature to carry a multiplicity of meanings which contribute to its depth and richness.
On the one hand, it seems that the story’s main point is that those who walk away from Omelas are better or morally superior to those who don’t. But what if that is not the point at all? One disturbing question I have after reading the story is, why did these people walk away? Why did they not do something about the tortured child? Why did they not come together and organize a rescue operation? By simply walking away, are they not as guilty or as complicit as those who have accepted the reality of the situation?
For those who like to talk about justice to the victims, for example, what have you actually done about it aside from talking? Why not get organized and file a proper case? Or do you feel that because you have vented your side and complained about its injustice, that you have done your part and are now absolved from guilt? Haven’t you just walked away and ignored the poor child’s cry as much as the accepting citizens of Omelas are ignoring it?
And what is Omelas? Red uses it as a metaphor for Davao. But Omelas can mean other things as well. It can, for example, be symbolic of the status quo, with those who want to preserve it being the accepting citizens of Omelas, blind and deaf to the suffering of the rest of the nation because they are minimally affected or are enjoying its supposed benefits.
It is easy to want to paint things black and white. We either stay or walk away. That makes it easier for us to rationalize and justify our choices: e.g. Don’t vote for Duterte – he’s a killer! Don’t vote for Binay – he’s a thief! Don’t vote for Mar – he’s incompetent! Don’t vote for Grace – she’s a liar! Don’t vote for Miriam – she’s sick!
But that is so two-dimensional. In reality, our choices are affected by much more than that. There are multiple facets of reasoning involved. And it is a matter of weighing one over the other, deciding which pros to go for and which cons you can live with.
All of our present candidates have their own grave sins. Pick your poison. Should I then choose none at all? That, for me, is tantamount to walking away from the situation without really doing anything about it. Besides, I have walked away from the elections for more than a decade and have not voted since the time Erap ran and won as president.
This time though, I have decided to come back and do something about it. I have decided to go with a candidate whom I know and have experienced as having the people’s best interest at heart and proof of that is the improvements I and many others have seen and experienced in my own city. I believe in his sincerity to reform the systematic flaws in the presidential system and shift to a federal/parliamentary style of governance. I trust in him not to pocket government funds, as evidenced by the simplicity of his lifestyle and assets. Yes, he says crazy things (and many of his followers do as well), but I am for a person whose actions speak louder than words, rather than one who can spout flowery words while delivering little or no results at all (or disastrous ones).
Walking away does not solve anything nor does it absolve you of your responsibility. So no, let us not walk away from Omelas or Davao or the Philippines for that matter, despite its many flaws, ugliness and imperfections. The election is only for a day and the president is only one person. There is only so much he or she can do.
Let us stay, work together, and build a better nation.
Originally published in Sunstar Davao (although for some reason, they truncated it and left out the last few paragraphs).