WAGES

Esquire (Philippines) - - NOTES & ESSAYS - MIRO CAPILI

Priv­i­lege is be­ing able to look away. Look­ing away was drown­ing in the minu­tiae of the task, the day-to-day claus­tro­pho­bia of desk re­search, the lit­tle wins of read­ing my name in foot­notes of pub­li­ca­tions, all while es­cap­ing what the num­bers in those re­ports meant for peo­ple like you. ARMAN, We met two years ago when I was a re­porter do­ing sto­ries on eco­nom­ics. It was 10 p.m. on a Tues­day. Through the side mir­ror I watched your shadow emerge from the street lead­ing into a labyrinth of shanties. You worked 13 hours at the fac­tory that day. Your eyes were blood­shot and wouldn’t meet mine. You kept them on your hands the en­tire time, rub­bing them to­gether. The story: find a face for in­for­mal work­ers to “hu­man­ize” a study that found 80 per­cent of Filipino work­ers had no for­mal con­tracts. That face was yours, Arman, who’d never seen or held a con­tract and worked twelve hours a day, six days a week, for 222 pe­sos a day. Over­time was paid at your em­ployer’s whim. My body went cold. “Pero hindi man lang ‘yun abot sa min­i­mum wage.” You shrugged and continued to stare at your hands. To the larger state reg­istry that safe­guards em­ploy­ment and in­come and pro­vides the bare min­i­mum of so­cial safety nets, you had no name, no face, no body to pro­tect, only two hands that could be bought for 222 pe­sos a day.

I was a fresh­man in col­lege when the Am­pat­u­ans gunned down fifty­seven in­no­cents, at least five of whom were raped be­fore be­ing shot in their gen­i­tals. When we speak of vi­o­lence, a mise-en-scène promptly sketches it­self: a pud­dle of blood seep­ing from a bro­ken skull, faces smashed in, stray toes with nails pulled off, eye­balls popped from their sock­ets. In other words, de­sa­pare­ci­dos un­der the Mar­cos dic­ta­tor­ship, the “war on drugs,” the Maguin­danao mas­sacre.

Yet what un­nerved me most about pho­tos from the mass graves in Am­pat­uan town was not the blood but its margina­lia: be­hind dead bod­ies strewn across the field, an in­dex of plain things. The same back­hoe that broke earth for malls buried 57 peo­ple, some still in their cars. Ba­nana leaves were wrapped around bod­ies, barely; arms and an­kles stuck out. A field like so many oth­ers around it. Re­minders that the crime—the idea to carry it out—was of this world, on the same per­cep­tual plane as this back­hoe, these leaves. To say: vi­o­lence is here where you are, en­abled by the com­mon­place.

Af­ter nine months of telling my­self I could make a life in jour­nal­ism, I moved to the United Na­tions. I met some of­fice­mates in the pantry

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