It was both our first time
at the Jackman Humanities Building,
surprised it was so close
to the St. George Station, a familiar area.
There was a small crowd
outside the room and an unofficial line.
When it was time,
I dragged my sister to the front row
the place was packed shortly,
extra chairs were set, people were standing at the back.
Finally a Filipino guest at Munk School,
a rare occasion
where the lecture hall violates the fire code.
The invitation showed an angle of a man,
bare foot, with handcuffs,
the Duterte baller distinct.
The words Trauma and Witnessing in the title
promises it will be more nuanced
than mere irony.
He talks about testimonies
while the pieta-like scene unfolded
only to breakdown when his picture
was picked up by Western media.
The regime disputed it to be staged
which in a sense
killed off local debate. Colleagues later developed a code
that they had to do more
with orphans and widows,
let’s limit the drama
resist documenting doom
in slum communities, or refuse to tag along
with the police all together.
They started taking dignified portraits
of stoic faces
and wakes without mourners.
The logical action
would haven been legal aid
but charges are seldom filed
since cops are hitmen on the side.
They ended up helping families relocate,
to be out of sight
seems like a sensible compromise.
The floor was opened
for questions and comments.
Among those mentioned, are affinities
with hanging bodies in Mexico,
the experience of the Napalm Girl
(many forgot she actually settled in Canada),
or clips of beheadings in the Iraq.
These are all narratives, the projector was off
everyone knew what everyone was talking about.
A genealogy of ambivalence
and distance. The flow was disrupted by a woman
who accused the speaker
doesn’t have sympathy
for his subjects. Of course I do, he was quick to reply,
I even received heat while on the field.
But when unpacking
the consumption of images,
the composition of remembrance,
I don’t need to be.
Silence. He has extra slides
prepared for now what moments.
A testimony of a mother
about her dreams
of her son not fleeing,
but being able to fight back.
A counterweight to the spectacle of death.
Everyone clapped, exhausted.
While having my books autographed
I asked about how the cases
filed in the International Criminal Court
could have been a good lead
for those interested to pursue the topic.
Yes, he said, but mass organizations
have been outflanked.
I don’t think it wasn’t worth mentioning.
I said thank you
and politely declined to join
the reception in the lobby.
My sister was quiet the whole time,
walking along Bloor, she suggested we should
have introduced ourselves
to the skeptical woman.
I said, she was probably the first to leave.
This is the last time, she answered,
you pick the event we miss work for.
Eric Abalajon (he/him) is currently a lecturer at the University of the Philippines Visayas, Iloilo. Some of his works have appeared in Revolt Magazine, Loch Raven Review, Ani, and Katitikan. Under the pen name Jacob Laneria, his zine of short fiction, Mga Migranteng Sandali, is distributed by Kasingkasing Press. He lives near Iloilo City. @jacob_laneria (Instagram), @JLaneria (twitter)