Column: Becoming blind

Published today, April 4, 2017 — but in a different time zone, and in a different frame of mind.

I find the phenomenon of willful blindness in the Duterte era vexing, and would like to take a closer look. To begin: There are degrees of not seeing.

Some are born truly sightless, or qualify as legally blind. Different institutions would have different definitions for legal blindness, but I think the nontechnical phrasing used in Merriam-Webster comes close to a common basis: “having less than 1/10 of normal vision in the more efficient eye when refractive defects are fully corrected by lenses.” (That means that seriously visually impaired people who can see well enough to drive with the help of corrective lenses are not, in fact, legally blind—a common misconception.)

Some are blind because they are unable, or unwilling, to question what they see. This is the blindness confessed killer and Davao Death Squad “handler” Arturo Lascañas referred to when he spoke of “blind loyalty and obedience” to Mayor Duterte. He did not mean that he did not see what the DDS did; rather, he meant he did not question what the mayor asked him and others to do. Sometimes this kind of blindness requires an act of will: We choose not to question what we would otherwise wonder at, because we benefit from it, or it is too unsettling to dwell on, or we have come to see it as only normal.

There’s a third case: Some are blind because they are (to use dictionary phrasing again) “unable or unwilling to discern or judge” or “unable to notice or judge something.” This type is related to the second, and may also require the exercise of the will. I cannot help but think of the response of many senators to the revelations first by Edgar Matobato, a low-level civilian member of the DDS eventually “handled” or supervised by Lascañas, and then by the retired policeman himself. I think it is fair to say that these senators simply refused to entertain the notion that these killers were telling the truth—even though they were merely proving what President Duterte himself had said over the years. Why? They may have been unable or unwilling, or still unready, to judge the President as a killer,

***

I believe I see the Duterte phenomenon whole, but I realize I may myself be blind to certain aspects of it, too. I certainly see the good that it is capable of: peace with communist insurgents and with Moro separatists; a more reasonable approach to the environment, including responsible mining; a firm commitment to connecting Mindanao by rail. But I cannot be blind to the latest developments, which may be fairly described as the administration on self-destruct.

Unfortunately, when I read (some of) those who are pro-Duterte, I come away with a strong sense of what they are against, but not enough of what they are for. I really do want to be enlightened—but when a Duterte supporter rationalizes that the President’s unorthodox brand of politics is needed because 30 years of Edsa failed to create a just world, she provides us with an example of failing to see what is right in front of her eyes. Only a willfully blind person will fail to see that her rationalization is leading to the rehabilitation of the Marcoses, the very source of injustice.

***

These notions have filled my thoughts because the other day I lost my eyeglasses at the beach. A wave struck me with such force my glasses were swept away.

As the water receded, I realized I couldn’t see anymore.

I could, to borrow the words of Richard Wilbur’s famous poem, still see “the world’s hunks and colors.” But suffering from both myopia and astigmatism, I couldn’t see anything distinctly. My son had to lead me back to the house we were staying in; without him, I would have been truly lost. Back at the house I was able to put on my reading glasses—useful for the wandering mind, but inadequate for navigating the world.

The disorienting experience made me think about degrees of blindness, including my own.

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Filed under Newsstand: Column, Readings in Media, Readings in Politics

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