Malilong: Night of the Needles

·2 min read

I went to college in an era when everyone who fancied himself to be an orator worshipped Raul Manglapus. Many were the times when I stood in front of the mirror reciting by heart his “Land of Bondage, Land of the Free” with abundant passion.

The last lines were particularly stirring: “If you will not grant me this last request, this ultimate demand, then build a wall around your home. Build it high and build it strong! Place a sentry on every parapet! For I who have been silent these three hundred years will come in the night when you are feasting, with my cry and my bolo at your door. And may God have mercy on your soul.”

It is said that no less than President Manuel L. Quezon attended the contest just to listen to Manglapus, who had already earned a reputation for his eloquence, deliver his winning piece, and was impressed by the young man’s promise.

Manglapus eventually became a senator of the Republic. He ran for President and lost, but his legend lives on, at least among the members of my generation.

President Duterte does not have Manglapus’ oratory. He is a bulldozer to Manglapus’ Corvette. But even his fiercest critics should admit that his language, even if oftentimes condemned by them as coarse, is more colorful than the former senator’s and definitely more entertaining. And we’re not yet even discussing impact.

Let’s talk about a mutual subject for better comparison: sleeping or more accurately what would happen while you are sleeping if you do not give them what they wanted. Manglapus said he would be at the door with his cry and bolo in his hand so God have mercy on your soul. There is raw emotion, the rough edges wrapped in poetry.

Duterte has no space for metaphors or subtlety. Obviously exasperated by the continued refusal of many to get themselves vaccinated, the President said matter-of-factly, “let’s enter their houses and vaccinate them while asleep so the story’s complete.”

Manglapus’ oratory is impressive but between his bolo and Duterte’s needle what carried more, if comic, effect? Which message better resonated with people other than the members of a band of frustrated oratorical wannabes?

The funny, for want of a better description, thing is that the social revolution—the eruption of the social volcano—that Manglapus boldly predicted decades ago is/has been already happening. I hope it will not take that long for us to see the night of the needles. Make it happen, Mr. President.

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