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On November 23 2009, 57 Filipinos—journalists, lawyers, and civilians—were murdered in broad daylight on a dirt road checkpoint in a town called Ampatuan, in Maguindanao, Mindanao. Their convoy was on its way to the local elections office to file Esmael Mangudadatu’s certificate of candidacy for the governor’s seat when it was intercepted by a hundred-odd armed men, an assemblage—as witnesses attest—of local militia and police officers, among them Andal Ampatuan, Jr., mayor of the neighboring town and Mangudadatu’s political rival.

Among the dead were Mangudadatu’s two sisters, his aunt, and his wife. Among them were two lawyers and 30 journalists. It was the most number of journalists killed in any one place in any one day in all recorded history. The bloodbath single-handedly catapulted the Philippines to the top of the list of countries most dangerous for journalists. The killers were armed with rifles and machine guns and pistols and bullets issued by the Armed Forces of the Philippines under Executive Order 546, a law that legalises private militias in Mindanao to theoretically aid the Philippine military in subduing local Muslim rebel forces.

The initial details that surfaced about the Maguindanao Massacre—the shots at close range, the rapes, the mutilations, the mass graves prepared in advance, the infamous backhoe with the name “Ampatuan” emblazoned on its side—were so gruesome that many of us immediately hit the limit of our otherwise unhealthily negotiable tolerance for impunity. The outrage was further fuelled by the President’s resistance to take action against one of her most useful allies.

And yet, these are all—as in the parlance of our times—already old news.

If there is anything the last decade has taught us, it is this: outrage has a shelf life. It falls through the cracks as the headlines shift; it diminishes in fervor as the occasions for it—scams and scandals, corruptions and crimes—multiply; it perishes amid the insular preoccupations of daily life. Left unstudied and untransformed, it disappears, absorbed by the default of passivity, and what was once unbearable is no longer so, but without any fruitful catharsis, call to action, or change.

This is the first of four installments of High Chair 12, a special issue devoted to the Maguindanao Massacre. This issue is an attempt to do away with the routine disposability of outrage and to review and imagine, in light of the Maguindanao Massacre, the relevance of art. The following questions were raised in the initial call for submissions: What did you feel upon hearing about the Maguindanao Massacre? How could poetry be written/art be made so that it has value to the event?

Mabi David

“And the burden of speaking has come upon us: a generation that did not directly experience the horror, whose knowledge of history is, at best, partial and mediated, and whose parents only vaguely remember living inaudibly throughout the period. If the succeeding generations were to take on the task of remembrance seriously, and we should, the next questions to me were: from where do we speak of a past shrouded in silence but which suddenly mattered and became personal to someone who was not there, and how?”

Elmo Gonzaga

“My first reaction was mute disbelief that such actions could be performed on human beings by other human beings.”

Mesándel Virtusio Arguelles

“Pag-ako ng responsabilidad ng pagsasatula ang pagtugon sa anumang suliraning ibig tugunan ng/sa tula sapagkat sa ganitong paraan maaaring maging mabunga ang anumang maitutugon, maaaring magkahalaga lalo na sa pangyayaring kay hirap basta-basta pangalanan.”

Ang Abot-Kamay na Pagitan ng Maguindanao at Mendiola
Richard Bolisay

“Ang sining na mabubuo mula sa galit, muhi, at poot ay inaasahang higit na magiging malakas—aalingawngaw sa bawat sulok ng hustisya at ipaaabot upang mapukaw ang mga nagtataingang-kawali—kumpara sa sining na mabubuo mula sa lungkot at pighati.”

Marc Gaba

“I felt nothing and dread, a dread that is empathy returned and transformed by my imagination of its object, and a ‘nothing’ that is not indifference but an outcome of a fatigued disagreement with Philippine journalism…”

Ilang Sandali Lamang
Oliver Ortega

“Ipinapalagay ko na may estratehikong sandali ang pagsasalita, na may estratehikong sandali ang pagtula, ang sandali ng tula kung kailan epektibo nitong nakukuha hindi lamang ang panandaliang atensyon ng mambabasa, kundi ang kanyang maraming sandali sa bawat pagkakataon ng pagbabasa.”

Kung Bakit Iisa ang Kahulugan ng Umano at Diumano
Allan Popa

“Tila nasabi na ang lahat ngunit nananatili ang maraming puwang na maaaring pagsikapang guni-gunihin hindi para mapunan kundi para mapanatiling ilahas sa ating mga pagtitiyak at katiyakan. Para humulagpos sa paglalagom. Para mapanatiling buhay ang pagpapakahulugan sa pangyayaring inakala nating alam na alam na natin. Para mapanatili sa kasalukuyan.”

Call for submissions for the second installment of High Chair 12

How could poetry be written/art be made so that it has value to the Maguindanao Massacre?

Or, if art is an inadequate response—offering no sufficient answers, effecting no significant change, if not trivializing horror in the service of aesthetic exercise—is no response the only generous response? Should art even be asked for a reply?

We are inviting poets and artists everywhere to submit responses to these questions and/or the responses published in the first installment. We are interested in poems (whether old or new, unpublished or previously published) that offer ways of thinking about terror, horror, and other pertinent ideas/terms. We are interested in essays and reviews that examine the role and state of Philippine poetry and art in the context of the Maguindanao Massacre.

We recognize the need to engage with the Maguindanao Massacre and to ensure, through an ongoing discussion, that the event remains current and urgent. Thus, High Chair 12 is a work in progress, with content uploaded by installment, from mid-December to mid-February. The deadlines for submission for possible inclusion in the next three installments of High Chair 12 are December 31, 2009, January 15, 2010, and January 30, 2010.

We welcome submissions in Filipino and English. Please send no more than five pages of poetry. There is no page limit for essay contributions. Email your submissions or queries to highchair@gmail.com (subject heading: High Chair Issue 12).

Feel free to circulate this call for submissions to other interested parties. Thank you.

Conchitina Cruz and Adam David (Issue Editors)

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