In a sense, every writer's concern is ultimately with truth. Certainly the essay- 
     ist is directly concerned, in defining and ordering ideas, to say what is true
     and, somehow, to say it "new." [He] must be aware that there is available, in 
     addition to logical analysis and proof, rules of evidence, and the other means
     to effective exposition, the whole memory and record of the past experience of 
     the race . . . And in them, too, is a valuable lesson in the way a significantly
     large body of experience -- direct, in a person's day-to-day encounters; indi- 
     rect, in the study of all forms of history -- can be observed, conceptualized, 
     and then expressed in an economy of language brief in form, comprehensive
     in meaning, and satisfyingly true.

     In November 1972, on a slow and fragile barter boat to Sabah from the sleepy
seaside town of Bongao in the southernmost Philippine province of Tawi-Tawi, I asked a new-found friend and benefactor if he was Filipino. "No," he replied. I'm Tausúg." But of course Madyasin Alpha was mistaken --- dreadfully mistaken.

     
During the 330-odd years that our country was ruled by Spain the Tausúg, Ma- guindanao, Maranao, and their ten other brethren tribes in southern Philippines --- unlike most of the rest of our forebears --- never surrendered their Muslim faith. Never truly conquered and never converted, they have every reason to be proud of their heritage, which includes resisting the Americans, who governed the archi- pelago for close to half a century until 1946, when we achieved self-rule. Neither did they bow completely to the decolonized, independent Republic that followed. Still, whether they liked it or not, they were Filipinos. They were citizens of the Philippines.

      
My question was rhetorical and my curiosity intellectual, but what began as an innocuous conversation soon became an intensely emotional exchange, especially when my friend ardently advocated his region's secession from the Philippines, predicting the ugly rebellion that over the years was to drive 160,000 to Malay- sia, create a million internal refugees, and claim as many as 120,000 lives.  At the end of our dialogue, which left me frustrated and fatigued, there was no question
in my mind that his views were unacceptably separatist. For his part, judging from his countenance, he must have thought --- given that the Philippines is overwhelm- ingly Christian --- that I was the self-appointed spokesman for the tyrannical majority.

     Later that night, when we reached the port of Semporna, I suddenly realized 
the utter foolhardiness of what I had done. I had --- unintentionally, to be sure --- 
inflamed the passions of the man into whose hands I had entrusted my safety, the very man who had just made good on his promise to help me flee the fledgling Marcos dictatorship, installed six weeks earlier. I shuddered at the thought that 
he and his brawny men could have thrown me to the sharks without batting an eyelash --- not an entirely uncommon fate at that particular time for Christians in these parts. But the suspicion was both momentary and unkind: that would have been uncharacteristic of him. From the moment I met Madyasin on the boat I had taken from Zamboanga to Jolo days earlier, he struck me as an extraordinarily learned, articulate, and principled man, which is why I solicited his assistance in the first place. He had earned my trust, and I knew at once, awash in private shame, that it was cruel for me to have doubted it. The lesson was bitter-sweet.

     When he first gave me his word, he knew full well --- because I had forewarned him --- that I was a fugitive, having been among the first in my province of Negros Oriental to be arrested and detained the day democracy died. Now I knew that his oath was true. He had delivered on his pledge to take me to safety at great perso- nal risk. But it distressed me no end to realize that he had chosen to help me sole- ly because his arch-enemy --- the new political order --- was mine as well. Beyond that, or so it seemed to me, we shared no common bond. Nothing, that is, except that we both belonged to the same Republic, the same nation, "one and indivisi- ble." We parted well, wishing each other long and worthwhile lives, but whether he
liked it or not, he was a countryman of mine. Misguided, perhaps, but a country-
man nevertheless, and that was the end of the story. But it wasn't, at least for me. 

     My Muslim friend's words and demeanor were to haunt me for years on end, 
if only because of the untold numbers for whom he may have been a voice. For years to come, I could not bring myself to understand why he refused to call him- self a Filipino. Most of the Muslims I came to know in college did prefer to be called "Muslim," but only when, in context, "Filipino" meant "Christian." I took this to mean that they didn't mind being called "Muslim Filipinos," much as in the U.S. our expatriate community is comprised of Filipino Americans. 

     My disquiet transcended the question of labels. For one thing, I deemed his views incongruous, uttered as they were at the precise time when participatory democracy had finally began to find full flower in the Philippines --- one of the rea- sons, I was certain, that Marcos had imposed martial law. Never before had the people and the youth of the land thought, felt, and acted as one. Never before had the clamor for change and reform been louder. But to Marcos, nearing the end of two four-year presidential terms and finding himself at odds with the very same elite that had helped empower him, change was the last thing on his mind. For an- other, I just could not comprehend how my Tausúg benefactor --- this unusually perceptive man --- could hold so fervently to a sense of detachment and separate- ness as to believe in the break-up of our Republic, a country that had just begun
to come together, a society that was certain to survive this long, dark night.

     I would not have chosen to resist the new order had I not blindly believed that tyrants come and go, but societies endure, that the Filipino people would outlast authoritarianism and emerge from this harsh ordeal stronger, cleansed, and more unified. I understood that Madyasin and I had marked cultural and religious dif- ferences. I respected that, and so did he. I felt nothing but undiluted esteem for 
the tenacity with which Muslims had defended their territory, cultures, and faith, and he knew that as well. What I couldn't make sense of, on his part, was either a naďve inability or an insolent unwillingness to transcend those differences in favor of our common national identity, our mutual destiny. But it wasn't going to be that easy for me, because I knew in my heart that Madyasin was neither naďve nor in-solent. All I was absolutely certain of was detecting a certain self-assuredness ---
nothing like pompous pride, nothing false or fraudulent, but rather an innocent confidence, an almost childlike conceit --- each time he called himself a Tausúg, telling me each time, between his words, that he knew who he was and what he believed in, and that for all his civility he didn't really give a damn whether I, or 
the world for that matter, agreed with him or not. 

     Two years later, in an entirely different world, in another hemisphere, my dia- logue with Madyasin was uncannily replicated. I was with a dear friend and town- mate of mine, Ali Laspińas, when we ran into an acquaintance of his in Chicago, Illinois. The exchange:

     "David, I'd like you to meet John Whitefeather," Ali said.

     "Pleased to meet you, John," I said. 

     "Same here, cousin," he replied, shaking my hand vigorously. "You know that my forefathers came from Asia."

     "Yes," I said. "This is a moment I'll always remember."

     "And why is that?"

    
 "You're the very first Indian I've actually met. Before today, you know --- comic books and the movies."

     "No, you haven't met an Indian," he said. "You want to meet one? Go to India."

     I didn't know what to say. He didn't appear offended, and Ali said nothing, looking as dumb-struck as I must have. All I could do was feel stiff and awkward. Happily, John resumed speaking.

     "Nothing personal," he said, "but I'm Navajo --- 
'Dine,' to be exact. We al- ready had a name before Columbus came to our land. We didn't need a name then --- we already had one. We still do."

     Déjŕ vu. I could feel electricity running up and down my spine, the hair on the
nape of my neck upright, like sentinels alerted by sudden enemy fire. I was on a 
kumpit once again, addressed once more by a man so dead certain of his sense of 
self, not knowing whether to respond with indifference or resentment, feigned or 
real. It took me awkward moments before I recognized what I really felt: naked admiration. If I harbored any hopes of ultimately relegating my Tausúg friend's words and demeanor to the outer fringes of my memory, my new Navajo acquain- tance dashed them. Now I had to contend with two ghosts.
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Epiphany

Epiphany  

Chapter I
[T]here is the odd and persistent fact that
 it is only after a faithful  journey to a
 distant region, a foreign country, a
 strange  land, that the meaning
 of the inner voice that is to
 guide our quest can
be revealed to us.
 
X---
 Heinrich Zimmer   
At the beginning of [Francis] Bacon's essay "Of Truth," jesting Pilate asks, 'What is truth?" and does not stay
for an answer. Perhaps Pilate asked in jest because he thought the question foolish; perhaps he thought the answer impossible. Something of Pilate's skepticism is
in most of us, but something too of a belief that there is truth, even if -- as the history of philosophy teaches us -- determining its nature may be enormously difficult. We readily assume some things to be true even if we hesitate to say what ultimately is Truth.
With Ali in Chicago
Referendum: FAQs
RP: Terrible Truths
Targeting the May 2004 Referendum:
Targeting the May 2004 Referendum:
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