Field Notes N13

Even as I try to settle for 13 days in this research area I have christened BSL, I try to relearn things I have forgotten on ethnography.

Or, I try to remember what I have done before. 

Or, better yet, I try to go beyond what this ethnography requires by insisting on another way of doing things.

I think of the many dos and don’ts—or some of the blunders I have done while teaching a methods course at the state university where I spent some years of idealism that peaked in taking part in rallies and demonstrations.

That activism led to taking part, in a small way, in the People Power Revolution 2 itself.

From the Jericho march and from all the marches, this work of being-with-the-people culminated in another popular revolution that in the end would be wasted--and wasted without any remorse at all, by the same oligarchs led by the president who benefitted from the struggles of the many people. 

One of the no-nos of fieldwork is to never take part in the complicated and sometimes ugly life’s drama of the people in the community where you live.

In some sort of way, empirical and objective science—whatever this means—is telling you: get your data without involving your heart and soul.

Stay outside.

Do not get in. 

Keep your distance, be objective, stay relaxed, be scientific, and do not get engaged with the mundane.  

I thought that this was cool in the beginning.

Imagine yourself being given the title of 'a social scientist'!

But I was more interested in other things other than the social scientist title. 

I began bringing my students to the field, one in a militarized farming village somewhere in Nasugbu, and another in a resettlement area of the Aeta people somewhere in Palayan City.

In these experiences, I realized a field worker could not stay immune—unaffected—by what is happening in the field.

In that place in Nasugbu, I practically begged for the life of my students who were detained by the paramilitary force of that remote barrio whose claim to peace and calm was the peaceful and calm sea.

The paramilitary people told me that they detained my students because they were going around asking questions, and they had too many questions.  

I had some foreigners in that methods class, and I thought: this is it!

Between life and death—and their long-barreled arms were displayed like trophies, clipped life gold bullions on their bodies—I chose life.

I cried for my students.

I promised the idiots that I would bring my students back to Manila right away, and to discontinue the fieldwork.

Our mistake was we hired a couple of jeepneys from Nasugbu and the jeepneys displayed the red flag of a farmers group fighting for land reform as soon as we hit the contested barrio, initially a hacienda but was now going to be turned into a playground of the rich. 

Beyond the fields, to the right, is the sea that beckoned, whispering to us, among others, that there is life in the cold and emerald waters rippling relentlessly in that afternoon of the tragic.

The sun was up there still, watching and watching in silence what was happening on the ground. 

I did all what was necessary before embarking on this field research.

I asked permission from the community leaders and I identified some homes who would be willing to take in the students, two in one home, in a buddy system.

And I prepared the students well.

I instructed what to do, how to relate with the community, how to gather their data, how to interpret their data.

I still remember myself saying, in between fear and tear: “I beg of you, release my students. I give you my name and honor in exchange. Release them, release them and we go back to Manila right away.”

There were moments of hesitation.

There were these occasions for the brandishing of the long-barreled weapons that represented the logic of the patriarch, the logic of rule, the logic of capital, and the logic of iniquity.

Here is a community sundered by two motives, the first, the motive of farmers to have their own land, and the second, the motive of the purported new owner to convert these productive farm lands into a resort of the best kind for the tourists.

This place would become a haven of dollars and euro and all other currencies one could think of--and the farmers would become caddies. 

Yonder, in those calm waters of the sea, is an island jutting out of the ripples and waves, insular as insular can be, standing still, and the exhibit of calm and solitude and quiet.

People say a top politician owns the island. The politician married a broadcaster who became, years after, a politician herself.

After the struggle of wits and will, they released my students.

I immediately instructed them to get their things from their respective hosts, and soon after, we were hieing off to the land beyond, the terra firma of our redemption.

At the BSL was a déjà vu: next door is a young woman with three children. She was dying of cancer. She gets past my temporary home, and I saw death.

Some two years before, I have witnessed my mother’s passing, and a sister’s succumbing to cancer.

That lady has cancer, stage 4, and she is fighting it out by going to the mananambal, the indigenous healer who is giving her some form of hope.

BSL, Las Islas Filipinas, Jun 24, 2013

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