Ronald. Allan. Kelley. Poe.
Like four children crammed into one marble tomb, she thought. As she touched the inscription on her father’s grave, a quick rustling of equipment, then a dozen LED lights from behind lighting her fingertips.
“Madame President, we have to go,” whispered Alessa, one of her many alarmingly youthful Comms people, fresh out of Ateneo, who always seemed to shoot sterile rays of hope from her tight little pores.
She stood up and let her throng of barongs scuttle her off to the cemetery gates. She had a meeting with Wali Ayoub about getting firearms back into the MILF’s hands. Rumors roiled about Chinese attacks on different parts of the archipelago after she called Premier Kiang an “oppressor” at the Hague.
Sometimes, she wished her entourage could physically surround her at these meetings too, not so much to block out her foes but to avoid looking at her own Cabinet folk, their facial expressions gorged with advice, the “yes” swimming in their eyes, the “no” flaked and crackling on their lips.
The mass of protesters outside had grown. Last week they said she was pussyfooting China; this week she was the Moro’s whore. She saw more protesters clambering out from the brand-new subway exit and felt a spasm of pride. She turned away from the SUVs and towards the underground, and the barongs silently followed suit.
“We’re taking the fucking train again,” she overheard Alessa tell someone on the phone. “Oh God, I don’t know. For symbolism.”
President Duterte spearheads significant constitutional amendments, and moves the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the Philippine government to Panay Island. This move to the geographic middle of the country helps jumpstart the further political, economic, technological, and cultural development of the Visayas and Mindanao islands. The President’s new palace in Aklan is named Laguinbanwa, and it enforces as primary law of the land what it calls the Duterte Deal: do not bully, do not steal, do not kill.
Security and law enforcement generally fall under federal jurisdiction, but citizens are encouraged to directly report to Laguinbanwa any and all perceived crimes, from high-stakes corruption to simple theft. It is said that President Duterte drives a random cab under the national regulation of 30 kph in a random city in a random sakup—the new term for the country’s four states—to get the lay of the land from the perspective of the citizens. He talks to his random passengers, asks questions, reminds them of the Duterte Deal. It is said that passengers unknowingly report on their neighbors, their co-workers, their classmates. It is said that some people disappear. The President encourages the dissemination of this story; it keeps people honest.
I was surprised to learn that Lord Jejomar did not, in fact, reside within the First and Honorable Estate FKA (formerly known as) Makati, but rather in a nearby outcrop of faux-provincial land called New Valley. “We come here to relax, and we thought the name ‘Nuvali’ was too proud,” said VP Nancy Binay as she walked me through the third Iron Gate, flanked by young male members of the gentry. If I squinted at their uniforms, I could see the modified insignia of the Boy Scouts of the Philippines. VP Nancy sat me down in a manicured garden, possibly one of the last green spaces in the country. “We’re a simple family, you see,” she said, as she climbed onto a palanquin and was carried away on the shoulders of repentant bloggers. As I waited for the Lord, my phone beeped with dispatches from the outer regions: the class war in Parañaque had come to a head as insurgent forces seized it in an attempt to break into FKA Makati, Quezon City was now the property of the newest rich—all barons of construction companies—and the provinces had gone dark long ago, with Davao being the last to fall. The Binay clan had been dividing up the capital to drain it in the name of innovation, finally barring themselves within the fully-airconditioned FKA Makati. Nancy returned. “I hope you get the position,” she said, “his previous Self-Esteem Coach has just been removed to serve time in Tondo.” Before I ascended the staircase of kneeling human beings, she gave me one last bit of advice: “Call him by his first name, okay? It’s Jesus.”
It was the year of blandness and boredom. Manang Biday, the town’s best fish vendor, is irritated. The President came again this morning. He was checking on the price of her tilapia and making sure it was properly iced before the whole caboodle of it found its way to the market baskets of the masang people. “How much are you selling your tilapia?” the President asked again and again, while the press cameras around them flashed like a thousand dying suns. He was being perfectly masa, making sure his best angle was on full emphasis. Borrowed instinct from a television wife. “P200 ang kilo, po,” Manang Biday said quietly. “How much? How much?” “P200 per kilo, po.” “The tilapia is masa!” the President boomed. Later, the President also wanted to show off that he could direct traffic like a pro, and demonstrated as much—everything social media’d to perfection. Meanwhile in the new Negros Island Region, the two provinces suddenly yoked to each other prepared to go to war over which capital should rise above all. Bacolod? Dumaguete? But the President was too busy being hands-on with other things. He was checking the water meters of houses along the road to Malacañan, in tsinelas, for an Instagram photoshoot. Manang Biday sells only half her tilapia today. She tells Manang Nonon beside her: “Maybe I’ll try to find another stall tomorrow.” But Manang Nonon tells her half-heartedly: “There’s no such thing as another stall. It’s always the same smelly stall.” Manang Biday is bored.