The Long View : Fashion police

Fashion police

First posted 12:11:43 (Mla time) March 20, 2006
Manuel L. Quezon III


MR. POLICEMAN STOPPED SOME PEOPLE ON the sidewalk, as they exited a restaurant and prepared to cross the street to the Baywalk. Mr. Policeman had been watching the people for some time. He had with him many other policemen-at least one policeman, if not two, for every person in black in the group who had caught his fancy. Mr. Policeman said that crossing the street was out of the question. But why?

“We received an intelligence report,” Mr. Policeman said.

Naturally someone asked, “What did it say?”

Mr. Policeman ignored the question. Instead, he said to the people in black, “We know what you intend to do.”

Naturally, they asked, “And what is that?”

Mr. Policeman sidestepped the question and said, “We know you are up to no good. Look at your shirts.”

Some of the shirts said, “Patalsikin na. Now na.” Too cutesy for comfort for many in the somos crowd, but this wasn’t a gathering of the somos. One of those wearing a T-shirt that offended Mr. Policeman asked, “And it is illegal to wear what we want?”

Mr. Policeman ignored the question. He growled, “We want to preserve the peace and the tranquility of the people.” Mr. Policeman had to say it rather loudly, because Hizzoner the Mayor was sponsoring a concert, and in preparation for it, music was blaring in what could only be described as an untranquil manner. But that was music, city-sponsored, too; and didn’t require the mind-destabilizing effort of reading an 8″ x 8″ logo on a black T-shirt after sunset.

The people in black were rather taken aback by Mr. Policeman’s insistence that his mind-reading activities had revealed not only what was on their minds-never mind what was inside their chests-but also what was going to happen in the future. Of course, everyone knew what the future had in store-which was 30 people or fewer crossing Roxas Boulevard on a pedestrian lane for a stroll along Baywalk and for a few-minutes’ thumbs-down gesture; then possibly helping the local economy by eating barbecue or fishballs-not to mention catching “V for Vendetta” later that evening.

Apparently, some of the police, safely behind Mr. Policeman’s back, agreed with those in black. Quite a few nodded with every question asked by those in black.

But Mr. Policeman was not to let the future be. When the people in black decided they might as well cross the street individually, Mr. Policeman had them surrounded, then arrested two of them. Mr. Policeman bundled the two to his precinct, and eventually decided-after more phoning around-to hand over the two to more policemen at their castle-like headquarters, where the policemen spent a couple of hours figuring out how to make the law apply to those in black.

The law is harsh, but it is the law; we must have the rule of law! It goes like this:

“You’re bad.”



This is known as political will, even if it entails a lot of humdrum leafing through law books and calling-up superiors. In the meantime, we waited.

As we waited, one person in black asked a rather high-ranking policeman (who seemed particularly keen on the goings-on), “Sir, what is your name?” The Very Important Policeman (VIP) gave the person a dirty look, as if the latter had said something dirty (like “human rights”). The VIP gave his name and asked, “Why do you want to know?” The person in black said, “Well, I just wanted to know, to see whether you’re on our side.” (“Our,” meaning, of course, the citizenry, which has the right to ask policemen their names.) The VIP scowled. “I don’t work for you. I work for the government.” God Save the Queen.

The VIP left, reappeared in civilian clothes, directed two flunkies to carry a large basket to his vehicle, stood around sneering at no one in particular for some time, then left to be reunited with his basket and possibly to do some off-duty sneering.

Finally, the law was discovered to somehow apply to what the police carefully typed in their complaint as a “lighting rally.” It must have been an honest Freudian slip concerning Hizzoner the Mayor’s multi-watt extravaganza along the Baywalk. The police would next bring the arrested two to face a prosecutor in the Manila City Hall.

In the City Hall, sitting outside the prosecutor’s office, I noticed that many of the other prosecutor’s offices had shiny posters featuring Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez. Except someone had “ball-penned,” on quite a few of the posters, a little Charlie Chaplin moustache on Gonzalez. How funny, I thought.

Eventually the prosecutor decided that, well, perhaps things deserved a more thorough investigation. The lawyers agreed. So many questions! This might just be a case for the ages. Go home and wait for your subpoenas, the tired prosecutor told those who’d been arrested.

As we went home, a small group of people who had gathered outside City Hall raised their fists and sang “Bayan Ko.” Some had lit candles and placed them on the sidewalk. They chanted complimentary things about those who’d been arrested, and some uncomplimentary things about the President in whose name they’d been arrested. Now that was a protest. A rally, even. But no one was arrested. And I remembered a slogan Fred Lim coined when he was still mayor of Manila. It went like this: “The law applies to all, otherwise none at all.”

Not the best English, but in retrospect, not a bad thought. One that explains perfectly well why people wear black (slogan or no slogan on the T-shirt), protest, demonstrate and otherwise speak their mind: We cannot continue to have a Republic whose strength is measured by the forcefulness with which the law is applied only against those who insist on the old-fashioned notion that a President never is, and never should be, confused with the totality of the State.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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