There is an old ghost story, if you know it, that begins with three spirits.

The first spirit is cunning and cruel. He takes hold of a country with his iron fist, and wrings blood out until it splatters across the ground like rain. The spirit steps over bodies, both murdered and missing, as he makes his way to his skeleton throne. His beloved sits beside him, clad in the country’s gold. His castle reeks of both money and rotting corpses, of gunpowder and dust and so much blood it floods your every sense. Peace in his land is synonymous with silence; where his spirit is, so are the fish bones stuck in your throat.

(We walk past monuments established against him as his descendants come to inherit their palaces. The graveless turn.)

And there is another spirit: quieter, seemingly more subdued. This spirit sneaks into power and uses it for her own gain, and when threatened with its revocation does everything to hold on to it. She has a Huntsman, who is only as corrupted and cold as his Queen, and for her, he will do anything––especially when it comes to silencing those who oppose her. She came into power without grace and left it with a vengeance, and years later we hear her now, clearer than ever before.

(We hear her “I’m sorry” as “Start over.” Wipe the slate clean; that blood exists no longer.)

The last spirit is loud. He is crass; he is vulgar. He makes good on no promises but one: to rid streets of infidels beyond high on a substance, to criminalize victims by any means necessary. He takes and takes and takes in all regard, from women and children and families; swears at authorities higher than himself without a second thought –– he will do his fucking job the way he pleases. Days go by, and cardboard labels litter street corners. No birthday songs are sung; only those of mourning –– and his loyal subjects spread falsities like wildfire, all too willing to burn anyone in his path, dead or alive.

(It is more the former than the latter, these days.)

There is an old ghost story, except it’s not old, and there aren’t ghosts, and this rings not like a horror story but a cruel, twisted joke: A dictator, a cheat, and a killer walk into Malacanang, and we welcome them with applause.

We call these people spirits, as if they linger and brush against our lives like feathers, but the weight on our shoulders is millions of people who never once again got to see the Sun.

These days, we’re no longer frightened by the monsters under our bed, nor the ones that lurk inside our closets.

Those that sit in white Palaces are much more frightening. TNP



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