The Familiar Strangers


With coins given by his grandmother, he bought dirty ice-cream from a street pedlar & proceeded to lick it like a delighted cur. But Boy hoved into view and watched him for a minute or two. Mustering enough courage, he asked if he could have a teeny-weeny slurp, but he wouldn’t budge: that was not done, it’s unsanitary, et cetera. Boy turned on his heels, sadness misting his eyes.

When years later he heard that Boy got jailed for robbing a small store in the neighborhood & was sent to Muntinlupa (eventually, the Penal Colony in Palawan) he quietly understood.

Ice-cream has since tasted hot.



Josef Fritzl told the Interpole his daughter Elizabeth at 18 left their home in Amstatten, Austria to join a cult. Of course, 24 years later they would discover he was the very culprit who drugged & handcuffed her in the cellar, the while abusing the flesh of his own flesh & siring seven children in captivity, three of whom never saw daylight. When one of the children, Kirsten, got sick & had to be hospitalized, the mother had to be brought to the ward – & that started the unraveling of a sordid secret: one of the twins who died in the underground room was thrown into an incinerator in a Nazi-like disposal of the body & evidence; three kids were misrepresented as having been abandoned by the prodigal daughter at their doorstep… His wife Rosemarie – bullied into submission – was clueless, having been desensitized to a point of never inquiring about strange noises from the cellar, who the babies were that suddenly turned up & possibly bearing striking resemblance…

Psychiatrists would assess the retired electrical engineer as a traumatized child himself, overcompensating for his inadequacy by being aggressively domineering over his terrified family.

Be that as it may, this human tragedy is no big deal of a shocker, really. Civilians who looked the other way when neighborhood Jews disappeared one by one in city streets; bureaucrats like Rice & Cheney who put some legal underpinning to torture in Iraq; congressmen who would shoot down impeachment charges for plunder, electoral violations; two men holding a cockfight at a street corner, their faces flushed with glee; & so forth are as real & commonplace as any everyday affair like washing laundry or preparing the meal.


Folks in the small community of 23 thousand were shocked, to say the least, that something so heinous would happen under their very noses. Like the proverbial cuckold, they’re the last to know.

Of course, they burst into tears… “They’re not that kind of people.”

Yet anyone who cages birds or puts dogs on a leash is capable of the deed: it is mere hyping of the ante & a thin line separates a lawful citizen from a pathological killer who usually, in a schizo behavior, tips his hat in courteous recognition of fellow joggers on the wooded lanes.


Also in Austria, Natasha Kampusch was kidnapped in 1998 & held for eight years. The pedophile threw himself under a train when the police wised up to him.

Another ordinary crime on ordinary day. What we desire but is elusive, we trap with our bare hands until it goes limp, then suffocates. & we fail to know why.

Who, after all, would like to gaze deeper into the image in the mirror?

In a country of psychotics, anyone who declares him/herself sane is in denial.


The psychiatric profile of Joseph F is that of a narcissistic & traumatized person who suffered tremendously in his youth, so much so that the violence upon his tender psyche was equally the violence he visited upon others. The bizarre, therefore, is not exactly inhuman, but is rooted in the dysfunctional investment of the social on him. The monster is not self-induced & alien, but constructed by the very environment & familial triangulation that nurtured him.

Elizabeth, of course, is the classic Stockholm Syndrome case, who fell perversely in love with her tormentor (or whatever is meant by this mix of passivity, repugnance & adoration that constituted an emotional bestiary). The interplay of attraction & loathing, rejection & seduction is basically at the root of the 24-year incarceration all outsiders marvel at with enigmatic curiosity.

A newspaper dealer here in Quezon City has been at her post since the ’70s, outliving her husband. She’s burnt & grimy like coal, her body swimming in fat, as if this way of decay she has adjusted to with aplomb. Now, she is burdened with grandchildren who scamper around like rats repeating her future.

Her space of a habitat, if imagination is raised to a hyperbolic level, is no different from the Austrian dungeon where Elizabeth regressed into an albino guinea pig, she who has been terrified into a complete dolt & consequently wouldn’t even dare escape her situation.

The old woman at the makeshift store is virtually captive of her fears, unable to think out of the box of a possible alternative life.

Has she fallen in love with poverty? She has no inkling the likes of GMA & past presidents have consigned her to that prison space aboveground.


& if imagination & analogies could traverse allowed limits of logic, why should we be befuddled by all the gross humiliation of the spirit, like that of Jews silently lining up into the belly of gas chambers?

Joseph F & Eichmann are embodiment of the unconscious we have let loose like phantoms among us – monsters we failed to slay because the essence of humanity has been defined as sublime by an orthodox church, a systemic structure of surplus value, a commodity that the market codifies, an object of pain or pleasure, a conduit of self-destruction, the mélange of the saint & the sinner…

Yup, we harbor in ourselves the seeds of our own degradation, the Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde that mark our own blindness: the demons from the depths who act out the civilities of retired engineers or even professors of arts & humanities who at night probably stalk the dark recesses of a cesspool of a city.

Yes, criminals also love to eat cereal in the morning. & pop vitamin pills at bedtime.


The crime was universally known, but it lacked certain details to give it a closure of a face. Happily, The New York Times’ editorial, “On Torture & Justice,” spilled it all: “Accounts by ABC News & the Associated Press said that all the president’s top national security advisers at the time participated in creating the interrogation policy [read: that which ‘gave Orwellian blessing to torturing people’]: Vice President Dick Cheney; Mr. Rumsfeld; Condoleeza Rice, the national security adviser; Colin Powell, the secretary of state; John Ashcroft, the attorney-general; & George Tenet, the director of central intelligence.”

But the American people, it cautioned, will “have to wait, at least for a new congress and a new president” for “truth & accountability” to be worked out & “the damage… to the rule of law & civil liberties” be “repaired.”

Yes, it may take forever – but didn’t Pinochet get his due?

The guys by the Pasig river?

Most Filipinos, alas, are afflicted with the Stockholm Syndrome.


Story for the Fourth of May:

The first rain of May

started falling in March.

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2 Responses to The Familiar Strangers

  1. Jen says:

    Sir, advance happy birthday po. Ingat.

  2. Edel says:

    Jen, salamat sa darating na blow-out mo.

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