J. Pilapil Jacobo
The anatomy of corruption that is exposed in Bor Ocampo’s Dayang Asu is nothing new, but it does sound novel enough, as Kapampangan argument. The trope of a dogged life in post-catastrophic Bacolor is also forced, although the scenes of its purveyance through the locale are immediate and at times arresting. Hence, it is not so much how the doggedness becomes a matter of fact, or how plunderbund practices dissolve into the everyday, that is made prominent in the film, but the vernacularity of the vileness, including the rural rigmarole that is passed on, from vengeance to vengeance. When animality finally settles in as analytic of the discourse on political economy and the social subjects it interpellates, the character that the writing argues as potentially ethical (Jun Jun Quintana) nonetheless descends into an act of violence, affirming lumpen tactic as the only viable option when the humanist premise falters, and every fragment of Pampango idealism is shattered.
In a conversation with Gino Dizon, a fictionist from the city of Angeles, I had asked about the philological dimensions of “dayang asu” and its possible discursive premise for a Kapampangan film that seeks to allegorize national corruption from a regional perspective. Dizon immediately responded that by hailing the blood (daya) of the dog (asu), an idiom on reciprocity that is still circulated to inculcate Pampangan ethics may be summoned as a warning against transactions which turn any gift economy into situations of unsympathetic magic. “A dog is loyal, but touch it while it is eating, it will bite your hand,” Dizon would remember his elders saying, to punctuate a cautionary tale about hospitality toward strangers.
The figure that is situated to violate the instance of the gift is a slave who may be dependent on a master for his survival but will anytime betray the bondage, as the lord is perceived as one wielding the weapons of one’s death; the slave shall be prompt to vanquish his own master once the latter’s knife can no longer hide its jaggedness. On the one hand, a member of the family is instructed that strangers to the household can only be treated with civility, bereft of compassion; to avert their claim to violence however, one must let them be, even in their uncouth fulfillment of perpetual privations. On the other, subjects intimately attached to authority are exhorted to ingratiate whoever provides them conditions of nurturance. “Do not bite the hand that feeds you,” one is deftly reminded. The blood of the hound is what prevents the human from according his companion the terms of benevolence such devotion from an animal to another deserves.
“Dayang asu,” the idiom that obfuscates the self-interest of the family romance, will convey itself as a trans-historical concept through rehearsals of a larger group dynamic, until the aphoristic iteration accumulates into habits of the socius, which at some point can only be predisposed to a specific understanding of a politics grounded on the values of reciprocal exchanges, even when the hierarchy is misrecognized as natural—as an eco-logic. This is precisely how the spectre of the “cannibal” was derived from “canis” in pseudo-philological accounts of the figure of the indigene, in the discourse of the Caribbean, as the British empire in the sixteenth century crafted its inaugural language of conquest, the post-colonial literary scholar Peter Hulme would contend.
Dayang Asu begins with a conundrum that seeks to contemporize with this question of ethnic debasement that may be based on capital but is sure to be entangled in symbolical conduits of the ethical exchange states still awaiting auto-decolonizing projects to be staged such as ours, must sooner or later instantiate. On their way to deliver a contraband in a meet up along the highway, two lackeys hear the news on the prospect of a dictator’s remains being buried in the national cemetery. “Hindi pa pala nalilibing ‘yan!” What is curious about the surprise is not so much the disbelief on the deferral of the rites but the historical analysis that the film opens up as fundament of its treatise. What alterations to the anatomy of decadence are articulated by locating the corruptive originary event not on early imperial habits but on late neo-colonial inheritances? If such cannibal has become the vampire of our contemporary lives, where do we begin to explain how we have become so imbricated in the turns of his transsubstantial fate? And if the film seeks to foreclose some conviction by singling out a corpse that is indeterminately unaccounted for in an autopsy of our democratic accident, why must the body count be increased in a cinematic affirmation of our injurious castes?