THE TOILET is renowned poet and Palanca award recipient Vim Nadera’s throne every morning. As he sits in the bowl, he reads the day’s edition of The Philippine Star, and upon seeing the headline, he says, “here we go again.”

Nadera opened his first performance art installation last March 3 at the Poets’ Alcove section of Mag:net Café in Katipunan Avenue, Quezon City, portraying a similar scenario in the toilet. The artwork, titled, “State of Emergency,” tackles the thing he says, is common to Presidential Decree (P.D.) 1017 and bowel movement – curtailed freedom.

Last Feb. 24, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo enforced P.D. 1017, which imposed a State of National Emergency. She cited coup attempts plotted by the opposition, military adventurists, and communist movements as basis for the proclamation.

Because of this, the government cancelled all rally permits, arrested protesters at the EDSA Shrine, raided the Daily Tribune and sent troops to the gates of broadcast giants ABS-CBN and GMA. These actions led others to speculate on another period of Martial Law.

“I was encouraged to do this because UP felt very much the impact of P.D. 1017,” Nadera, the director of the UP Creative Writing Institute and a former Varsitarian editor in chief, said. Several personalities from UP, including Sociology professor and activist Randy David, were arrested while marching to EDSA Shrine last March 24 to join other protesters in commemorating the 20th anniversary of the first EDSA Uprising. Inside the UP campus, students captured and beat alleged spies sent by the government.

“(State of Emergency is my) way of saying no to any kind of repression,” Nadera says. Nadera compares P.D. 1017 to P.D. 1081, former President Marcos’ declaration of Martial Law. He believes that, like the call of nature, P.D. 1017 is a rash action – immediate, even involuntary. He believes that the proclamation was declared without much planning and deliberation.

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The display’s centerpiece is a dirty toilet bowl stuffed with the Feb. 25 issue of The Philippine Star, headlining President Arroyo’s declaration of P.D. 1017. A roll of tissue paper, with writings on it, hangs from the back of the toilet down to the charcoal-filled floor. The cubicle is tiled with Nadera’s book, Mujer Indigena and black-and-white photos of his different personages. Letters are scattered randomly all around the cubicle.

Nadera believes P.D. 1017, like the roll of toilet paper, is an “issue of the past repeating itself,” referring to Martial Law. The charcoal-covered floor is a reference to attapulgite, a substance found in antidiarrheal medicine.

“Some people have the right to get in the freedom of others,” Nadera says. “If you exercise your power to make other people sad, there must be something wrong. Attapulgite is used to suppress toxins from the digestive system, instead of freeing them.”

The glass window, meanwhile, contains the Kapampangan folk song, “Atin cu pung singsing,” written in red ink. Written between the lines of the song is its parody, which tells the story of a man who inherited a piece of land, but was taken away from him by a powerful landlord.

“That is an allusion to the most powerful woman-Pampangueño in the country,” Nadera said, referring to the President.

The scattered letters refer to the “lost freedom taken away by P.D. 1017,” particularly the freedom of speech. “Freedom is a natural thing,” Nadera said. “That way, freedom is unstoppable. Even our bodily functions, like our heartbeat and bowel movement, are best left on their own.”

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The exhibit concluded last April 21 with a poetry reading and concert also at Mag:net café, organized by Nadera. The poets include Thomasians Joseph Saguid and Sonny Cendon, both members of the Thomasian Writers Guild. Gemino Abad, a renowned poet and Palanca award recipient, attended the event, among others.

Mag:net café’s Poets’ Alcove is an experimental corner of Mag:net Katipunan for artists who fuse poetry and music with the visual arts. Nadera is the third poet to stage a performance art installation in the section.

State of Emergency shows that the call of nature must not be ignored, the same way the freedom of speech must not be suppressed. Otherwise, you get chaos.

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