Supernatural Cities project member, Dr Tom Sykes, presents ‘A People in Between: History, Memory, Death and Chinese Filipinos’, a video essay based on a chapter from his 2018 book The Realm of the Punisher: Travels in Duterte’s Philippines. Walking around the Manila Chinese Cemetery on the Day of the Dead in 2011, Tom discovered that the community’s respect for its elders extended well into the afterlife:
‘The cemetery looked less like a cemetery and more like my neighbourhood in Quezon City. The crypts had all the trappings of middle-class homes. Chrome-plated bath tubs sprawled under pagoda roofs, broadband routers twinkled through polished jalousie windows and deftly chiselled hedges bordered a blue-domed townhouse. Between grilles and balustrades I saw TVs, microwaves, espresso machines, refrigerators and air-conditioning units.’
Tom’s perambulations segue into the long and turbulent history of the Chinese-Filipinos, examining their role in the Spanish colonial era, 1896 Revolution and World War II. ‘The community has long occupied an unstable space amid opposites: hero and villain, native and expat, powerful and powerless; and that middle path between being an object of hatred and an object of esteem – might we call it envy?’
‘I took a 360 gaze around the graves. How much pain was inside them? Were there casualties here of the 1603 and 1639 pogroms, bodies shorn of heads because the Spanish had jammed them on to spikes and left them around the city? Were there idealists here punctured by firing squad bullets for dreaming of a free state? Teenage conscripts thrashed to a gory end by the Japanese during the Bataan Death March? Whoever they were and whatever had happened to them, I hoped they’d all found some peace now, at last, among their living kin and their all mod cons.’
Watch the video here.
My latest book The Realm of the Punisher was cited in this intriguing article on the Philippine news site ABS-CBN on the connections between the Marcos and Duterte families by Miguel P Reyes.
Signal have released a Kindle ebook version of The Realm of the Punisher. Here is what some of the reviewers on Amazon have said about the book so far:
‘Sykes as writer is about total experience – how does the sum total of this place – the geography, the history, the urban rural divide, the economics, the social fabric, the individuals, the politics, the eventual President – how does it all come together?’
‘Sykes is an entertaining and illuminating writer. As well as serious analysis there are laugh out loud moments. I’d recommend The Realm of the Punisher to anyone who wants to understand what is going on in the world today.’
M. S. Manson
‘Read this not knowing a thing about the Philippines, and not planning to visit. I was expecting to last a few chapters, but it’s written in such a way that it’s engaging and relevant and very readable.’
You can buy it here.
Michael Vatikiotis has reviewed Realm of the Punisher positively in the current TLS (Times Literary Supplement). It’s always reassuring when you try to do something ambitious in writing and an informed reader ‘gets it’.
The article is here behind a paywall, here are some quotes:
‘Tom Sykes’s account of his rambling road trip through the country, The Realm of the Punisher, offers a serious and at times tragic corrective. He conveys in an affectionate, unpatronizing tone the many layers of injustice that run through the Philippines, and uses interviews and site visits to try to explain the eccentric ways and popular appeal of its more muscular leaders.’
‘Sykes cuts through these contradictions with a mixture of casual English aplomb and raw socialist idealism.’
‘Sykes stumbles on one of the more fascinating ironies of the modern Philippines: the appeal of rich strongmen using guns and goons to poor people living desperate and deprived lives. ‘
Pleased that Georgina Monk’s review of The Realm of the Punisher in The London Magazine appreciates my aim to infuse a travel narrative with reflections on nationalism, populism, imperialism, Orientalism and some other ‘isms’ as they relate to the Philippines. Read it by clicking on these words here.
Cover picture by Louis Netter.
I’ll be discussing my new travelogue of the contemporary Philippines, Realm of the Punisher, at the Bristol Festival of Literature on 22nd October. My good friend Mike Manson will be present too, riffing on his new novel Down in Demerara. Click here for tickets and further details.
‘At last! A Western journalist/academic writing about the Philippines who has done proper homework and legwork, and who clearly has affection for both the country and its people.’ James Hamilton-Paterson, author of Ghosts of Manila and America’s Boy
In June 2016, Rodrigo ‘The Punisher’ Duterte won the Philippine presidential election. Infamous for his bombastic temper and un-PC wisecracks, he is waging a brutal drug war that has killed an estimated 10-20,000 people so far.
Over the last nine years, British writer Tom Sykes has travelled extensively in the Philippines to understand the Duterte phenomenon, visiting the sites of extra-judicial killings and interviewing friends and enemies of the regime. Sykes witnesses an anti-government demonstration in the capital Manila and journeys to the provincial city of Davao, where Duterte began his crusade against crime using police and civilian death squads.
The Realm of the Punisher also features encounters with slum-dwellers resisting violent eviction, an elderly former sex slave to the Japanese in the Second World War and a public artist who must work while under attack from Maoist rebels.
The past is never far away from these present-day problems and Sykes’ travels to festivals, memorials and a tomb housing an embalmed corpse reveal how key figures in Philippine history – from José Rizal to Ferdinand Marcos – have influenced current affairs.
Funny, tragic, enlightening and uncompromising – and infused with the author’s strong sense of social justice – The Realm of the Punisher is the first major travel book by a Westerner to explore Duterte’s Philippines.
(Design and image by Louis Netter).