The Project is Thwarted

A man sets light to himself, promising his followers that he will rise again in three hours. When the time has elapsed, the police clear away the remains. Another man, a half-caste, has himself crucified every year – he has made a vow to do this until God puts him in touch with his American father. A third unfortunate, who has lost his mother, stands rigid at the gate of his house and has been there, the paper tells us, for the last fourteen years, ‘gazing into an empty rubber plantation’.

I don’t know when it was that I began noticing stories like these, or began to think that the Philippines must be a strange and fascinating place. Pirates came from there last year to attack a city in Borneo. Ships sank with catastrophic loss of lives. People came from all over the world to have psycho-surgeons rummage through their guts – their wounds opened and closed in a trice. There was a Holy War in Mindanao. There was a communist insurgency. Political dialogue was conducted by murderers. Manila was a brothel.

It was the Cuba of the future. It was going the way of Iran. It was another Nicaragua, another Cambodia, another Vietnam. But all these places, awesome in their histories, are so different from each other that one couldn’t help thinking: this kind of talk was a shorthand for a confusion. All that was being said was that something was happening in the Philippines. Or more plausibly: a lot of different things were happening in the Philippines. And a lot of people were feeling obliged to speak out about it.

Desert Island Discs