Gates of Hell, is it not?

Just a few days ago, the social media is abuzz with politics. People were belittling each other for the outcome of the election; we were judging each other’s decision-making capability. Topics range from the politicians – Binay, Estrada, Poe, Villar, Dick, etc. – to the “masa” and the uneducated/uninformed. We argued. We tried to make our point. Tempers flared when our opinions clashed with somebody else’s.

At some point; however, we agreed that there is something wrong with the situation in the Philippines — poverty is staring right back at us, crimes remain unresolved, overpopulation and pollution in cities — the list could go on and on.

And here comes Dan Brown’s Inferno novel, supposedly calling Manila as “Gates of Hell”. It just did not go well with most of us.


The book is just a work of fiction. But, how come it struck a chord? Is it because deep inside we know at some point that it is true? It is hard for us to accept if someone points things to us that we do not want to acknowledge. It is not that we are blind not to see. The biggest probability is we do but we choose not to. Or, we are so used to the reality that we accept it and will not do anything about it. It would also take some perspective and comparison to see things as they are. I am not sure which is more tragic – not knowing things or ignoring them?

It was reported that our own MMDA chair Francis Tolentino sent a letter to Brown to protest on what was written on the novel.

“While we are aware that yours is a work of fiction, we are greatly disappointed by your inaccurate portrayal of our beloved metropolis. We are displeased of how you have used Manila as a venue and source of a character’s breakdown and trauma, much more her disillusionment in humanity.”

I am yet to read the book but the passage is supposed to be as below:

“(W)hen the group settled in the city of Manila—the most densely populated city on earth—she could only gasp in horror. She had never seen poverty on this scale. For every one person Sienna fed, there were hundreds more who gazed at her with desolate eyes. Manila had six-hour traffic jams, suffocating pollution, and a horrifying sex trade whose workers consisted primarily of young children…. All around her she could see humanity overrun by its primal instinct for survival. When they face desperation… human beings become animals.

“‘I’ve run through the gates of hell.’”

Are we to read the passage above as it is or there is something more in between the lines? What is hell? What is evil?

When I was a kid, I was taught that I should do good things; otherwise, I will burn in hell. Coming from a Catholic country, I am sure Filipinos are well familiar with that teaching. Hell is portrayed as a never-ending ocean of flames where all the sinners will burn. Evil has dominion over this place. If we take Brown’s words literally and compare them with what was taught to us, “Gates of Hell” may not be an accurate portrayal of the city.

But, what if hell is not really an ocean of flame? What if evil is not a red, human-like creature with black horns and pointed tail? What if the evil we are trying hard to fight is creeping all around, catching us unaware?

I remember a friend once asked me when I was complaining about the seemingly unsolvable problems in the country, “What if evil is all these little things that lead us to forget the good in this world and cause us to be hopeless?” It made me think — of the busy lives we lead, of the poverty in this world, of our being uncaring towards others who could not help us in return, of the divide between religions, of forgetting how to pray and give thanks, of accepting little lies to be the truth, and of ignoring what’s right when it’s too difficult to uphold. Maybe evil is not that one, big scary thing we can fight the same way as in the Lord of the Rings. No Sauron exists that we could defeat once to change everything. In the present world, maybe it is the little things all around us and in us that we choose to ignore. If that is the case, then maybe Brown’s words may not be far from the truth – not only in Manila but all over the world. Perhaps rather than disproving Brown’s words, let us work to prove to ourselves that we all could rise above the sufferings and the pains in this world.