By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
Every time I troll through the various local news sites, I remind myself that I will not, not read the crime stories or the ones that describe children and/or elderly people/young women being hurt or maimed because of the stupidity and/or viciousness of others.
I always fail. Somehow I always end up reading about depravity, gratuitous violence, and heartbreaking tragedies, and for the rest of the day I feel worried and unsettled and sometimes even depressed.
Is it just me or are the crimes getting worser and worser as one of those fantastic creatures in Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass . Family members butchering each other, friends hacking or shooting each other to death, children being raped by neighbors, police executing suspects of carnapping. I cringe everytime I read the reports, but gad, my eyes seem glued to the webpage and my right hand seems to have a life of its own as it maneuvers the mouse to scroll down.
Through the years it has become my habit to scroll through Philippine news websites, focusing on certain stories and articles. In the process of looking for important news stories (meaning relevant to my work) it’s unavoidable that I also get to see and read and consequently absorb horrific accounts of kidnappings, murders, theft and other crimes.
The tabloids are, of course, most notorious for printing the most gory, sensation stories that have the effect of making me want to go home, curl in bed under the covers and hyperventilate over morbid thoughts of how terrible the world is: 7-buwang sanggol, sinaksak sa dibdib, sinilid sa plastic bag; Dalagita, tinadtad ang sariling ama bilang ganti sa ilang ulit na panghahalay…(eight-month old baby stabbed, placed inside plastic bag; teenaged girl hacks own father to death after repeated rape).
What gets to me most, however, are the stories about theft and robberies that end up in people getting shot or stabbed to death — over cellular phones, wallets and handbags. These stories make me fear for my loved ones and my self. How awful, how senseless these killings are!
The younger sister of one of my closest friends was stabbed to death by snatchers four years ago. She was on her way home when a man in a motorcycle tried to grab her handbag where her phone and wallet were; she resisted, and the man took out a kitchen knife and stabbed her seven times. She was 23 years old and almost through with college.
I wasn’t in the country when this tragedy struck my friend and her family. In fact, it was purely by chance that I was reading Inquirer.net the day after the crime took place, and I saw an article in the Metro section. I was so shocked when I read the article because I knew the victim – she was more than a crime statistic to me — and I knew her family and the struggles she and her siblings had gone through in the last few years.
It’s quite difficult for me to simply accept that crimes are a part of every day life. It’s so terrible how the evil and monstrous aspect of people’s natures get the best of them and when unleashed, the consequences are horrific.
I know, I know – all this brutality and violence and chaos and moral degradation are the effects of an equally brutal, violent and inhumane socio-political, economic-cultural system; but this doesn’t make it all easier to understand, much less accept. And let’s not even go beyond the tabloid horrors and discuss racism, homophobia and religious bigotry.
The contents of the tabloids are the stuff of nightmares, and so many people are living them. It’s a wonder that the human race continues to thrive (if this state we’re all in can be called ‘thriving’, never mind the advancements in science and technology); we all might as well go back to living in the stone ages with the way we all deal with one another.
Years ago I saw this movie starring Denzel Washington called ‘The Fallen.” In it, a devil named Azazel goes around the world doing insane and vicious mischief: he touches one person and the individual commits violence to others like shooting grandmothers crossing the street or throwing babies in the river (I forget specifically the cases Washington – a cop – handled); then he jumps to another person, leaving the previous individual whose mind he occupied completely unaware that he had become a cold-blooded killer.
I was talking to a good friend over dinner last week. We talked about the insanity of the violence that takes place in Philippine society day in and day out. Of course we talked about structural violence and its proponents in this unblinkingly despicable government; but what struck us both I is how random the smaller crimes are, and in the same stance, how mind-numbingly violent.
Maybe it’s Azazel, we mused.
But not to put the blame on imaginary devils, the truth is that the kind of culture and the kind of values this society creates is not one that will allow people to respond, live up to and act on the more altruistic, kinder, gentler side of their natures. The sins condemned by the Catholic bible and other sacred texts of other world religions (including the New Age ones) proliferate because we have a society that allows worse sins to continue unpunished; impunity reigns, and everything that spits at the face of goodness follows. It’s a deeply flawed world where the godless and selfish walk without shame.
I believe that people can be be kinder, more compassionate and less selfish if the rest of us did not suffer hunger and see our own children fall prey to sickness and disease (but amazingly, so many poor people are kinder and more generous than those who are better off economically-speaking.)
I believe that people would react more immediately and automatically to injustice if most of us did not suffer injustice daily at the hands of those who promise with forked tongues that they would protect us and our rights. It’s a tragedy that falls so many supposedly learned-Filipinos — becoming insensitive or cynical to the corruption of those in government and the general depravity of the economic and political system they run.
I believe that people can be less selfish if not most of us did not have to fear that that there would be no next meal; that the humble shelters we call home will be torn down and destroyed; that the jobs we hold will not be taken away from us because of calculated greed.
I believe that people– including the poorer among us — can be taught to drop all their petty but potentially destructive vices like drinking alcohol, smoking, doing illegal drugs and other addictive substances if they were given other venues to exorcise their personal demons or to simply relax (hey, a state-of-the-art movie theater in every home! Musical instruments, yoga lessons, regular spa treatments!) But in a country with such backward, feudal values which make men believe that they have to be macho and sexist to be real men and where women are encouraged to be sex objects or to objectify themselves, it’s not surprising that we have many twisted images of ourselves and equally twisted means of coping with problems, including the serious ones.
Hay, to be good. One’s personal goodness, what should be the innate ability to refrain from cruelty and to show gentlessness and concern for the plight of others cannot be removed from the larger social context. How we see, feel, think and act is greatly influenced by the kind of society we live in. Our values and beliefs are did not formed in a vacuum, but are in a way reflections of our immediate environment and the general conditions of larger society.
But the horrific tabloid stories aside, what are the real and infinitely worse crimes that take place day in and day out? They are myriad. And they are the stories that can be found in the front pages of the broadsheets, and in the business pages.
Recently I wrote a story about a US$300-million land lease deal the Benigno Aquino government entered with Bahrain. It was brokered by Dr. Amable R. Aguiluz V, the Aquino government’s Special Envoy to the Gulf Cooperation Council.
Aguiluz’ family owns the AMA Group Holdings that established a joint venture called “RP Harvest” with Bahrain’s Hassan Group. They want to grow bananas, rice and other crops on a 10,000-hectare land in the province of Davao Del Norte in Mindanao.
The deal, the Kilusang Mabubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), is highly irregular, and I agree. Imagine leasing a massive track of agricultural land and allowing a foreign company to virtually own it! It’s as bad as US military troops and war ships coming in to re-establish military bases in the Philippines. We can’t even guarantee our own food security, yet here’s the government bending over backwards to produce food for another country: a Bahrain official was quoted as saying that setting up agricultural projects in the Philippines serves to “meet Bahrain’s food requirements.”
Then there’s the impeachment trial against Chief Justice Corona. I am all for impeaching Corona because I do think that there’s no doubt that the man has committed acts of corruption and used his position in government to enrich himself. But what’s also very irksome that it makes me want to regurgitate is how so many of those senators and congressmen who are pointing fingers at Corona are more than likely to be similarly guilty of committing the same crimes. It’s a whole bunch of pots calling the kettle black, and they are all cracked to boot.
Finally, the human rights violations and the cases seeking justice for the victims of extrajudicial killings and abductions. The stories in Bulatlat.com as written by Ronalyn Olea alone are enough to make one weep. The wheels of justice are not so much as moving slowly, but they’re actually square when it comes to address issues of human rights.
But back to Azazel and how he seems to go about touching people and making them evil. While there is evil inherent in this system of government, economics and politics, the evil also translates into how ordinary people conduct themselves.
A for-instance? The rich and well-off have all the material resources and the opportunities to help others, but most of them don’t. Many (okay, most – seeing how Philippine is) opt to live their lives in a bubble, oblivious to the pain and suffering around them, indifferent to everything else but their shallow little pursuits and empty ambitions that serve no one but themselves. Read the society pages, the glossier monthly magazines that advertise P21,000 fountain pens and P50,000 necklaces; or contain stories about the exclusive soirees and parties of the elite and famous. Appalling to the extreme: how can they even think of celebrating and wasting hundreds and millions of pesos on wine and caviar when hundreds of thousands in the Philippines are starving, homeless, dying from curable diseases?
I know am writing in generalities here, and I might be being unfair to many rich people who do help the poor in their own way; but I am in a foul mood as I write this so bear with me.
Azazel, I often think you have made your home in this country it hurts to love. But still, the struggle to fight against you continues.
How do we fight evil in all its forms but to first begin to look beyond ourselves and our concerns? To look up from whatever it is that we’ve been doing in service of our own whims and wants, and then to take notice that others around us do not have the same chances and opportunities as we do: they’re all to busy trying to survive and to maintain whatever sense of dignity their poverty and lack of education allow them to.
We could be less prone and susceptible to our human frailties and weaknesses that make some of us act and think less than human. We could embrace the godlier side of our natures, and help others embrace theirs and build a society where evil cannot exist and flourish.
Anyways, just writing down what’s been bugging me all morning. Crazy tabloid stories that speak so much about the kind of country and world we live in. And I haven’t even really read all the stories on the front page today.