Tragedy is an effective teacher, painful but effective. It seems like the court of last resort when all else fails. It can even be the end for some though the greater lesson can be learned by tragedy’s survivors.
The kidnapping-murder of a Korean national is a tragedy. It is not a surprise, and precisely because it is not, it is a tragedy. Government has long been in denial about the dark side of our police force. It had been content to admit some shades of grey and attempted at times to better the PNP’s image. But cosmetics are simply that- cosmetics. They last until the sun, sweat or water take them off, good for a day.
It has not been just the PNP that had been in denial of the core rot of the police institution; even the Filipino public, especially those who have stood out as the most noisy and contentious in media or civil society, have chosen to take jabs at rogues in uniform but never stood toe-to-toe with an enemy poisoning the system. I guess it is not easy to be aggressive against those who are armed because the courage of most fade quickly when the risks escalate.
I remember just a few years ago when netizens mostly created a backlash against the decades-old pork barrel practice of Congress and achieved a miracle. Even though the intent of the pork barrel has remained, and variations to it have been quietly attempted, the old form did collapse and Congress will have to be more creative (or transparent) to allocate discretionary resources to its members. In that sense, for Congress, the loss of the old pork barrel system was a tragedy. It should not have been a surprise, but because it was to Congress, it was a tragedy for representatives and senators.
And just a few years prior, a tragedy happened in the Supreme Court. Its Chief Justice was accused, impeached and convicted. It should not have been a surprise. There was rot in the Judiciary just as there was almost everywhere. If we talk today of rogues in uniform, it was the name “hoodlums in robes” that was coined during the Estrada presidency. Just the police force where wrongdoings were talked about but never really confronted to its core, the imagery and popular judgment were that there were plenty of dirty judges. The impeachment, then, of the Chief Justice was not a surprise but became a tragedy.
The tragedies serve their purpose. The pain they inflict hurts the soul of the nation, the so-called moral fiber of our people and culture. Each tragedy is like a milestone and a trigger for change. I have tracked the tragedies in my lifetime. As I said, they all served their purpose. At the same time, when I thread them and see their accumulated impact on our society, I fear the greater tragedies are yet to happen. We had martial law and many thought it was such a painful tragedy, enough to dramatically change not just the course of governance but the quality of our value system, the refinement of our ethical framework, the raising of our very consciousness. Sadly, the tragedy was not enough.
Because today we have our suffering poor still. That tens of millions have found relief from their poverty, thanks to the sustained efforts and sacrifices of OFWs, several tens of millions continue to wait for government to liberate them without a bloody revolution.
Because today we have our corruption still. I know that corruption cannot just be weeded out, but decades of efforts can have measurable results and could have catapulted us to levels where we could be known more as more honest than corrupt. It has not happened.
Because today we have a situation that is even more frightening with illegal drugs using poverty and corruption to build a strong foundation of a narco state.
The situation of the PNP is not unique to that organization. The kidnapping and murder might be, but that is only because firearms are tools of that agency. In essence, though, I mean the equivalent of kidnapping and murder that is the corresponding crime of other agencies. It can be the theft of funds by those entrusted with public money. Or it can be the extortion demanded before another agency will extend the services that they are entrusted to perform. After all, it is the exploitation of power for personal gain that defines corruption, just as what kidnapping and murder are committed for.
Poverty persists because the exploitation continues. The weak and innocent have nothing to fight with. They can only endure their poverty. Yes, a minuscule minority can climb out of their inherited pit but their numbers hardly matter – except to be used as propaganda that if one can make it, the others can. Bull.
The poor are the most vulnerable to any disaster, especially changes in climate. That is because they have to live in the fringes, in the least desirable areas, in danger zones. They await their Yolandas, their Pablos and their Sendongs, their Guinsaugons and Ondoys. You see, they have to die in the hundreds and in the thousands. Or else they merit little or no attention.
We can be in denial or we can accept the shades of grey but avoiding the black. We know enough not to be surprised. We can radically change our collective environment with each citizen contributing to ease poverty, to deny participation in corruption, and to care for those in our communities afflicted by drugs. We know enough. We should not be surprised. In the horizon are tragedies that have to come and to teach our lessons.
Can wisdom come without tragedy? Is there no way to learn faster, better? Can the idealism of the youth break the pattern? Or do we wait until we are at death’s door, by illness or old age, before we see it all?