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Theres The Rub

By Conrado de Quiros
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 04:56:00 08/31/2010

Filed Under: Grandstand Hostage, hostage taking, Police, Crime and Law and Justice, Laws

SENATOR FRANCIS Pangilinan sent me this text message last Friday night:

?While I personally object to, and disagree with, the use of the Philippine flag to cover the casket of Rolando Mendoza, there is no law that explicitly bans (this). We have to respect the individual freedoms of our people. Under a democracy there is freedom of expression. We ask for China?s understanding. We live under different systems and what may be prohibited and banned in their nation may not be so in ours?. We are both sovereign nations and trust that China will respect Philippine sovereignty.?

I beg to disagree.

Just as I beg to disagree with Leocadio Santiago Jr., chief of the National Capital Region Police Office, when he says there is nothing he can do about Mendoza?s family deciding to bury him in his police uniform. ?While (Mendoza) does not have the right to wear that uniform, there is no law forbidding that.?

Oh, but there is. There most certainly, definitely, categorically is.

I do not just mean by that the law of the heart. Though that ought to be taken into consideration too. The last thing we need to do is rub salt on wound. The last thing we need to do is show a level of insensitivity that will make the victims? kin and compatriots even angrier than they already are. If not for anything else for the sake of our own compatriots who are living in their land and now fear the backlash from it. The draping of the Philippine flag over the casket of Mendoza is adding insult to injury, which invites injury on top of the insult our OFWs are already reaping abroad.

The law that forbids it is called the Flag Law.

It?s the same law that nearly made us lynch Martin Nievera when he sang ?Lupang Hinirang? in a non-traditional way some years ago in one of Manny Pacquiao?s fights. For many Filipinos, that was sacrilege of the highest order, and they expressly invoked the Flag Law to call hellish visitations upon Nievera?s head. Whether Nievera?s deviation from the straight and narrow transgressed that law or not is debatable. Whether Mendoza?s deviation from the right and decent did so or not is not. It doesn?t just defy the Flag Law, it spits on it.

The underlying principle of that law is clear. The flag?and by extension all other symbols of the national identity, the National Anthem, the emblems of power, the uniforms worn by the military and police?is not private property, it is public property. It is not individual property, it is national property. Its use does not depend on private discretion, it depends on public decision. Government is perfectly well within its rights to forbid the use of the flag to bury someone who did the flag a disservice. Government is well within its rights to forbid the use of a military or police uniform to bury someone who did that uniform a disservice.

In fact, government is not just well within its rights, it is bound by everything it is sworn to uphold to deny that flag and that uniform to a traitor.

Yes, traitor. That is what Rolando Mendoza is.

He is a traitor, firstly, to his calling. A cop?s job is to protect the public at all costs. What he did was to harm the public at all costs. A cop?s job is to sacrifice himself if necessary to save civilians, chief of them women and children. What he did was to sacrifice others, chief of them women and children, completely wantonly to save himself. A cop?s job is to uphold the law at all times. What he did was to screw the law and the world along with it one final time.

Mendoza spat on his uniform the moment he boarded the bus and took its passengers hostages. It would have been bad enough if he had been fueled by a legitimate grievance. But to have worked himself to that pass after being fired for extorting money from someone he was sworn to protect? When he should have been thankful he hadn?t been jailed? And after massacring eight people for that reason, you allow him to bring his uniform to his grave?

He is a traitor, secondly, to his country. It would have been bad enough if he had picked on a bus full of folk from the countryside who had gone to Manila on a sightseeing trip. But to have victimized a group of tourists and so sparked an international incident?that is unforgivable. Even if he hadn?t murdered his hostages, it would have still been unforgivable. The consequences for the country would have been no less steep. The consequences for Filipinos living abroad in general and in China, in particular, would have been no less stark. That he slaughtered his hostages in a way that would have done the Ampatuans proud, the least he deserves is to be ditched in an unmarked grave in the same state he came into this earth.

He is a traitor, finally, to the human race. How can someone be so selfish he can think only of himself and not of others? one of the hostages would ask afterward. Good question, and all the more terrifying for its simplicity and innocence, an attempt to grasp the enormity of evil with childlike words. How indeed can someone be so filled with blackness to snuff out the lives of children? That Mendoza is allowed a wake and a burial is Christian charity enough. Those things are meant to bring the community to grieve the departed. I do not grieve this traitor.

I have no problems going against the grain to defend so precious a thing as sovereignty, democracy, our way of life. Draping Mendoza in the flag or burying him in his uniform is nothing of the kind. It is merely defending benightedness. Democracy is not stupidity. The issue has nothing to do with culture, or society, or philosophy. Our understanding of right and wrong at so basic a level is fairly universal, or ought to be. This is wrong. This is reprehensible.

To bury Mendoza in a pauper?s grave will insult paupers.

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