Epiphany or perdition
We live in perilous times.
The Philippine Statistics Authority notes that the “top external cause of death” in the country from 2006 to 2014 has been homicide. Most of the 14,712 victims in 2014 were young (39 years old and below), predominantly male (9 out of 10), with a firearm used in 7 out of 10 assault deaths.
Not that this is new.
While in Sulu in the early 1990s, I learned that the leading cause of death there was gunshot wounds. Now, 25 years later, the situation is different only because the same chilling situation is echoed throughout the country, with more developed regions like Metro Manila and Calabarzon showing higher figures than in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, though the proportion would still be greater in the ARMM considering that Metro Manila and Calabarzon have far more people. When the statistics are updated to include 2016, we can expect that homicide deaths will steeply spike to include the 6,000-plus decimated during the first six months of the war on drug-involved persons (this may be the more accurate term than “war on drugs”).
What causes one to do harm to another person? Practically anyone, by nature, is capable of homicide. But we know it is not purely biological. As in anything, it is an interplay of nature and nurture. Nature we may not be able to do much about, unless we remove testosterone from our bodies and impair our aggressive faculties, but that would mean diminishing our survival instincts and just going to the slaughter like domesticated swine.
There is something we can control to some extent, and that is the nurture as expressed in our culture. The Philippines being the only Christian country in Asia, it is here where Christian values like compassion and forgiveness should reign and not be where life is as cheap as the cost of a bullet. This is an anomaly that is not lost on many of us and our neighbors.
Japan, where most people live to a ripe old age—although more Japanese tend to kill themselves—did go through a turbulent feudal period when clans constantly fought one another, until the rise of a powerful shogun finally imposed order, and, with the abolition of the samurai class and its privileges, including the license to kill (“kirisuteru” or “to cut down and leave”), embarked on a period of modernization that emphasized social cohesion, discipline, courtesy and restraint.
While there is a similarity in that the Philippines now is still strongly feudal, with each district having its own dominant clan with warlord-like powers, this is not necessarily the determining factor for prevalent violence. In postindustrial United States, the proliferation of firearms has facilitated mass shootings that occur with numbing regularity. But then again the proliferation of firearms is not the sole determining factor either, because a country like Switzerland, which has more firearms than it can account for, has not been at war for centuries (the Swiss hiring themselves out as mercenaries instead) and gun crime is practically unheard of (18 in 2014).
It may be that we just have to accept the reality of cyclical conflict and conciliation as part of the human condition. But accepting and remaining in the situation means not changing it. We have to get out of the situation, either literally or figuratively, to gain the proper perspective. A privileged few have had the benefit of viewing Earth from outer space. All have said that they were awed and felt how trivial our earthly conflicts and concerns are when viewed against the infinite dimensions of the universe. If we cannot distance ourselves physically, then it has to be internally, in our hearts and minds, in our values and attitudes. We must fall from our horse and have our epiphany, or we shall all be doomed to gallop to mutual perdition.
To paraphrase Dickens, it may be the worst of times, but we can also make it the best of times.
Roderick Toledo is a freelance communication projects manager.
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