We are savages
Yesterday a boy’s corpse was found — the face wrapped in tape, the body marked by stabs.
Another headline. Another ghost. Another spoil.
I vaguely remember my 14-year-old self. It has been a long time and so much has happened since then that most of the memories have become mere blurs. But what I do remember clearly were the feelings of being 14. It was the feeling of uncertainty, of not being quite sure where you belong, since you were no longer a child but still not an adult. It was the feeling of too much self-consciousness, of being too preoccupied with your body image and of acting awkwardly in front of your crush because you think you do not look good enough, that you have too many pimples and that your arms are too fat.
And yet, it was also the feeling of endless possibilities, of ceaseless trial-and-error opportunities, of crossroads that lead almost anywhere. It was the feeling of being young, of being vulnerable and invincible at the same time, because you innocently believe that the universe is loving and gentle and kind to those who believe in it.
Perhaps that is one of the reasons I chose to be a teacher. Perhaps, on a subliminal level, I believe that by surrounding myself with young people, I would be able to preserve my own youth, and the joys that come with it. Whenever I stand in the classroom and look upon the faces of my students, I see a vast ocean of possibilities. Whenever I talk to my two younger brothers and listen to how their days have been, I hear echoes of my youth, of my own innocence and naivety. Whenever I see teenagers anywhere, I remember my younger self, when dreaming is free and there is safe assurance of a tomorrow.
Reynaldo de Guzman, 14, would never have the luxury of remembering. All he would ever have now is a space underground, his body to be consumed by the earth. If the dead could even remember, I would hate to imagine his last memories. I firmly believe that no child, under any circumstance, deserves to die that way — alone and in so much pain. If I could wish him anything now, it’s that he no longer remembers his last moments, his last gasp of breath, his last desperate attempt at life.
The burden of remembering must be on us.
It started with a promise, and we were so desperate for the possibility of change that we too foolishly and too easily believed it. Most of us still do, unfortunately. I remember how I, frustrated, turned off my laptop last week after browsing through my Facebook news feed and reading comments on a news report regarding the murder of Grade 12 student Kian delos Santos. The commenters, many of them, wrote that the teen had it coming to him, being son and nephew to drug pushers. They said he was never the victim but the criminal, and that his death—no matter how violent—was necessary. Some even had the imagination to remark that it was all a part of a conspiracy to discredit the government, as if the 17-year-old had signed himself up to be a pawn in a political game of chess.
Then there was the death of Carl Arnaiz, 19, who, according to police reports, tried to rob a taxi driver and made a run for it while firing shots at responding police officers. He died of gunshot wounds possibly sustained while kneeling or lying down, his wrists bearing marks of being cuffed or tied. He was a university student and an OFW son. He was battling depression and trying to make ends meet. He was on the streets outside of curfew, and he was a kid. Now he is dead, and tagged as a criminal.
Reynaldo de Guzman, or “Kulot,” went out with Arnaiz on the night of Aug. 17 to buy midnight snacks, and he never returned. Think of it: He must have been so happy with the prospect of buying chips with what little money he had with him at the time. After all, it does not take much to satisfy a child. But Kulot was not happy for long. Thirty stab wounds and a roll of tape wrapped on his face killed that happiness. He was 14. Now he is dead.
I used to look at children’s faces and envy them for their youth. Now I look at my students’ faces and imagine their laughter turning into groans of pain and pleas for mercy. I look at my brothers and see a face covered in tape, the body pockmarked with holes and stained with blood. I look at children running on the streets and hope that they eat their favorite food, and watch their favorite TV show, or celebrate their birthday because that just might be their last shot at being young and alive.
I look at children now and I realize that at this moment in my beloved Philippines, being young has become a curse.
What is even worse is that, in the midst of all these violence, in the reality of our children being slaughtered like pigs, some of us have the temerity to blame the young for their own deaths while the majority of us sit in the comfort of our safety, remorseless and apathetic. Some of us might shake our heads and feel aghast, but only for a moment. When the novelty of the news ceases to horrify us, when their deaths are no longer what’s trending on Facebook or on Twitter, we would then continue scrolling down our news feeds, reverting to watching puppy videos and concerning ourselves with the many petty concerns in social media. We will forget them: these children’s faces, their names, the horrendous injustice inflicted on them—all of those will be nothing but memories we would naturally forget because they no longer cater to our interests.
We are savages. All of us.
We dream of change. We dream of a society free from the threats of crime and illegal drugs. We pride ourselves in our democracy and our supposed freedom. We make ourselves believe that we work hard because we want to make the Philippines a great country. And yet we let our children get killed. We turn a blind eye. We shrug and say, “It’s done.”
We are savages. All of us.
Don’t we all aspire for the better because of the children, because we want them to have a better shot at life? If we just let them get killed like flies, what does that make of us? Aren’t we, for our indifference, also responsible for their deaths?
I hate to think that I would see the day when children will no longer be allowed to be children. I hate to think that with all the dreams we aspire for ourselves and for our society, we forget to value the life of our youth. In seeking a better future, we unwittingly permit the murder of that same future. The time we start blaming children for the faults of their elders is the time we lose them. The time we start tagging them as criminals for being out at night to buy snacks is the time we lose our humanity. The time we start shrugging and stop caring about this injustice is the time we start forgetting and stop mourning. When we do, then we become monsters. We become savages.
All of us.
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Liz L. Palaña, 24, is teaching English at the Korean International School Philippines and working on her master’s degree in literature at the University of the Philippines Diliman.
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