Bully nation | Inquirer Opinion
The Long View

Bully nation

With people home from the holidays, I don’t suppose it’s unusual for the conversation to drift to current events and, in particular, the present regime and what the balikbayan point of view might be.

During one such conversation, the recently returned said, in a low voice, “it’s not so much the new regime that shocks me, but what it’s all revealed about our country and its society.” The veneer of modernity that sustained our collective self-image for 30 years has proven very thin indeed, was all I could add.


I recounted an experience I had a few months after the new era: Talking to a primary school audience, I was astounded to see, as soon as the new president’s name was mentioned, the kids, ages 7 to 11 or so, erupt in glee and start play-fighting among each other, pretending to take turns beating each other up. That night, when I got home, a corner of Twitter had erupted in outrage over a video of young men, drunk as skunks, taking turns abusing a dog, ending with one of them throwing the little dog back into the garden.

A story told by a friend some years back came to mind. A truck carrying crates of live chickens had tipped over on the highway; the astounded witness recounted to me how a young man ran up to the squawking chickens, firmly grasped one by its neck, and wrung its neck until it was dead — the perpetrator cackling gleefully the whole time, even as he ran away.


Worse, of course, was to come, and it started on social media, too, and spilled over into holiday conversations everywhere: bullying among young kids, and the debates that erupted over what should be done to the bullies, their parents and their school. I have long been convinced, not scientifically but solely from decades of TV news reports, that our attitude toward justice is that its most acceptable form is either a lynching or summary executions. Whether pickpockets or rapists, the apprehension of a suspect is often met by a hooting throng taking turns beating the suspect, with the police tolerantly holding the suspect down while the cameras record the incident for the news.

A social scientist who’s done fieldwork among the poor told me some months ago that he hadn’t discovered much shock or surprise among the communities who’d had members summarily liquidated by killing squads; in these places, it’s not as if this hasn’t been going on before the present dispensation. It is an expected exercise of power, the only difference, perhaps, being the scale of it all. And this same reality applies to the current outrage over bullying caught on smartphone cameras.

In 2017, Margaret Sanapo from the College of Policy Science, Ritsumeikan University, Ibaraki-Osaka, Japan, published a study on bullying among 340 sixth graders in five different schools in Western Visayas. Her findings are chilling: 40.6 percent experienced bullying, 23.8 percent perpetrated bullying. More boys than girls experienced being bullied, with verbal bullying being the most common. Forty-four percent bullied out of retaliation, 33 percent did it for fun, 9 percent out of jealousy, 5 percent because the victim was ugly, 4 percent because the victim had a funny name, 3 percent out of irritation, 2 percent because the victim smelled bad. Afterward, 31 percent of the bullies felt bad, 29 percent felt guilty, 27 percent felt scared, and, mercifully, only 13 percent felt good.

Naturally we have a fairly enlightened law enacted in 2013 that advocates have been tirelessly reminding school authorities to implement. Sanapo’s research showed that while regulations required teachers to report bullying (every school is supposed to have a Child Protection Committee, which serves as an antibullying body), very few did so. The year after Republic Act No.  10627 became law, the Department of Education’s own statistics showed bullying cases have gone up by 21 percent, from 5,236 in 2013 to 6,363 in 2014 (perhaps a sign of growing official awareness). A survey by Stairway Foundation in 2015 among two cohorts (1,268 ages 7-12 and 1,143 ages 13-16 in the National Capital Region, Cavite, Negros, Cebu City and Batangas) revealed that 60 percent of the 7-12 kids and 80 percent of those 13-16 experienced cyberbullying: through faked pictures or accounts, exposure of private conversation, or threats. Agnes Reyes of the Philippine Normal University has also published a study of bullying experienced by indigenous people students of PNU North Luzon.

So the threat and kinds of bullying are expanding, not to mention another concern: bullying in the workplace. Here, office gossip, smart-shaming, single-shaming, and physical assaults are mentioned as some of the most common. And as the effect of merely mentioning the President’s name revealed to me when it came to triggering violence in kids, imagine what the whole bully era has done to make bullying epidemic in scope and scale?

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TAGS: bullying, lynching, Manuel L. Quezon III, physical assaults, single-shaming, smart-shaming, The Long View
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