So easy to kill
How damnably easy ending a life has become. On a “Bloody Wednesday,” as this newspaper reported, “[t]hree separate attacks on the morning of Jan. 30 took the lives of two Muslim preachers in Zamboanga City, a peace consultant in Nueva Vizcaya, and a congressional candidate and her driver in Quezon City.” That’s to speak nothing of the casualty count from the twin bomb explosions in Jolo, Sulu, on Jan. 27.
A grenade flung through the glass window of a small mosque a little past midnight killed the preachers, Sattal Bato and Rex Habil, while they slept. The murderer of National Democratic Front of the Philippines peace consultant Randy Malayao got on the bus where he sat sleeping during a pit stop at about 2:30 a.m., shot him twice, resulting in his instant death, then fled on a motorcycle driven by an accomplice. Four men on two motorcycles waylaid the vehicle carrying Barangay Captain Crisell Beltran close to noon and opened fire; she expired while undergoing treatment in a hospital, and her driver Melchor Salita was declared dead on arrival at another. Someone triggered by remote control the two bombs that exploded within two minutes of each other inside and outside the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Jolo, mowing down 22 worshipers and injuring nearly 100 others.
All acts of treachery on male and female targets, committed in places of worship or while most of the targets were in a vulnerable state—asleep or in prayer. Is nothing sacred? The way it looks, not anymore.
It’s not as though large-scale killings have not occurred in the recent past. Since President Duterte took over the reins of government in 2016, thousands upon thousands, male and female, teenagers included, preponderantly from the impoverished class, have been killed under the aegis of his administration’s war on drugs. Many of the killers are hitmen whose identities will conceivably be forever unknown. The common denominator in cases involving law enforcers is the “nanlaban” factor—subject supposedly resisting arrest or exchanging fire with a raiding party—although eyewitnesses in many cases are on record that those killed were unarmed or in various attitudes of surrender.
But the current cases, along with fairly recent ones including the killing of election candidates, are not drug-related and are so clustered together as to deliver the impression that murder has lost the contours of an unspeakable act and become part of the daily landscape of public life. How have things come to this?
Years from now perhaps, scholars and researchers would approximate the beginning of the end, when the fabric of society started to be inexorably frayed and then was shredded altogether. Duterte’s strident, violent language—whether employed against human rights groups, the Roman Catholic bishops, or critics such as Sen. Leila de Lima—would in all likelihood be cited as a fundamental factor in the buildup of violence and hate, as reflected in grim killings nationwide. The regular appearance of corpses in the streets—male and female—would be identified as another factor in the gradual disappearance of public shock at seeing them.
The American psychiatrist Richard A. Friedman observed that hate speech can “desensitize individuals to verbal aggression, in part because it normalizes what is usually socially condemned behavior.” Friedman also noted how a president’s rhetoric—particularly directed at political opponents and undocumented immigrants—“has been a powerful contributor to our climate of hate, which is amplified by the right-wing media and virulent online culture.” Friedman was writing in reference to US President Donald Trump and “the kind of hate and fear-mongering that is the stock-in-trade of Mr. Trump and his enablers,” not to Duterte. But he might as well be.
Killings continue to mark the administration’s enduring war on drugs, which the President recently warned would be unrelenting. One wonders if it would duplicate its “one-time, big-time” efforts in August 2017, when antidrug operations reportedly resulted in at least 80 people dead in Metro Manila and Bulacan within a week. Of the 32 killed in Bulacan in one night, Duterte was reported very pleased. “That’s good,” he said. (The actual phrase in Filipino—“Maganda yun”—better conveyed his satisfaction.) “If we could kill 32 every day, then maybe we could reduce what ails this country.”
This inflammatory stance—against which no massive cry of protest was raised, as though it were just a cute sound byte — has eroded the supreme value of human life and demonstrated how easily it is snuffed out.
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