In my bubble of safety
I live in a bubble by the name of Bonifacio Global City. Here, the closest I get to drug war deaths is a beggar being chased away. That bubble includes myself, my family and most of my acquaintances in general.
Did I mention I was Korean, and not Filipino?
That means that the President isn’t my president, that he isn’t a war commander, and that his name is thrown around with the same lightness as when one throws around the name of a location, like Rizal or Quezon or Bonifacio, all of which are, incidentally, named after heroes of the Philippines.
The thing is, it’s easy to forget there’s a war going on when you’re in a bubble. All you need to do is stop trying to see it, because forgetting is literally the default option. Any night you walk on Bonifacio High Street is a crowded night, with various students, adults and tourists walking along and minding their own business, which clearly does not include becoming a victim of “Oplan Tokhang.”
And if you don’t know the Filipino language, the phrase “Oplan Tokhang” itself fades into the background as just another indecipherable burst of sound, like “salamat po” or “may reklamo ka.” The consequences of the drug war—the extrajudicial killings, the imprisonments, the ruined families—become something painful from another world, like the starving children in Africa. They exist, but then they go away.
I walk to school in the morning. On the way, I see the usual traffic and the same trees that greet me every day. Even though I’ve lived in the Philippines for only five years, BGC seems so familiar that even the refuse in the air smells like home. I pass a shopping mall. Outside it, a uniformed security guard with dozens of bullets strapped to his chest wields a hefty black gun, no expression visible underneath his sunglasses. Even though people with firearms have long since become a part of daily life, it still gives me the chills just to imagine one of them pointed in my direction.
The role of mall security guards is to protect establishments and make shoppers feel safe. The role of police officers is to internally protect the country and its citizens. If a mall security guard begins to fire at seemingly random shoppers one day, society would denounce him as a lunatic and a murderer.
But when police officers fire at unresisting civilians, it takes a trial and three months, often longer, to give them a life sentence.
Amid the thousands of deaths caused by the drug war, there has, so far, only been one conviction of the killers, which is for the death of Kian Loyd delos Santos. He died in a fetal position, with three gunshot wounds on his head, all three of which were completely unnecessary.
It was a sick thing to do, but the offenders were only brought to justice because of witnesses and video evidence, which directly contradicted the officers’ claim that Kian had been killed after he pulled out a gun and began shooting. Kian was 17 when he died, the same age as I am right now.
The conviction of the officers has been called a “triumph of justice.” If the killing had occurred within the bubble of Bonifacio Global CIty, it wouldn’t be so much a triumph as an outrage. The court procedures would be a given. The outrage would be about the gross violation of basic rights that led to the death itself. Under different circumstances, I could have been like Kian, or, more likely, another teenager whose death has yet to be avenged, like Reynaldo de Guzman, 14, or Carl Arnaiz, 19. The list goes on.
The key difference between my position and that of the dead is money. The vast majority of drug killing victims are from poorer areas, like the slums, and have no financial or political power. When someone from the slums is killed, the only people willing to actively fight for their good name are family and friends, none of whom have influence.
If I were to be killed by officials, my affiliation with the Korean government would make it a difficult diplomatic issue to gloss over. My protection, then, has been bought by the money it took to move to the Philippines, and the money my family spends in the country.
In my bubble of safety, I feel that the drug war has lost its shock value. It recedes into the background as something that isn’t necessary to life. I know about deaths and other events from news sites I browse because it seems a moral imperative to know about them, but as a whole they just blend together. The blustering outrage that brought all of the country together when the first death occurred has now been smothered by the bubble, and now I feel like I’ve become desensitized.
On Jan. 18 this year, the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project claimed the Philippines is “one of the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian.”
The presidential spokesperson replied that it was “remarkable in ignorance and bias” to call the Philippines dangerous. The statements are simultaneously true; while the land of “Oplan Tokhang” is a bloody and dangerous place to be, the fantasy land of Bonifacio Global CIty is completely safe, so long as you stay inside the bubble of the city. All you need to do is to buy your peace.
* * *
Sang Yun Jee, 17, is a Year 11 student at the International School Manila. His greatest school interest is literature.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.