THE BACKLASH came thick and fast.
One text message sender said enough with the hypocrisy. The Filipinos who were executed in China were self-confessed drug couriers. Even their families admitted so. By all means let’s grieve for their deaths and commiserate with those they left behind. But let’s not turn them into the aggrieved.
Another said that while she too mourned for the dead, she could not understand why the media were turning them into saints and martyrs. Drug mules make as much as half a million pesos per delivery. But such has been their transformation into victims that the government has been forced to commit to shoulder the education of the children they left behind. What about the millions of honest souls who are toiling abroad who have been victims of disasters, wars and abuse? Why should government prioritize the needs of those who broke the law and not those who only break their backs for a living?
And one recruitment agency head, Alfredo Palmiery, put it this way: “[The three] were never hired by any legitimate agency, they had no working contracts and working visas…. It is an insult to the millions of OFWs all over the world to call the three OFWs as they had no intention to work in China and were merely convinced to travel as tourists to bring contraband to that country.”
I am glad for these comments. They show we haven’t entirely lost our moral anchor or plain common sense. Or the public does not deserve the media they have, and vice versa. Because it’s the media, particularly the networks, that are hugely to blame for the martyrdom and canonization of the executed Filipinos. The orgy of tear-jerking, or just jerking off, the assault of wailing and tearing of hair, which are not entirely figurative, particularly from the kin of the doomed, was a sight to behold or an earful to take last week. By the end of it, you’d think the three were hapless victims and China a pitiless oppressor. You’d think this country was a respecter of life and China a harbinger of death.
I believe in human interest. But it is one thing to draw an insight into emotional states, it is another to wallow in them. It is one thing to be dramatic, it is another to be melodramatic. It is one thing to strive for pathos, it is another to produce bathos. It is one thing to have a sense of compassion, it is another to have a sense of proportion. It is one thing to grieve for the dead and those they left behind, finding a common bond with them as Filipinos and as mortals whose lives will end one day; it is another to forget their transgressions against the living which have brought them to this pass, finding a fundamental difference between us and them: we are not criminals, we do not contribute to snuffing out other people’s lives while trying to sustain ours and those of our loved ones.
The day the networks see those differences is the day we are spared grief, in more ways than one.
But it’s more than the media, it’s us too, the public. If the media make it a point to create the muck, it’s because we like to wallow in it. The least of our worries is how pathetic we must look in the eyes of the world by this shameless display of lack of perspective. The most is what deeply troubling things this shameless display of lack of a sense of justice, or grasp of the connection between crime and punishment, must tell us about ourselves.
It’s almost as if in this country death by, in, and of itself is a natural claim to martyrdom or heroism or sainthood. Or to having one’s sins forgiven and forgotten, if not having one’s life given a positive spin, and not just in eulogies. Or indeed to having the people who caused the death recriminated against and made to carry the weight of it.
This isn’t the first time this has happened, nor is it likely to be the last. Only a couple of months ago, Angelo Reyes shot himself in the heart and all of a sudden this country’s heart bled for him. Gone was the fact that he had just been implicated by his former subordinates in the Armed Forces of the Philippines in commanding the rerouting of command-directed funds in the wrong direction. Gone was the fact that he had been accused by his comptroller of pocketing a sizable sum by way of a goodbye (in the temporary sense of retirement from position and not from life) gift.
His family and friends extolled him for being a dedicated father and breadwinner. His colleagues extolled him for bravery beyond the call of duty, not least for the way he exited from this world. His supporters extolled him for his heroism, dying as a soldier does with honor intact. And they went after Antonio Trillanes for hounding him in the Senate, the Guardians vilifying Trillanes for having transgressed the Philippine Military Academy’s code of honor by speaking ill of a senior officer.
Just as well, only a couple of weeks ago, the congressmen voted overwhelmingly to bury Ferdinand Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani. And for no other reason than that he was dead. In this country, it’s not just death that gets buried, it’s life too, especially the life dedicated to rot and infamy. Gone was the fact that Marcos had ruled the country illegitimately, pitilessly and viciously for a decade and a half. Gone was the fact that the people had risen against him, crying enough of the lying, cheating and stealing, enough of the murder, torture and disappearances, enough of his shadow falling upon the land like a plague.
At least in this case the congressmen, after transforming him into a hero, stopped short of blaming the country for his death. His political death if not his physical one, though for Marcos there was precious little difference between the two. Thank God for small favors.
And now, this.
Is it a wonder there is no justice in this world—this part of it more than any other?
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