Darkness in Paris | Inquirer Opinion
At Large

Darkness in Paris

/ 12:33 AM November 17, 2015

SO WE’RE putting our best foot forward, putting our game face on. That’s what countries do when the eyes of the world are on them, when any lapse in security, hospitality or graciousness can be blown out of proportion, blackening their name before the international community.

Which is why I would cut them some slack: the organizers, the security officers, the officials, maybe even the chefs and entertainers, in charge of all the arrangements for the delegates—but especially the leaders of the world’s biggest economies—who will soon be flying into the country for talks, negotiations, agreements and simply the company of their fellow statesmen and women.


Questions have been asked about what exactly we hope to gain from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec), especially given the direct costs, said to be well over a billion pesos, as well as the related expenses: the time and expenses lost to traffic; the opportunity cost incurred with the public holiday meant to decongest and clear the streets and ensure the safety of the VIPs zipping through the metropolis; even the extra wages due the police, traffic aides, tour guides and everyone else pulling together to make this gathering a success.

The answers have varied: from possible foreign investments resulting from negotiated deals, to better trade relations between nations, even to simply the goodwill to be gained from face-to-face encounters between and among political leaders. Might as well throw in “world peace” while we’re at it.


* * *

THE rewards seem elusive, maybe even paltry when the figures are added up. But what seems clear is that the reputation of the Philippines would be irreversibly damaged, maybe destroyed beyond reckoning, should something dreadful happen to any of the delegates—even to one of the visiting leaders, God forbid!—while on our shores as an official guest of the government.

So whether this means one official being fleeced in yet another “talaba” scam, or being victimized by a pickpocket, or getting hit by a plastic bottle in the course of what promises to be many anti-Apec protests, the black mark will fall on the Philippines as a whole, and on all Filipinos.

The world, especially the world’s media, won’t care whether the offense was committed by one lunatic or a whole gang of activists or a syndicate of criminals. What will emerge is that the lapse in security or hospitality will be the fault not of the Aquino administration but of the entire Philippines and of all Filipinos, including the millions of our countryfolk working abroad.

So whether Apec will be a success in economic terms, a political breakthrough, or a boon for Filipino businesses—it hardly matters in the summing up. For a single mistake or stumble will end up embarrassing the country well beyond the last day of the conference when the leaders would have gone home toting their Kenneth Cobonpue souvenirs.

What is crucial is that the Apec events proceed as planned, with nary a wrinkle or embarrassment. It is not vainglory to hope that our visitors go home singing the praises of our people, testifying to the vaunted Filipino hospitality as a reality. It is patriotism of the highest order. Holding our head high in the world is not a bad goal to aspire to.

* * *


I WAS out of town when the first glimmer of news about the shootings and explosions in Paris were spotted. Even Facebook in the early hours was

frustratingly vague and imprecise. Only hours later would the full extent of the tragedy—tragedies—be revealed.

And when I finally got a handle on the story, I almost wished I had remained in the same state of befuddlement earlier. Because the killings, the deaths and injuries, the precise, cold-blooded planning that went into the operation—all these truly chill the soul.

Shaken by the widespread violence in one of the world’s most beautiful cities, some have harkened back to the massacre at Charlie Hebdo. Indeed, the armed attack at the offices of a satirical magazine was so awful as to rouse the world to adopting the slogan “I am Charlie Brown” (Hebdo is the French version of the cartoon character’s surname) as an especially evocative slogan, hashtag, code term for the roiling emotions unleashed by the shooting.

But while saying “I am Paris” is meant to express solidarity with the victims of the terrorist rampage and even with ordinary Parisians who must walk the streets of their city in continual fear and suspicion, it strikes me as puerile and rather too convenient in response to the insanity.

* * *

THE Islamist terror group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has already claimed responsibility for the mayhem. But the mind refuses to comprehend whatever reasons this organization may have had to, first of all, conceive of this night of cruel and wanton evil; and then to execute its plans with the cold calculation of marking out the most crowded venues and spots where people were apt to gather.

What, in the name of all that is decent and human, could justify such calculating madness? What grievance could ever merit the murder of more than a hundred innocents, the darkening of the City of Lights?

Some minds and souls are simply too dark for reason or compassion to penetrate. But that they use the word “religion” to justify their evil deeds is all the more reprehensible.

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