As I start writing this article’s first draft it is already the day after Independence Day in the Philippines. It is also only hours after a horrific event in which a bigot armed with an easily-purchased semi-automatic rifle entered an LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Florida, and embarked on a murderous rampage that left 50 people dead, including himself.
Naturally, social media blew up with sympathy and condolences for the victims. As someone who considers himself gay, I believe this was the natural end result of the kind of verbal and physical abuse suffered by people who refuse to fit into crabbed and outdated social norms.
But there was another side that reared its ugly head – insofar as ugly heads raise themselves like wildfire in the cesspool of internet comments. This was the side of those that argued that if people were armed, the shooting would have stopped early or never happened at all. It’s the easiest solution to the problem, they say.
Now, I could go into any number of reasons why a country with an excessively-armed populace (legally or otherwise) would actually have more mass shootings, as opposed to those developed countries that address the root causes of gun-related violence above and beyond just “taking muh guns away.” The kind of systems that limit multiple firearms-related death incidents to once or twice every other year as opposed to, say, weekly.
But in light of waking up to this tragedy on Philippine Independence Day, I came to realize that this “easy way out” that afflicts America so negatively is probably one of the biggest burdens of their legacy on the Philippines.
As someone who spent his formative years in the Philippines, as well as someone who has read GRP since before the Second Aquino Administration, the most common retort I got for expressing concern was “You don’t know what we’ve been through.” It’s the same retort with slightly different wordage that I’ve read on innumerable Facebook comments when people from international bodies call him out for his notorious off-the-cuff remarks.
And quite frankly, it’s this kind of retort that signifies how much Filipino society has become almost slavishly dependent on this kind of exceptionalism.
The Philippines has a massive problem with clan-fed corruption and its violent offspring. I’m not going to argue this. But the incoming administration not only legitimately embodies the anger of the Filipino people – but has smartly campaigned to embody their mentality to find the easy way out and stay there. President-elect Rodrigo Duterte has very proudly pointed to the bodies he’s left in the streets (1,700 by his own personal count) as the foundation upon which Davao’s newfound and so-called prosperity rests.
His campaign maneuvers were a master-stroke of genius: because his so-called “vigilantes” are so “effective” at what they do against the demographic of people that really cannot fight back, the only people that can question it without having to fear for their very lives are people with the clout to protect themselves. And these people are also from the exact same institutions his campaign criticizes. If you find something wrong with what he’s done, you are part of the problem and more than likely a – deep breath now – sycophantic oligarchy-loving Flip Yellowtard.
Yet the international community is right to wonder why it’s mostly alleged (key word – alleged) small-time peddlers and pickpocketers getting gunned down on the streets, rather than the cartel kings and their subtenientes that can find ten more poor teenagers where they came from. They’re right to wonder why a journalist has to weigh when to sacrifice their integrity to extend their lifespan – and yes, that’s a question of when, not if.
And whether they like it or not, any word that comes out of the mouth of the officials that the Filipino people willingly chose to elect will be scrutinized as is required of any public figure on the world stage. These officials will stand in that spotlight for the next six years regardless of how dodgy they will be with people that “just don’t understand what we’ve been through!”
So as long as the alleged scumbags are swept out of sight and into the alleys by the milicias taking root in cities across the Philippines, those who trumpet their victimhood as law-abiding citizens can do as they please (see below). They’ll sleep easier at night with the simple assumption that the people who died deserved it for one reason or another, their grieving loved ones will just have to deal with it (meme sunglasses included), and most importantly, that they’ll never worry about getting their own hands dirty over it when some ex-NPA gunman gone legit and/or helpful neighborhood tanod can do that for them and find someone to pad the “crimes solved” stats with.
As long as the privileged who were somehow victimized by some small-time peddler halfway across the province think they’re safer, and their brand-new emergency response vehicles aren’t tainted with the foul corpse of some poor Rugby-sniffer that happened to piss off a man with a gun for one reason or another, all’s good in their little world.
Wading into the muck and find out why they’re being called out for allowing this takes Filipino society out of their closed-minded comfort zone, much like the American gun nuts and simple-minded action heroes they idolize. They believe that throwing more of what is easy at the problem – in their case, handing out guns to everyone down to barangay tanods – will solve their problems with government inaction. They’ll cover their ears and cling to their guns and their own take on the War on Drugs – much like many Americans and their duly-elected government still do – rather than perhaps wondering if it is in fact possible to have a system at least on the city level that can find a way to reduce crime without having to resort to summary executions.
Out of sight, out of mind, and anybody who thinks otherwise can buzz right off. It’s truly an American exceptionalist way of thinking, and instead of finding a way to break their dependence on easiness Filipino society has instead resolved to up their dosage of this mentality, for better or worse.
If there is a seed of hope left in the Pandora’s Box that opened the moment that Rajah Humabon sent Magellan over to Mactan to carry out what was basically a hired hit, it’s that people have started to realize that change must start within themselves, not just in the people they elect. They will need to break out of that guaranteed route to insanity: believing that doing the same thing, only more intensely, will give better results.
That kind of change is what will make Independence Day a holiday worth celebrating.