Frankly I fail to be impressed by all the huffing and puffing about how “shocking” the massacre of 58 people is allegedly in the hands of warlord Andal Ampatuan Jr. I also fail to be impressed by the people who are grandstanding about calls for “justice” and close public scrutiny of (and the proposed televising) of the trial of the Ampatuans. Add to that, by the way, I don’t really give a rat’s arse about how many of these 58 were “journalists”. To me they were all people — period.
Let’s talk about people, shall we? Let’s put fifty eight people killed in what is essentially an election-related politically-motivated crime in its proper perspective. Election-related and politically-motivated acts, whether they are heinous crimes like these or banal acts of stupidity are endemic in Philippine society. One study laid out the following statistics over a number of Philippine election years:
1988 elections – 188 dead
1992 elections – 89 dead
1995 elections – 108 dead
1998 elections – 77 dead
2001 elections – 98 dead
In terms of absolute numbers, ignoring for a moment its ratio to the number of perpetrators involved, 58 (perhaps among other unsung victims killed in 2009) stacks up quite conservatively with our renowned collective track record of election violence. I dare say, the only thing that makes the Maguindanao massacre remarkable is that it was a large number of victims perpetrated by only one man (or one clan, as the case may be).
Then again, is 58 killed by one man or one political clan really that remarkable in the Philippine setting?
When we do a bit of thinking outside the little square framed for lesser minds by our “journalists” in the Philippine Media, we will consider how, from 1987 through to 2008, a single shipping company — Sulpicio Lines Inc (SLI) — was a common denominator underlying the preventable deaths of at least 10,000 people at sea. Let’s say for argument’s sake, that SLI employs 50 senior management personnel and that every one of them can be deemed accountable for those deaths. That’s a victim-to-perpetrator ratio of 200-to-1. It is a ratio that dwarfs Andal Ampatuan’s alleged accountability for the deaths of 58 people.
Look around for a minute and take stock of the Media buzz and ask:
Who is huffing and puffing for the Sulpicio Lines victims today?
Still impressed by all the crocodile prayers being muttered by so-called “prayerful” Filipinos in commemoration of this atrocity? Where are the prayers and where is the Media-backed “commemoration” of the victims of the negligence of Sulpicio Lines?
Sensational “news” should never be confused with important information. And if it is useful information we seek, it seems that no amount of the “press freedom” our society supposedly gained since 1986 helped us identify the relevant issues that determine what our calls to action should prioritise. In the same way that irresponsible property development and garbage disposal failed to make headline news — until Ondoy did it for us — warlords in Mindanao and the rest of the Philippines’ hinterlands amassed their wealth and arms under the radar — until the Maguindanao Massacre turned it to today’s talk of the town. Like everything else in the Philippines, whether it be disastrous flooding, or armed-to-the-teeth warlords, the Philippine Media — that supposed bastion of enlightenment, truth, and (get this) “information”, simply fails to lead the way in helping the public focus on what is important.
In the same way that Andal Ampatuan Jr is an individual person who oversaw the death of 58 innocent people, we are also a people of one Nation that have overseen preventable deaths numbering in the tens of thousands if not the hundreds of thousands. What we choose to focus our attention on – and what is glaringly absent from our national “debate” – is a revealing indictment of our claim to be a civilised society. The fundamental issues that underlie recurring disasters and accidents as well as chronic election violence – safety, environment, infrastructure, and security – are by themselves newsworthy in truly civilised societies. A routine focus on these issues is the hallmark of a society that truly cares about its lot.
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