Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Hostage Killings: When Life is Cheap

Most Filipinos are shocked and angry at the outcome of the hostage taking and believe that the authorities bungled up the operations thus costing the lives of the seven tourists from Hongkong. But then most Filipinos are a compassionate people who also feel a sense of responsibility and even duty towards their fellow human beings. Unfortunately, such humane values are not emblematic of the state institutions in this country – the law enforcement agencies and other government institutions, legislative and executive.

On the contrary, the experience of ordinary people is the systematic violation of their rights by these very same institutions that have a reputation for being corrupt, inefficient, anti-people and inhumane with respect to the treatment that they mete out to their ordinary citizens. Members of the law enforcement agencies, for example, are known to break the very laws that they are meant to enforce. Instead of protecting the rights and even lives of the masa they violate these rights, including peoples lives (witness the recent torture of a petty thief at the hands of the police).

Life, especially those of the poor, is ‘cheap’ in this country. Governments/institutions have abrogated their responsibility to protect poor peoples lives, as seen by the preventable loss of lives due to ‘accidents’, floods and landslides, the regular capsizing of overcrowded boats and the drowning of hundreds, the continuing extra-judicial killing of activists and journalists and the millions of lives wasted by poverty.

This cheapening and degradation of human life in this country has once again been dramatically exposed, and this time in the international arena, with the loss of lives of overseas nationals. The problem is not merely one of better training and equipment for the PNP. It's deeper and more fundamental, tied to the very nature and culture of these institutions, whose structures, internal culture and practice is not geared towards fulfilling their social and human obligations. Their internal functions and culture are in fact the very anti-thesis of anything social -- they are anti-social.

Some governments still carry out their responsibility of protecting their citizens with a certain degree of commitment and efficiency and hence the reaction of the Hongkong authorities to the killings of their nationals on Philippine soil. If the loss of lives were those of Filipino nationals, one cannot help but wonder if the Philippine authorities would respond in the same way – with indignation and anger at the loss of Filipino lives and doing everything in their power to protect the needs and interests of their citizens. Successive governments indifference to protecting the lives of Filipino citizens inside and outside the country -- such as that of overseas Filipino workers -- indicates that this will not be the case.