For a nation that I’ve asserted so many times is motivated by nothing more noble than a culturally-ingrained sense of hiya (a Filipino concept that is a bizarrely convoluted complex of shame and face), it seems like extracting even a small iota of resolve to change is like extracting blood from stone. There’s a sick pun in there if one considers how much blood stains the history of the Philippines — specifically blood coming from the victims of preventable tragedies. The term preventable, apparently does not resonate in a society whose key philosophical pillars are the concepts of (1) bahala na (“come what may”), (2) pwede na yan (“that will do for now — and forever“), and (3) impunity.
I echo (some of) the words of blogger Ellen Tordesillas who calls for an embedding of the lessons that clearly need to be learned from the Mendoza hostage tragedy that resulted in the deaths of eight foreign tourists…
[…] sana naman may nakuha tayong leksyun sa nangyari para naman may katuturan itong kahihiyan at pasakit sa bayan.
Roughly translated in English:
… how I wish we learned from what happened so that some meaning can be gained from the deep deep shame and pain that our society bears today.
The trouble is, this is by no means a fresh call to action and (at the very least) reflection. Perhaps our talent as a people has become one of self-medication — specifically self-anaesthetisation. For despite wounds that continue to fester all over us, we are able to stand tall on legs wobbled by pain and wear a silly quivering grin whenever we put up a face before the global community.
My personal mission in life is to rub salt into the gaping wounds that continue to hobble our country — wounds that we patch with flesh-coloured band-aids in the hope that they simply disappear from out tunnel-visioned sight. And, indeed, there are many wounds that remain band-aided and untended, even as the surgical spotlight is focused for now on the freshest and deepest one today. Those wounds are those from our recent history of fatal mediocrity that also call for lessons to be learned.
Our long tradition of preventable disasters is world-renowned: feudal clan vendettas that result in the massacre of scores of innocents, maritime disasters with casualty numbers that utterly dwarf accidents that induce far more introspection and reform in normal societies, and “natural” calamities that in the blink of an eye drown and bury alive Filipinos in the thousands.
Where is the collective remorse and resolve to change that one would think senseless deaths like these would induce in other more normal societies?
Considering the staggering death toll of past avoidable tragedies, the displays of contrition we see today in the aftermath of this most recent tragedy, for me, remain suspect. Like the proverbial boy who cried wolf, the expressions of mere intent to reflect and to reform ourselves fail to impress me.
I look no further than the words of the supposed top buck-stopper in the land, the President, when he said:
“Our problems now, in two or three years we can say that they are laughable when we recall that they were not that grave,” […] said [by Mr. Aquino] in Filipino.
Those words of the President, just like how his very person reflects the very character of the society he leads, explains a lot about us as a people. They are words that may ease the pain (at least for those still beholden to his pedigree) but do nothing to cure the underlying wounds.