The moment Senior Inspector Rolando Mendoza, 55, began releasing children, the elderly and the sick, and had showed signs of kindness to some of the hostages — the world began to hope that the drama will have a peaceful denouement. But things did not turn as hoped, for eight people were killed, one of them, the dismissed police officer. The spectators around the globe are now wondering what really happened yesterday in the Philippines.
Yesterday’s affair is a humbling moment. Scrap the humiliation that this brings to the Filipinos. It’s not about national pride or the lack of it, considering what people may call a tactically inutile police force. In fact, scrap the idea that these are visitors whom we are supposed to accept hospitably for Filipinos are known for that trait. No, it is not a culture dilemma. What happened we would rather watch from a distance, in the comfort of our homes, on Youtube. There, we can even joke about how foolish the law enforcers were, or how not one of the hostages is Batman. From a distance, we are safe, apparently.
Life is precious — that’s not a culture or national thing. When somebody dies before our eyes, whether the villain or the victim, we are wired to feel a sense of loss. When somebody triumphs over danger, we rejoice, not only empathically for that person, but for that part in us that still believe there is a way out in the labyrinth of progressive corruption and decadence that we have found ourselves lost in. During these moments, we have the urgency of hope — or else, we would not even watch. We are part of the drama that we have just witnessed, whether we like it or not.
When somebody loses it and yields to the basest of options, we ask why. It’s instinctive to want to help, but how? It’s intuitive to want to care, but how? Most times we are left without any option but to admit that we are not the masters of our fate. When we are reminded how thin the line between sanity and madness, danger and safety, life and death, we are forced to contemplate the cruelty of not having anything or anyone to lean on to in times like these.
Certainly, the hostages could not lean on themselves, or else, all of them could have escaped without harm. Likewise, they cannot fully entrust their lives to the law enforcers, who were unable to handle the situation with utmost care. All of them: Mendoza, the hostages, the police and the media personnel standing by are crying for help.
Last week, a girl wearing a thick jacket, with beads of perspiration falling in trickles down her face, boarded the jeepney I was riding. She was in her early twenties. She got off the jeepney but returned, this time, sitting near me. The passengers were fanning themselves — it was one, hot afternoon along Taft Avenue. Suddenly, I noticed several passengers sitting across her smiling and laughing to themselves. I looked at the girl and saw that she was the instigator of the silent riot, tapping her knee in delight. Some of the passengers tried to cover their giggles with the back of their hands, while some just looked away. But she continued to giggle with unusual satisfaction at something none of us cared to know about.
That was a cry for help there, though her face looked peaceful and amused. Remove the thick jacket, and you would say she is a well-adjusted youth. Remove the smiles, and you would say she is as hardened in the realities of life as all of us must be. Remove all of these and she is just a human being who has crossed the line of sanity and ventured into a parallel universe where the harsh punishments of poverty, hunger and loneliness will no longer hurt us.
The passengers stopped laughing when after passing by a few blocks, she left us. The entertainment has ceased, for then, we were left to think about what happened there.
Mendoza became an instant celebrity after the incident. People began to care to look at his files. Research has it that he was among several officers charged with robbery, extortion and grave threats in 2008 and thereafter, dismissed. His demand was simple: to get his job back. He believes that he was terminated without cause and reasoned that he should be reinstated to his former position. In the meantime, several people’s lives were at his mercy. The grim details of the aftermath will shock the most sensible person. It is sad that for Mendoza, he thought of no other recourse.
Somewhere, at the back of our minds, we still wish there were an alternate resolution somewhere, but even happy endings are fragile, like our lives. Searching for comfort in what organized society has placed to prevent such things from happening or at least to provide us with a certain degree of security when they do occur, but finding none, I turned to God and prayed. I prayed for strength in mind for all those who are trying to process the gruesome events that happened. Sanity is as precious a commodity as life in these times, and so is faith.
august 24 2010