Monday, November 12, 2007

Reflections on a suicide

This is my column today.

Suicide is a complicated thing. Others try to romanticize it. Some psychoanalyze it, even make it fodder for political and moral debate. At the end of it all, it is a matter between the person and his or her God. The turmoil or conversely, the tranquility; perhaps even the resoluteness or hesitation going on in the mind of the person are known only to him or her and God.

But when a 12-year old does it, as in the case of Marianette Amper, it is unsettling for everyone. The act becomes not just a matter of taking one’s life. It becomes an indictment against society, against the social order. At the heart of the matter is the shocking realization that suicide has become an option even for a child.

The self-flagellation mode that many among us went into is understandable. Indeed, what does this say of our society; nay, of ourselves as parents when that brutal option has become conceivable even for young kids?

Marianette’s suicide is distressing because regardless of the circumstances around it, it is telling of the kind of environment that we have created for our children. Whatever her reasons for doing it, and I maintain that she took to the grave the real reasons why she did it, it does seem that Marianette’s act strikes at the core of our dismal failure as a society and as parents to provide an environment that allows our children to maintain the very things that we hope they would continue to have for a long time, nay, we wish they would have forever—innocence, unconditional trust, hope.

Sadly, many people missed the point. Fortunately, no one has come forward to blame Marianette herself although for a while there, it looked like the Catholic Church would go that route with its initial indecision about giving funeral rites to Marianette (the Church eventually did). Like I said, I can understand the self-flagellation mode that many went into. One only wishes that the rhetoric and the moralizing were tempered with a little more reflection. It is always easier and more convenient to cast the blame somewhere else.

That a young girl took her life because of poverty is a touching story, indeed. But the theory is simplistic. I am not saying that poverty is not enough motivation for killing one’s self; God knows the many good and bad things that have been committed in the name of poverty. But I refuse to buy the theory in its entirety because it offers all of us the convenient excuse to put the blame somewhere else —government, her parents, etc, as if abject poverty is the sole creation of one sector alone.

But okay, since we seemed to have latched into the theory that poverty was the reason, perhaps we should discuss it then. Perhaps we should ask ourselves the question—what creates poverty and what are we doing collectively about it? There’s a painful question to ask.

Of course the government should be blamed for the fact that poverty is the middle name of majority of our people. This particular administration’s penchant for obfuscating issues, for palliative efforts, and for fudging economic figures to make it seem that its efforts are already making impact is obscene. I agree that the widespread corruption that attends transactions in government today aggravates poverty.

I am there. I agree that government economic policy, neglect, the absence of moral compunction, etc., are major factors that sustain poverty. But poverty is not caused by government alone. That’s too simplistic. In the last two months, I have been shuttling to Negros to help a non-government organization that is doing successful work in poverty alleviation through micro financing. Their data says that poverty is also a result of our colonial history, our inequitable power structures, our political system, natural factors such as environmental degradation, even social inequalities.

I was aghast to watch some elected representatives giving a lecture on how poverty has pushed Marianette into killing herself without acknowledging the fact that they were supposed to represent people like her. But maybe that is the problem. We have elected representatives who come from the elite class and don’t really understand the issues of the poor. Let’s come to grip with this basic fact. We won’t be able to address poverty fully until more poor people acquire political power.

The religious sector went into a major soul-searching effort, which as we all know really boils down to one thing: Finding excuses to moralize. Pardon me, reverends and monsignors, but aren’t you the same people who propagate poverty by being against contraception, by promoting bias against gender, by living in palaces and convents served hand and foot by the faithful? Aren’t you the same people who have refused to live with the poor, the same people who still have to donate your lands to the poor? You actually dared to talk about how Jesus Christ asked us to identify with the poor when you yourselves propagate the caste system that reinforces poverty.

Marianette’s suicide was exactly the stuff media has a keen eye for, and boy, did they go to town with it, without reflecting on the role it has played in the tragedy. I will not pick a fight with Vicky Morales and her show (Wish Ko Lang) from which Marianette seemed to get the idea that television shows offer a lifeline out of their miserable conditions. To be fair, it’s not just Wish Ko Lang that glosses over the real issues and turns these into some kind of entertainment. Willie Revillame does the same perversion everyday with the full blessings of the station’s owners. Let’s cut the crap and call these by their real name: Business ventures.

Suicide is a form of violence. To be scientific about it, it is caused by structural violence. We do rile about sex in media, but not enough about violence. Pray, how many shows actually glorify violence and even suicide? I have watched many shows were the reference to suicide is bandied about carelessly without some kind of disclaimer or even an attempt to provide a context, not that it would make any difference, anyway.

And while we are in this self-flagellation mode, perhaps we should also ask ourselves the painful question. Exactly what are we all doing to help Marianette and the poor? Unfortunately, many among us do consider them as blight on our existence.

Here’s a real story. A friend was stuck in traffic when a young child came knocking on the car beside him. He could hear what the child was saying. As he was searching around for coins, he noticed that the driver in the other car was totally ignoring the child. But the child was insistent.

Finally, the other driver knocked on his window. The child took a deep sigh and said out loud, “Okay lang naman wag ka magbigay, kahit pansinin mo lang ako, at sana wag mo ako daanin sa pakatok katok.”

It’s a common occurrence in our streets. It has become easier to pretend the poor do not exist, to think that beggars and street children are up to no good, that they pose a threat to our comfort and security. We’ve even begin to believe that giving alms is not a charitable thing to do and only pushes them further into poverty. We have invented this new way of casting them away. We knock on our car windows instead of acknowledging them and declining politely.

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