Tuesday, November 20, 2007

What is happening to our country?

This was my column yesterday, November 19. Sorry for the late post.

The question that was on most people’s minds last week, verbalized by a number of bloggers immediately after the bomb that snuffed out the lives of three people including that of Rep. Wahab Akbar of Basilan, was, eerily enough, something that was asked by Vice President Emmanuel Pelaez during the dark years of the dictatorship.

“What is happening to our country, general?” This was the question posed by then Vice President Emmanuel Pelaez to then Quezon City Police Chief Tomas Karingal as he lay in a hospital bed, seriously wounded after an ambush.

Many politicians did see some kind of parallel between the two events. One senator immediately raised the specter of martial law, even going as far as to warn President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo against doing a Musharraf, referring to Pakistan’s dictator president.

What is happening to our country? This question can be answered in the way people put two and two together to pin the blame squarely on Malacañang. This question can be answered by looking at how easy and convenient it has become for many people to indulge in oversimplification.

It is telling of the level of unpopularity or mistrust that many have for this administration that something as tragic as a bomb explosion is automatically seen as part of a larger sinister plot, a prelude to something foreboding such as the declaration of martial law. This is sad because such oversimplification does not help anyone. It also doesn’t help the search for the real culprits.
The oversimplification is painfully reflected in the way some people quickly, and quite irresponsibly, jump the gun and submit their own conspiracy theories.
It doesn’t matter that the investigation still has to officially begin. This despite indications that seem to point to the fact that the bomb was intended for Representative Akbar. Even members of his family and his spokesman provide clues as to why Akbar may be a target for assassination.
But then again, that kind of paranoia has become hardly surprising today. It’s only been a few weeks since another powerful explosion rocked a commercial center in Makati killing and hurting a number of people. This administration is also reeling from a number of scandals that is crippling its ability to govern effectively. At the time the bomb exploded, another impeachment complaint against the President was being deliberated in Congress, site of the latest blast. God knows this administration needs all the diversionary moves it can muster to take away attention from all the heat it has been experiencing.

But when the President made a public appeal for calm and sobriety and against senseless theorizing, she could have been talking to a wall. Our senators and congressmen, and even her own people did not heed her appeal.

The initial public reaction of alarm and terror is brought about by the fact that the bomb exploded right inside the premises of the House of Representatives. So perhaps people can be forgiven for immediately concluding that the bomb was intended to carry a bigger, more foreboding message. Although no one aside from the perpetrators can really claim to be an expert on the motivations behind the bombing, the question that begs an answer is “if the target was indeed Representative Akbar, why was the bomb planted in the House of Representatives?” It could have been carried out somewhere else.

But like I said, we could all theorize about the real message or messages behind the bombing. At the end of the day, however, no one aside from the perpetrators really know.
The other thing that strikes me the most was the way some representatives theorized that they were the real targets of the bomb. Only in this country do we have people scrambling all over themselves to claim they were bombing targets.

Gabriela Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan, who was hurt in the bombing, refused to acknowledge that the bomb was intended for Akbar despite the mounting evidence, the pronouncements of his relatives and the subsequent police operations that yielded some arrests. She insists that her support for the impeachment complaint against the President made her a target for assassination. Why she alone—and not the other representatives who are more vocal and more strident in this advocacy —would be targeted for assassination remains unanswered.

What is happening to our country is also indicated in the way the general public remains skeptical of the results of the police investigation. Some belittled the results of the probe, calling it “too good to be true.”

Under different circumstances, people would be calling for a speedy resolution to the tragedy, mouthing slogans like “justice delayed is justice denied.” But now that police authorities have actually come up with answers in a relatively shorter time, the results are also met by outcry. One senator even went as far as to decry the speed saying that it was uncharacteristic of the police to come up with a solution immediately.

Perhaps the skepticism is understandable in the light of how authorities have botched investigations of similar tragedies in the past. For instance, National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales crowed on public television immediately after the blast that they saw it coming. Hindsight is of course 20/20 vision. And it begs the question, if they did see it coming, how come they did not do anything about it? Indications point out that security remained lax in the House of Representatives despite the so-called warning. My take is that Gonzales is once again simply buttressing his own worth.

The public reaction to the bomb has now diminished and just like in the past, we’ve turned to making jokes about what happened.

One text message that has been going around says that the bomb was the result of too much methane in the House of Representatives owing to the fact that the House of Representatives is peopled by big f*rts. Another text message said that sniffing dogs were helpless in the House because dogs were no match to crocodiles (buwaya being the pejorative term for our representatives).

There’s another indication of what is happening to our country. When things don’t make sense, we turn to poking fun at ourselves using humor to diffuse tension, or as levelers to expose the foibles of people in high office. We transform the experience into something that makes sense and which can be shared by all.

I sympathize with the victims of this latest bombing incident. Because of what we know about Representative Akbar’s “colorful” background, particularly about his dalliance with the Abu Sayyaf Group and his stature as some kind of a political warlord in a war-torn province, it is easy to shrug off the manner of his death as an inevitable consequence of the kind of life he chose to live. Still, no one really deserves to meet such a gruesome fate.

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