Monday, April 20, 2009

Tragedies

This is my column today.

Now that people seemed to have come to their senses, perhaps it is time to talk about the Failon tragedies in a calm and sober manner. Yes, the use of the plural form in the previous sentence was deliberate. The unfortunate death of Trina Arteche Etong was just the first of a series of tragedies that happened last week.

I did write a very impassioned piece on the incident in my Web log last week in reaction to the monumental blunders (a reader of my blog called it epic failure) of the officers belonging to the Quezon City Police District Criminal Investigation and Detection Unit. I don’t regret writing that piece where I cursed to high heavens the utter senselessness and the extreme viciousness displayed by the police officers.

Department of Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez has tried to explain, in his usual sardonic way, the general demeanor of the police officials as “enthusiasm.” I don’t know if there’s anyone out there who still puts any weight on the Justice Secretary‘s opinions, but one has to grant that the attempt to inject a positive spin was amusing.

But at least it was an indirect admission that the death of Ted Failon’s wife did receive “special attention” from the police.

In a country where police response to crimes is often compared to that of a three-toed sloth taking its own sweet time, the display of zealousness should have been worthy of commendation. One can only wish that the supposed “enthusiasm” was also tempered with compassion. It seemed that in their haste to show that they are capable of quick action, they forgot that the incident was not just a potential criminal case. Trina Arteche Etong was a wife, a mother, a sister, a friend. It was also an occasion for grieving.

Unfortunately, our police officials don’t seem to be acquainted with the concept although they seemed to have handled the case of Rod Strunk in the celebrated Nida Blanca murder many years ago with a little more sobriety. It wouldn’t really hurt for the police to be contrite at this point and to apologize.

Our police officials really need to learn to be more “human.” Very often, what victims really need is empathy and concern rather than swift solutions. We all know that crimes take some time to solve. Of course we want solutions, but we first want them to be a reassuring presence; to convince us that something is being done.

I am not discounting the possibility that “revenge” was also a motivation on the part of the police. Police inaction or ineffectiveness has been one of Ted Failon’s favorite advocacies. But it’s an insinuation that remains to be proven, so in fairness to the police, probably best left as a sidebar for the moment.

Much of the frenzy, however, should be attributed to the sensationalized reportage of media. ABS-CBN went out of its way to issue an official statement appealing to everyone to respect the privacy of the Failon family during the difficult time. Ironically, the same media company was at the forefront of the coverage reporting the minutest detail of each revelation.

I hope that everyone has learned a lesson from the series of tragedies. It would be such a waste if Etong’s death is simply relegated to one of those unfortunate things that happen in this country every now and then.

***

Press Secretary Cerge Remonde has finally acknowledged, and vociferously denied, rumors that have been going around and around for about two weeks now on who ordered that ill-fated helicopter to fly out of Baguio causing the death of six people. The version of the rumor that was relayed to me unequivocally put the blame squarely on Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

The President, famous for her micromanagement tendencies, was supposed to have given marching orders for the advance team to fly out of Baguio pronto on that fateful afternoon. The rumor painted the President as a tyrant who barked orders with nary a care for the welfare and safety of her underlings.

Given that we have seen the President on many occasions fuming mad and throwing a fit on public and the many stories around her legendary temper, I can understand why that particular rumor soon became almost like Gospel truth. What I couldn’t believe though was how Senator Rodolfo Biazon—a former military officer, might I add—fell for that rumor, even calling for a Senate investigation in the process.

My personal reaction when the rumor reached me was that it was a disservice to the victims of the tragedy. It painted them as automatons—brainless people who scurried around to comply with orders without the benefit of some thinking process.

The other rumor implicated presidential son Rep. Mikey Arroyo. The rumor alleged that the other reason that caused the delay of the team’s departure was that the First Son was still using the chopper for highly personal—and therefore suspicious—reasons. The Palace has denied the rumor.

What are we to make of these rumors and our seeming predilection to believe the worst of the First Family? Of course it is indicative of the level of unpopularity of the current occupants of the Palace.

But to be fair, these have happened before. A lot of rumors swirled around the Marcoses when they were in power some of them really incredible such as those ones about Bongbong Marcos’s alleged drunken sprees. There were also rumors about the Ramoses, the Aquinos, and the Estradas.

The usual explanation being proffered is that these are all part of our attempts to “humanize” people who live in palaces. We make fun of them, make them fodder for jokes, reduce them to caricatures, even ridicule them for their foibles.

But really, at a time when we have all these technology at our disposal to clarify issues and inform people of the real score, one wonders why it takes quite some time for our leaders to set the record straight quickly and effectively.


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