Thursday, October 29, 2009

Mob

This was my column yesterday, October 28.

The old Filipino proverb “aanhin pa ang damo kung patay na ang kabayo” (literally, what good is the grass if the horse is already dead) is the title of an e-mail that is going around as fast as people can press the forward button of their e-mail programs.

I originally didn’t want to write about it until I received the same e-mail four times in two days’ time. What caught my attention were the rejoinders to the original e-mail that people felt compelled to add, mostly condemnation for the government and the people at the Social Welfare Department. There are many people who are angry, very angry, and they are demanding swift action.

I can’t blame people for being angry or for forwarding that e-mail indiscriminately without even verifying the veracity of its content. Everyone in this country is aware of the suffering that many victims of Ondoy and Pepeng have gone through and continue to go through still. The hundreds of thousands of victims need help. Badly. Urgently. They need all the help they can get and Filipinos all over the world have pitched in with whatever they could, many giving until it hurt.

To be shown what appears to be incontrovertible evidence that there was a warehouse bursting at the seams with relief just rotting away somewhere instead of benefiting those who are in need is infuriating. Many allowed their emotions to get the better of them and doused more fuel into the conflagration by making insinuations about the possible reasons why those relief are being hoarded. The default assumption is that these are being saved for the campaign period and will be distributed as part of the administration’s political largesse. Needless to say, some people couldn’t help but suspect the worst in others.

The e-mail is actually a copy of an entry of the same title posted by a blogger at her blog www.ellaganda.com. It’s an eyewitness account of how donated goods intended for the victims of the two calamities were, to use the blogger’s description, nabubulok (literally, rotting) at a warehouse of the DSWD. The blog entry, and the e-mail that is going around, came with pictures of the goods in question along with commentary that dripped of undisguised contempt for the people at DSWD. Mainstream media picked up the particular blog entry. And the rest, as they say, is history.

The blog itself has been suffering from capacity overload; there’s just too much traffic in the blog, too many people trying to get to the blog to read more (they think there is more, but there’s really just that one lone post, the rest of the posts related to the issue are subsequent clarifications and attempts to put better context to the issue) and to express their condemnation. The blogger has been forced to close down the comments section of her blog because as the blogger wrote in a recent entry, she didn’t want her blog to become a mouthpiece for various parties. There’s just a lot of really angry reactions being dumped in the comments section of the blog from both sides of the fence; on one side, those who want to crucify Secretary Esperanza Cabral and the rest of the people at the DSWD and on the other, those who are defending Cabral and the DSWD people.

I’ve written about one aspect of the issue in my Web log, and that is about how the initial discussions tended to limit the issue to whether or not the relief items in that particular warehouse were indeed rotting. The blogger has clarified what she meant when she used the word nabubulok and stressed that she didn’t see goods that were rotting or decaying and therefore didn’t use that word in the literal sense.

There’s a lesson to be learned here, something about how we all should be careful about the words that we use particularly when we are trying to rouse support for a cause or when we are criticizing something or someone—especially during crisis situations where people are emotionally vulnerable. It’s a lesson some bloggers learn the hard way and yes, I am talking from experience too.

But one wishes that those who pontificate about the need for bloggers to be more circumspect in their use of words also practiced what they preach. Once again, there are certain people screaming for what they call “responsible blogging,” whatever that means. There are those who have the gall to accuse bloggers of being unfair and in the same breath spew a host of invectives and indulge in unwarranted character assassination of the blogger. And quite frankly, some people are just downright crass and cruel, they leave commentaries that are not only vicious but also aimed low, very low. These are people who seem to derive some pleasure from being vile and hateful.

This is not to say of course that all comments in the blogosphere are dysfunctional because there are comments that help a lot in framing the issues and in widening the contours of the discussion. This matter of managing the commentaries in the blogosphere remains an enigma.

There’s a lot of static generated by the side issues around the blogger’s account among them the accuracy or veracity of the allegations. Nevertheless, the issues raised by the blogger about how the DSWD is managing the distribution of the goods deserve some answers. It is a valid issue.

It is sad of course that the credibility, the hard work, the sincerity, and the overall competence of the thousands of civil servants of the DSWD has become suspect on account of one blogger’s account. I empathize with the hurt and indignation being felt by DSWD employees many of whom, I am told, had been doing more than what is required of them.

But these are unusual times and it is precisely in times like these when so much more is demanded of civil servants. To begin with, there is already too much dissatisfaction with the current administration and the resentment is bouncing off across the various government agencies.

I know for a fact that the noblest and the most selfless civil servants are those at the DSWD and that Cabral is not really the incompetent or corrupt person that many have accused her to be. But this isn’t the time to debate about qualifications and to argue about accomplishments. This is the time for real, visible action.

As can be gleaned from what’s happening, there’s a mob of people who want better, faster, more efficient ways of helping the victims of the twin calamities. That’s not exactly the worst thing that any mob can demand.

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