Sunday, August 29, 2010

Gestures of condolence are not enough, but it's a good start

Just this Monday we witnessed the horrific bus siege at the Quirino grandstand end in the tragic death of eight Chinese tourists from Hong Kong. It's been less than one week, and already we hear so many reports of backlash - domestic helpers in Hong Kong have reportedly been fired from their jobs, several Chinese nationals let their anger out on social media, and even the son of former President Joseph Estrada had a little episode at the HK airport.

Amidst all these emotional outbreaks of anger, we find voices calling for people to calm down and put things in perspective. Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang, in a video recording, supposedly called for people to calm down, saying:

From CNN iReport

This is a moment that we all have to act sensibly and to behave in a civil manner. I understand the strong feelings and sentiments within the community. But I also know for sure that the nearly 200,000 Filipino nationals who are working in Hong Kong, who are settled in Hong Kong, feel exactly the same way as everybody else about this incident.

Even Abercrombie & Fitch model Andrew Philip sent out a video message to the world reminding people that such violence can happen anywhere in the world, asking the world not to make any sweeping condemnations about all Filipinos.


I absolutely agree. It can happen anywhere. The crime of one man, and the failure of the police force should not be basis to judge a whole race of people.

But as much as we rally behind the people who call on the world not to judge the Filipinos, I think we also need to own up to the situation. Let us not forget that this happened in our land, that the hostage taker and those police men are our countrymen, and that the government that failed to keep the situation under control is our country's government.

The good news is that many private citizens have made sincere gestures of condolence to the people of Hong Kong - a "We pray for the victims of the Quirino Grandstand hostage taking" Facebook page has been established and has been put up with 47,646 "likes" as of this writing, a group in Manila congregated in the Quirino Grandstand to do a memorial for all the victims on Thursday, followed by a vigil at the Fuente Osmeña Circle in Cebu City.

As an article from the Philippine Online Chronicle says:
"We want others to know that our nation is grieving too."

Photo from the vigil in Fuente Osmeña vigil
taken by Dan Brian Gerona

To all the people who initiated this effort, my heartfelt thanks for setting this up. We need all the positive messages sent out there to show that there are many of us who feel terrible about this event.

It is definitely a good first gesture.

And I say "first gesture" because I don't think we should stop here. I hope that in the coming days, when the emotions have somewhat settled - when we're done with the finger pointing and the hand-washing - that we find ourselves accepting that something horrible happened in our country, and as citizens we should ask ourselves and our leaders, "Now what?"

Daniel Wagner of the Huffington Post wrote this analysis of the Philippine Bus Siege and the Miss Universe incidents. Many of the readers comments point out inaccuracies in his article, and I am no expert to say whether or not these are true. But I did find something he said quite striking --

"If the Philippines wants to get its act together and live up to its potential, it needs to demand more of itself. It can achieve this by stopping making excuses for its failures and ending its acceptance of the lowest common denominator. President Aquino promised to put an end to nepotism and corruption in government. The people should make sure he does this. When the police screw up a hostage rescue, the people responsible should be fired. And when a beauty queen blows an attempt to become the glory of the Philippine people, it should be recognized as such."

It think it was from Rock Ed that I first heard the campaign tagline "No More Excuses, Philippines." It was relevant several years ago when I'd first heard it. And it is still relevant today.

Tama na ang palusot. Own up to what's happening in our country.

We are all innocent in as much as we did not participate in this crime. But as news networks interview experts and government leaders about the situation - we find that we are digging into several interconnected societal issues -- corruption, integrity, faith... and many many others. And we all contribute to that society in the way we conduct ourselves as citizens - in how we choose to participate or to omit participation, to own up to our responsibilities or place the blame on other people.

So I hope that when we turn to our government leaders and ask them "Now what are you going to do about this mess?" we also bother to ask "Now what can we do to help?"

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