28 Aug

Originally posted in on August 27, 2010

A few nights ago, I slept with a heavy heart, my eyes sore from weeping. Monday, while the whole world watched live on television, fifteen men and women were held at gunpoint for over eleven hours, trapped in a tourist bus in the middle of Manila’s Quirino Grandstand. 

It’s hard to believe that just more than a hundred days ago, the Quirino Grandstand was a sea of joyful yellow, the venue of a country’s pride. The inauguration of the newly elected President was a cause of national celebration. After years of unwanted rule, we finally had a chance at a government we wanted. Sadly, all that goodwill seems to have been wiped out by an indelible act of violence. By night’s end, what was once a venue for celebration had become that of despair, notoriety, and murder. Eight hostages were dead from the hostage taker’s hand. The gunman, once a decorated police officer, lay sprawled across the broken bus door, dead from a bullet to his head.

In the aftermath of these long hours of madness, Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks were rife with complaints, insults, and harsh words on the conduct of our police.  Many of them, while hurtful, are undeniably true.  Monday’s hostage crisis showed the police force’s glaring lack of training and preparation. It exposed, much to our shame and dishonor, the conspicuous holes that riddle this once honorable institution.

And yet, it is only too easy to pass judgment and rail at police incompetence from the safety of our own homes. Without knowing how it is to lay your life on the line, it is easy to crucify them for their lack of discipline and training, their slow response time, their seeming indecision, their deficiency in strategy, their shortage of knowledge on onsite crisis management, and even their apparent ignorance of crowd control. However much we detest their action- or inaction- that night, we all saw, too, that these same men stood in the pouring rain with hardly anything to protect them from the elements, much less the bullets of high-powered assault firearms. They had no Kevlar vests and helmets. Many had no shields.  They had no gas masks to face the biting sting of the tear gas on their face, or night vision goggles and scopes to handle the dark interior of the bus, or even surveillance equipment. As the television showed us all too clearly that night, even their tear gas canisters were sometimes duds.   

Yesterday morning, I opened the television to tune in to the Teleradyo station on cable, with broadcaster Noli de Castro on the line. He criticized the conduct of the police, claiming that the new president will have much work to do to fix the police force. As an afterthought, he added, “Akala ko kasi okay na nung kay GMA.” (“I thought it was already okay under GMA (Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo).”)  But wait, wasn’t he vice-president then?  He was the second highest public official of the land, and he did not know the state of police readiness in the country? Was he kidding me?

The appalling shortcomings the police showed that night are the result of years of mismanagement and corruption not only in the force, but in government. For far too long, a culture of blind loyalty and patronage politics existed as the only means to get ahead in the promotions game. And far too often, the abuses of high-ranking government officials have gone unpunished while those below are left to wallow in meager salaries and substandard equipment, if any. 

Yes, mistakes were made right and left, and these cost many lives. I grieve with the families of those who died in that bus and I reach out to them, through the void of the Internet, with the spirit of humble apology and atonement.  I pray for their heartache and their loss. And I join the voices of  the people who demand that action be taken to make people accountable for their mistakes. It is time to make the police honorable again, and this time, there can be no excuses.

Still, I do not wish to join the wholesale condemnation of the entire Philippine National Police. Many of them, I believe, are still men of valor and honor, willing to lay their lives in the defense of the common man. As a granddaughter of a deceased policeman, once one of Manila’s Finest (his life was remade into a little-known Sonny Parsons movie called “The Fastest Gun Alive”), I know only too well the hardships and sacrifice these men live with in the performance of their duties. My grandfather, at the end of his life, died a poor man, but he died with pride at his own legacy as a policeman and an officer. 

Let this taint on our nation’s soul be a constant reminder to all those who might forget that the price of negligence and arrogance is life.


3 Responses to “Reflections”

  1. P-Angel August 30, 2010 at 5:23 pm #

    Your post was terribly sad and moving. It was incredible to learn a little about your family history – my family has no heroes, but we all have events that shape our lifes.

    The hostage scenario you described is so awful, I really felt you and your country’s pain for the selfish man’s actions. I grieve with you, Kitty.

    One of my uncles (who lives in Scotland) was once married to a woman whose parents were held to ransom. A man broke into their home, and had them held at gunpoint. At one crucial moment, the gunman turned his back, and the husband nodded to his wife to get their gun and shoot him. She couldn’t do it, and when the horrible man turned back around, he shot them both in the head.

    The woman survied, however her husband didn’t. This man had broken into other people’s homes in Scotland, stealing whatever he could, and killing the residents.

    This was many years ago, perhaps even before I was born, and at the time it was a huge media story. But now this event is only remembered by the people it affected.

    • Kittymama August 31, 2010 at 1:17 pm #

      Thank you, Panda. Sometimes I wonder how so much evil can exist in this world where I see so much goodness every day. I guess we just have to make do with what we have and keep making it better. Thank you for sharing your story too. It is tragic that people can do unimaginable evil when goodness is such an easier route to take.


  2. Just A Friend August 31, 2010 at 5:02 pm #

    I saw this on television and like you, I cried for the victims of this tragedy. Unfortunately, we are being condemned as a nation for the mistakes of a few. 😦

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