The phrase “preventable tragedy” is inseparable from any discussion of the Aquino administration as it comes to a close in less than three months. Not only has the term of outgoing president Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino been marked by several preventable tragedies, one can be forgiven for thinking that BS Aquino’s victory as president was itself one big preventable tragedy.
The recent Kidapawan incident, where farmers and police clashed in North Cotabato, seems to fit the mold of a preventable tragedy.
Even in this short a time after the incident, there has been no shortage of information and disinformation about the incident. BS Aquino’s government, as usual, is trying to find a donkey to pin the blame on. Most conspicuous of all is BS Aquino’s personal silence on the matter.
We need to filter the noise and get to deeper root issues that are either hidden, or are trying to be hidden desperately. We start by asking a few simple questions.
First, we ask why farmers, of all people, should suddenly go hungry.
Drought. A condition that the government supposedly had known for some time would affect the area, as well as a condition that the government brain trust suffers from. Farmers can take all the precautions and preparations possible, but without government assistance, they can go only so far.
So the question remains, what did the government do/not do? And why did it have to come to the incident, which left some dead, before this was highlighted?
If there’s any group within society who should not be allowed to go hungry, it is those who produce your food in the first place. Unfortunately, farmers are one of many groups in society who perpetually get the short end of the stick from the government in terms of support.
Next, we ask why authorities saw the need for heavy-handedness in dealing with the protesters.
The official line of police talking mouths is that the force practices something called “maximum tolerance”. Police are not to harm protesters at all costs, much less shoot at them with live bullets.
Police will claim that the protesters fired first, and that they were merely retaliating in self-defense. The protesters will say the same thing about the police. At this point, who fired first hardly matters. As fellow GRP writer Ilda has pointed out, authorities were in a position to practice better discretion than the farmers. The practice of this discretion has been cast in doubt.
Furthermore, the alleged presence of communists/leftists among the protesters’ ranks has become mixed into the discussion. And now, administration apologists are using this as justification for why things turned out the way they did.
The inevitable question pops up, David Yap among those who raised it on Twitter: does even the alleged presence of communists/leftists justify the use of lethal force on the farmers?
Let me just say, for the record, that wherever they go, communists/leftists manage to complicate EVERYTHING.
If you ask me, the choice to use force seems to run deeper than just several instances of flawed judgment in the field. If one considers things outside of the Kidapawan incident context, one can readily observe that Filipinos who are in positions of authority like to flaunt/show off their power. When it comes to responding to perceived threats to that power, they usually use a jackhammer to swat a fly. One can even say that they will burn down a house just to kill a rat.
Kamay na bakal – it seems heavy-handedness is a no-brainer in the Filipino psyche. It seems to be an offshoot of lazy thinking, especially if Filipinos believe that such kamay na bakal is the only possible solution to an incident.
Oh, shout-out to the communists/leftists in the Philippines: the government blames some of you for the violence. Yet they sleep with you as well, i.e., have allowed you to assume key positions in government. Alliance of convenience much? Comrades (that’s what you call each other, right?), if I were you, I would seriously rethink this “relationship” and start disowning those among your ranks who do not “tow the line.”
Finally, we ask why there seems to be a disconnect with the way Filipino citizens and their government regard each other.
I am somewhat convinced that, fundamentally, Filipinos want a nanny state. They want the government to provide everything for as little cost as possible. There is no such thing as a free lunch, however; if you want something from the government, it will cost the citizens something. That something is usually called taxes.
For all the taxes that they pay though, Filipinos surely deserve better than the current service level they’re getting from the government now.
The relationship between citizens and government is two-way: you help the government, the government helps you. If one of the entities is not pulling its weight, the relationship deteriorates. No, keeping complaints about lapses in government performance to yourselves is NOT an example of helping it. Neither is not vetting and scrutinizing mercilessly the people who want to be in government during election periods.
The government is there to serve the people, in theory. In practice, we all know what happens: people feed the government. Filipinos surrender power to their government all too readily. They are too deferential and have clung to the belief that complaining about your government’s non-performance is equivalent to lack of utang na loob (sense of debt of gratitude).
One of the symptoms of such deference is that the government affords itself powers to treat certain sections of the citizenry like crap. This recent incident in Kidapawan merely serves to reinforce this sentiment that government – this administration in particular – cares little for farmers. The way government treats farmers runs eerily similar to the way they treat overseas contract workers (OCW’s):
”Keep propping us up; you’re not allowed to complain. If you do, you are an ungrateful bastard.”
They can keep doing this only for so much more before something eventually gives. I wouldn’t be surprised if it already has.
When problems like these arise, one of the lines you can expect to hear from government spokespersons is, “Why didn’t the aggrieved ask for dialogue?”, to which the conversation will continue: “Now they are, and instead of talking with them, you talk down to them. Where were you when the problem was still manageable?”
On a side note, fellow GRP writer Ilda pointed out in one of her recent articles that the Aquinos have a history of being connected with excessive force – to the point of lethality – used against farmers. Mendiola, Hacienda Luisita, and now Kidapawan.
As a bonus, we ask why the Aquino administration, for all its inordinate obsession with image management, is awfully piss-poor at crisis management.
I guess the Aquino administration has worked under the assumption that spin is the solution to everything. At various points in BS Aquino’s six-year term Filipinos have seen the extent to which they will go to deflect accountability from themselves and to pin blame on others. Netizens have their stories about armies of internet trolls being hired by the Communications Group in order to discredit critics. Stories abound about how support for Liberal Party is “garnered and guaranteed” at the barangay level.
Image is nothing, however, without substance. For all the savvy with propaganda that the Palace Communications Group seems to exhibit, they could not totally cover up the empty shell that characterizes this administration.
And now, people are asking: if the government has all this money from “savings”, what results do they have to show for it?
One more thing of note: the Cotabato Governor, Lala Mendoza, was angered by moves of other candidates to assist the farmers involved in the Kidapawan incident. She called such moves “insulting”, and considered such moves “politicking”.
To which I have two simple things to say: “Why can’t people help or do other things in the Philippines without being colored politically?”, and, “Governor Mendoza, if you can’t give the people what they want or need, they simply go to someone who will. If you feel insulted, you deserve it because you insult Filipinos’ intelligence with your pettiness.”
Now, excuse me as I go look for the next case of Aquino administration ineptitude to rattle them over.