“Human rights” is the current rallying cry of the Philippines’ “civil society” today. This renewed interest is backdropped by the noticeable escalation in the number of homicide cases reported in the media recently which, activists allege, can be traced back to words of encouragement supposedly issued by no less than President Rodrigo Duterte himself. So the logical leap being taken by these “activists” is that Duterte’s words caused this sudden rise in homicides.
That may be true. Then again, maybe it is not.
The more important question is, why. Why is it that so many Filipinos (if indeed Duterte’s call to kill resonated across Philippine society) so readily stepped up to heed the call? Why do so many more give tacit approval to all this by remaining silent? Why are Filipinos so ready tokill given the command from a respected leader?
What these “activists” lament as travesities against “human rights” evidently highlights a disturbing reality about Philippine society — Filipinos’ low regard for human life. In short, Filipinos do not value human life as much as other societies do. These latest travesities against everything the First World holds dear serves as a reminder that the Philippines remains a backward society — one that finds its aspirations trapped at the lowest rungs of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
At its most benign, a low regard for human life can be found in the banal manner with which precious hours of the average Filipino’s life is routinely wasted away in her daily commutes to and from work. A society that can tolerate an enormous number of its people being imprisoned in a daily commute on such a vast scale that we see today cannot be considered to be a society that values human life.
Consider too, Filipinos’ attitudes towards punctuality. “Filipino time” (the anti-thesis to Western concepts of punctuality) is deeply-ingrained in Philippine society. To be always late is to be quintessentially Filipino. People from the First World would be deeply offended when kept waiting by a tardy party. To Filipinos, however, the nature of this offense taken by a Western victim of Filipino time is hopelessly beyond the grasp of their damaged minds.
And so it starts with little things. Benign evidence of a lack of respect for human life — such as a lack of regard for punctuality or a lack of appreciation for ways to improve quality-of-life — snowballs into ever bigger things. Further up the scale of criticality as far as regard for human life is safety consciousness. Filipinos aren’t safety conscious. We see it day-to-day; the way manholes are left uncovered, the carelessness with which roadworks and construction sites are left exposed to public access, etcetera etcetera. And as if it weren’t enough that the time one spends in their daily commute adds up, over a lifetime, to a prison sentence befitting murderers, Filipinos are exposed daily to high risks of preventable injury and death going to and from work. A road network populated by drug-crazed jeepney and bus drivers, demented motorcyclists, and motorised assassins may make for a good video game scenario but, unfortunately, describe the reality of routine motoring on Manila’s streets.
The list is long. We can keep citing ever-escalating instances of lack-of-care-for-human-life that rachets up the level of accountability for that travesity progressively from mere apathy to the top rung of it all — criminal intent; i.e. actually killing people. Given that perspective — the way Philippine society is basically rigged from the bottom-up to be uncaring about people — makes the killing we see today really not that surprising at all. It’s like the inclination to kill has long been there. It just took a spark to ignite the spree.
All this ultimately points to that important thing that needs to be said about the supply side of this equation. The confronting fact is that the enormous supply of warm Filipino bodies puts downward pressure on its value. That’s just plain economics. The Law of Supply-and-Demand dictates that when supply exceeds demand in a market, prices fall. In the Philippines, there’s just too many people and not enough need for those people. And so the market corrects this imbalance — much the way Mother Nature does in any ecosystem. Something’s gotta give.
The “killings” we are seeing today are just the most recent (and, at the moment, the most media-hyped) of such market correction mechanisms at work in the ecosystem of Philippine society. There is no “evil intent” at work here. It’s just human nature rearing its ugliest head. Ugliness is a subjective adjective people use to describe something that offends their moral sensibilities. But in a free market, there is no morality. There is just the market and the dynamic that is a function of the ebbs and flows of supply and demand. No amount of prayer to a “moral” god or any high-horsed notions of “human rights” parroted from European textbooks can supplant the supremacy of that demand-and-supply curve.
Filipinos’ aspirations to be a society that places a premium value on human life can only be realised when the imbalance between the supply of human life and the demand for it is corrected. Until then, Filipino life will always be cheap — and killing will always be easy.
[Photo courtesy Forbes.]