Time of Grief, Time of Outrage

Sta. Ana coordinates Action for Economic Reforms.(www.aer.ph) This article was published in the Opinion Section, Yellow Pad Column of BusinessWorld, October 22, 2007 edition, pages S1/4 and S1/5.

It’s the time for mourning.   We reach out to the victims of the Glorietta bombing and their loved ones to offer our sympathy and support.

At the same time, it’s but proper to express our outrage and to condemn this dastardly act.  The perpetrators of this attack deserve to be severely punished.

The government must conduct a thorough, no-nonsense, and open investigation.  It must junk the secrecy and the frivolity if not the falseness that has characterized previous probes into wrongdoing.

We urge citizens to cooperate with the investigators and to monitor every step of the investigation. We welcome the assistance of foreign governments in searching for clues, gathering evidence, and ferreting out the truth.

While it is imprudent to do any finger pointing at this time, let it be said, too, that we do not want this tragedy to be exploited by Mrs. Gloria Arroyo to suit her political objective.

Take heed of Senator Nene Pimentel’s statement:  “I condemn without reservation the Glorietta bombing. Whoever uses violence worsens our problems, diverts attention from government corruption and abets lawlessness.”

Indeed, in the objective sense, the bombing and the death and injury it caused have diverted the public’s attention away from the administration’s many scandals.  In an objective sense, too, the bombing and its aftermath have temporarily derailed fresh initiatives for the resignation or impeachment of Mrs. Gloria Arroyo.

Woe to he who, amidst grief and shock, suddenly asks for Mrs. Arroyo’s head.  He who does that, like it or not, will be labeled a cold-blooded opportunist.

Just before the Glorietta bombing incident, we at Action for Economic Reforms were in the process of drafting a defiant statement versus Mrs. Arroyo, titled Go Away, Now!

But when the Glorietta tragedy struck, we reconsidered the timing of our statement. In the words of our colleague Mike Alba, we should not fall into the trap of being “painted as sowing fear and becoming unpatriotic, exhibiting no compassion for the victims of the bombing.”

Mrs. Arroyo has obtained a breather.  But it could be the lull before the storm.

Like the Madrid train bombings in March 2004 that killed 191 people and wounded 2000 more, the aftermath of the terrorist bombing of Glorietta could have deep political ramifications.

Mrs. Arroyo and all of us should learn some lessons from the Madrid bombing.  The administration of then Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar paid a heavy price for exploiting the tragedy. Mr. Aznar ‘s government tried to hide and manipulate the evidence, for it wanted to link the Basque secessionists, specifically the armed and violent ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna), to the bombing attack.  Aznar’s political party, the conservative if not reactionary Partido Popular, thought that by pinning the terrorist bombing on ETA, it would garner the votes to win the elections.

But the manipulation of the facts was exposed. Thousands of Spaniards spilled out into the streets to condemn Aznar and his political party.  And in the elections, the Spanish voters booted out Aznar and the Partido Popular.

Being Roman Catholics, the Filipinos, like the Spaniards, are a forgiving people.  But the Filipinos’ boiling point is about to be reached.  The anger is seething.

A high school batch-mate’s sentiment— one who is a stranger to “advocacy” or political mobilization—is perhaps an indicator of such anger.  Ward Luarca is a man of letters, a humanist who gives substance to being “a man for others.” His words, which he wrote to an e-group in the wake of the Glorietta bombing, are moving and powerful.  Thus, I quote him:

“I’ll breach protocol and use this forum to express long pent-up outrage against this administration’s misrule! Our batch, admittedly, was perhaps too immersed in our Woodstock sensibility when martial law was foisted upon us in 1972, too young and too rosy-eyed then, to have braved resistance, save for a few heroes among us. Today, when most of us are already in our early 50’s and fathers to children for whom we aspire a decent, moral life, possessing a keen sense of country, always taking pride in being a Filipino, and compassionate towards the downtrodden, we are again staring in the eye a creeping Machiavellian villainy in nearly all levels of public service. And I pray we don’t turn a blind eye on what is taking place right before us. For the sake of our children. And our children’s children.”

Ward then pricked our conscience. He asked the question whether we could  “remain apathetic to the plight of the desaparecidos; the  extra-judicial killings of journalists and activists; the  ‘Hello Garci’ issue;  the election cheating in Mindanao and many other parts of the country during the recent electoral exercise; the ineptness, elitism and greed in the military leadership resulting in the rout of our fighting men in the battlefield;  the blatant, brazen bribery by and of public servants; the ZTE scandal and most recently, the shamelessly overt distribution of largesse to local executives and representatives right within the otherwise sacrosanct seat of government, as exposed by governor-priest Ed Panlilio.”

He is disappointed  that for all these issues, the government merely conducted “peremptory investigations,”  but without bringing the culprits to justice.

He railed against “the lack of moral scruples, the lying, the cheating, the exercise of power, not in the service of the people but of the self, the culture of impunity.”

Ward concludes by asking:  “What could we do? What should we do? I do not know…I do not know enough of mobilization in the political arena. Nor public advocacy. But I do know that I could begin with changing myself. By being vocal about my sense of outrage with what is taking place in government. In society. In any forum where I could freely express myself. Like this forum. And from the self, I could proceed with teaching my children, our children. And hopefully, someday…soon, I pray we will achieve a critical mass in expressing moral outrage, in our protest against all iniquities, such that we shall be heard by many of our countrymen still paralyzed by stupor, and by the world at large. And thence bring about change in leadership and restore decency in our midst. Then we would have regained (since lost after EDSA 1) the right to proclaim to all and sundry that we Filipinos are a proud, decent race. And we can all breathe in again the bracing scent of human decency and kindness.

“I am angry. And I beg the indulgence of those who may have been offended by this breach of protocol. But I am not sorry.

“Let’s all pray for those who died and were injured, all innocent civilians, in the bombing in Glorietta this afternoon.”

Amen.

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