Which is more outrageous — burying the dictator Ferdinand Marcos in Libingan ng Mga Bayani, or delaying billions of pesos for Yolanda victims, despite P1 trillion unspent in the past administration?
For this writer’s alma mater Ateneo de Manila University and its fellow burial opponents, the first seems far more deplorable, judging from their indignation on the streets and in mass and social media over the Marcos burial, and their general silence over distress and deprivation afflicting the supertyphoon-displaced homeless.
For sure, the Marcos era caused nationwide agony with its repression, kleptocracy, and wrong-headed policies. But Yolanda also bludgeoned the nation, and the three-year-delay and denial of rehabilitation funds surely deserve at least one rally or public statement decrying the past regime’s failings and demanding speedy remedial action.
At this point, one may have to bid goodbye to some Ateneans and others protesting the burial, but saying nil about disaster rehab fiascos. They may turn the page or browse another site, dismissing the comparison between burying Marcos and depriving Yolanda victims inappropriate.
Others may go the ad hominem route and ignore the writer for his years of work in the Arroyo Cabinet. Still others may argue that the Filipino youth must be told of Marcos excesses, hence the need for open and sustained indignation. We respect their views, though some of them might not return the favor.
To rage or not to rage
Despite arguments against comparing Marcos and Yolanda, however, there is a constant intersect among all public concerns: Each one vies for national attention and action. Hence, one can rightly ask if certain causes deserve more or less of the people’s eyes and ears, heartbeats, and raised fists, than other concerns.
Now, when thousands rage over one issue and ignore another, the disparity raises questions about priorities and values. And if the problem given minimal outward regard affects mainly the poor, the focus of protest action may then fail to win mass support.
The same disparity in dissent seems to have happened with extrajudicial killings (EJK). As this column has said, those condemning the thousands of suspect deaths have given little attention and agitation to the explosion in crime and drugs, and the millions of victims of murder, rape, robbery, theft, and assault during the presidency of Benigno Aquino 3rd.
Based on the Philippine Statistics Authority data yearbook, crime tripled to 1 million incidents a year since 2013, from 324,083 in 2010 — an unprecedented escalation that could only have been perpetrated by well-connected syndicates, not random criminals.
At a low estimate of 1.5 victims per reported offense, that’s nearly 5 million victims. Add 3 million addicts, plus the families and close friends of those bloodied by crime or burdened by narcotics, and at least one-third of the nation has suffered from the two scourges in the past three years alone.
Yet the movement decrying 3,000-plus suspected EJKs have said little on behalf of those many millions of Filipinos murdered, raped, robbed, assaulted, or distressed, most of them poor and powerless. Maybe that’s why the masa don’t share the protesters’ rage.
What happened to ‘man for others’?
What makes the disparity in protesters’ priorities puzzling is the avowed concern among many of them, especially the Ateneo, for the poor and marginalized. Even when this writer was studying there in the 1970s, the Jesuit-run university already extolled and instilled the ideal of “a man for others,” serving the least of one’s brethren, as Jesus Christ instructed.
The lack of Atenean outcry over post-Yolanda neglect seems strange also because the Ateneo School of Government is a coordinating entity among non-government organizations involved in disaster response and risk reduction.
This DRRR role gives the Ateneo access to calamity information, presumably including post-Yolanda rehab problems recently reported by the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
Citing the DSWD report, the ReliefWeb NGO said: “Wide discretion given to the barangay chair and other officials in the selection of ESA beneficiaries … paved the way for ineligible beneficiaries to be included.” But many survivors were excluded, being from faraway areas or having temporarily moved away to find work.
Moreover, letting barangay officials determine which homes were totally or partly destroyed — the former getting P30,000 ESA; the latter P10,000 — led to irregularities. Besides implementation problems, the Budget Department recently denied the DSWD request for P1.17 billion ESA for 83,228 families, despite P1 trillion in unspent budget.
Yet activists and educators advocating care for the needy have not shown as much anger over the neglect and hardship of tens of thousands of destitute, if not desperate Yolanda survivors, as they do over the Marcos burial.
Ditto the minimal protestations accorded to millions of crime and drug victims, and for that matter, on behalf of millions of working-class commuters immensely burdened by the corrupt maintenance contract which made the Metro Rail Transit a daily hell.
Politics trumps compassion
So what’s behind the contradiction between “man for others” and the seeming lack of concern for victims of calamity, crime, narcotics, and the graft-gutted MRT?
On Monday, President Rodrigo Duterte may have pointed to one big reason. In his speech at the 80th anniversary of the National Bureau of Investigation, Duterte cited Aquino’s failure to see or look into the narcotics eruption under his watch.
“Maybe he did not realize the gravity of the situation, because he simply did not know or never attempted to know how much is the scale of 3 million” drug users, Duterte said.
It so happens that Yolanda problems and MRT sleaze and deterioration also transpired during Aquino’s rule. And Duterte’s marching orders on disaster rehab and metro traffic shows the presidential drive once missing.
Could it then be that rallyists raging over Marcos’s burial and EJKs don’t decry calamity, crime and commuter woes because the latter expose the past regime’s failings, including those of officials close to activist groups?
Well, if partisan politics moves protesters more than compassion for all, one wonders if they truly serve the will and welfare of the Filipino people.