LET us start with Mamasapano, the site of a bloody carnage that killed 44 officers of the Philippine National Police’s Special Action Force (SAF).
During the Vietnam war, a powerful American TV documentary described the war-weary, blood-drenched site which served as the backdrop for the documentary this way: Here is a graveyard of lost hopes and shattered dreams.
The lost lives and shattered dreams perfectly describe Mamasapano. And more.
It will take years before Mamasapano can outlive its place in infamy, in a province already blackened by the reputation that it can slaughter dozens of journalists and innocent civilians at will and mutilate the bodies after the fact of the killing perhaps to demonstrate the banality of evil. No other place in the world, whether Taliban or ISIS-controlled, can ever claim it has slaughtered more journalists in a single event, in a single setting. Maguindanao is record-holder in hosting the worst assault on innocent journalists.
Even the most hardened workers for global groups that protect journalists are to this day baffled by the massacre of journalists in broad daylight and in a time of peace at that. Journalists who were covering, ironically, a part and parcel of the electoral process. And ask: Is this a country supposedly peopled by happy species more content than those in happy Denmark?
Mamasapano is our version of the heart of darkness, where rules and civility – and law and order — are cast aside, jettisoned, upon entering its boundaries. It is where convoys of the political warlords are free to run over civilians like stray dogs – then leave a token sum as just compensation for the merry killing. It is a place where the warlord-rulers regard public coffers as their own piggy banks, the vestal virgins of the COA be damned.
While some regions and provinces of the country have some areas where rules and civility are non-existent but have urbane, urban centers that function as levelers, Mamasapano and its environs are proud representatives of violence and impunity of a broader, improbable dimension.
TV and film are perhaps too shallow, too superficial and utterly incapable of capturing the kind of darkness that lurk in Mamasapano and its environs. On the sheer predisposition to violence and mayhem, it is the runaway leader.
On the day Mr. Aquino skipped the saddest of homecomings, the arrival in Manila of the fallen SAF officers, he was at the inauguration of a 21-hectare assembly plant of Mitsubishi Motors in Sta. Rosa, Laguna. That the Japanese vehicle giant acquired the plant abandoned by Ford Philippines, which shifted assembly elsewhere, was perhaps the reason Mr. Aquino graced the ceremony. The optics of an abandoned assembly plant, amid boasts that this is a country on the rise, would have been a downer for the growth-obsessed Mr. Aquino that nothing, not even the arrival of the caskets of SAF officers who died in service of the country, was deemed of more importance than the inauguration of the MMC plant.
From a conventional point, the president’s decision to attend an event of hope – instead of an event associated with mourning and tragedy – was the pragmatic choice of a leader who gets his high from nice growth charts and credit upgrades. The promises of the MMC plant are for real. By 2020 it is projecting to assemble 100,000 units of vans, AUVs and commercial vehicles a year at the plant.
By then, it is targeting an employment of close to 2,000 workers, all with skills that are marketable in a largely global job market.
The two locales offer a tale of two Philippines. The hopeful, 21st century imagery represented by the MMC plant and the depressing and desperate imagery (prevalent in a Third World basket case yet to shake off feudalism ) represented by Mamasapano.
Yet, if we come to think of it, the task of elevating the country into a truly 21st century country, a country with stable institutions, the rule of law, a vibrant civic culture, a strong middle class and modern infrastructure lies in turning around, transforming the pockets of Apocalypse Now like Mamasapano.
Investments such as the MMC plant do come and go, in line with the nature of investments seeking profit. But the transformation of areas such as Mamapasano is urgent and imperative. And life-changing.
The abject failure to pay attention to these depressed and desperate areas that suck in and attract the sowers of impossible violence who seek cover in seemingly-harmless acronyms (the FF in BIFF could mean Friends Forever) is enough to drag down the entire nation into fits of despair. The glory of GDP growth instantly loses luster. All that we have built for the future is for naught. As we have seen in the aftermath of the Mamasapano carnage, the heartbreaks and frustrations puts the nation on a virtual standstill.
The joy and goodwill that the papal visit generated was instantly wiped out by the blood spilled in the carnage. The most heart-rending scenes in contemporary broadcast journalism, after the footage of the journalists and civilians massacred more than five years ago in the same province, are now the footage of the medical gauze, empty plastic bottles, and shreds of the SAF uniforms that were the mute testament of a senseless loss of lives.
The haunting feeling of depression, that nothing in this sad country ever seems to go right, that the world always comes crashing down on us (which is how the Irish once felt about themselves) has haunted each and every one of us after the Mamasapano bloodbath. Even the reminders that we have to move on and build the peace, which is really what we ought to do, are only faintly heard by a mourning nation.