THE BLOODIEST YEAR
THE REVIEW of media reports in 2017 was almost too painful to do. The work revisited so much senseless death and the egregious failure to protect and defend human life.
It was as though the gods had hardened their hearts to let so many people die.
A poorly conceived and ill-constructed strategy to eliminate the pestilence of drugs in the country caused thousands to die in the streets, out in the open for everyone to see, or in dark alleys to hide the murderous act. When least expected, death struck with stealth, like a thief in the night, to take fathers and sons, even children right there in the crowded hovels or shanties they called home. Many were killed by unknown masked vigilantes, or by uniformed law enforcers, in dubious and questionable circumstances.
Media Times presents the counts of police at various points during the year and those kept by the media. It does not matter anymore that that these differ from one another; any count shows too many dead for no good reason. The idea that one can fight drugs by killing people, to begin with, was foolish and foolhardy. Each number is in the thousands, constituting what may be a crime against humanity, its method and approach constituting an outrage, the arrogant rejection of the value and dignity of all human life.
But the strategy was effective in what might have been the real aim — to make communities feel the naked power of the state over their lives, to make them afraid, unwilling to question and seek justice, unable to take a stand.
A protracted war added to the dead of 2017. Conflict broke out in May quite suddenly, although the reasons for the tragedy in Marawi should have been anticipated as media reports showed the Maute terrorists in action as early as 2016. The military marshalled its forces, but soldiers were killed in numbers. With no official count provided by the military, the media noted that soldiers died, not all by the hand of the enemy. Media could not keep track of other killed civilians. An entire city on the hill was left in ruins and many months later people are still without permanent shelter, their future and those of their children cast in the shadow of uncertainty.
Disasters marked the country’s calendar to the end. Two storms, Urduja and Vinta, swept through the South. A lack of planning on every level of disaster response failed to save scores of people from the mud and rain flowing down denuded slopes, burying hapless communities.
In the president’s home ground, fire consumed lives of workers trapped in an iconic commercial landmark, revealed by this man-made disaster as lacking exit points and escape routes.
Surely, history will reveal periods in the past similarly touched with tragedy. Our islands are vulnerable, situated in the ring of fire and on the typhoon belt. We are not strangers to the cruel twists and turns of fate. And the pattern of bad governance is not new.
But 2017 stands out for another level of violence, unprecedented and hardly understood in the magnitude of its power to change customs and accepted social norms.
The exuberance of free speech is the joy of the loquacious Filipino. Social media opened up limitless venues for expression, personal or political, profound or banal. Not quite conversation perhaps, but words or what took the place of words, emoticons, stickers, gifs and memes, marked this virtual exchange. In 2017, the Internet moved up to challenge the hold of most effective mainstream media as the primary source for political information. Filipinos with relatively low numbers of newspaper subscribers showed up with the highest rates of Internet engagement.
This wealth of exchange and the simple pleasure it gave to so many was promptly turned into an instrument of attack, a weapon of insult, the use of which chilled and turned cold the connection for genuine thought and feeling.
It has not been as citizens of a republic or as compatriots, nor as kababayan, as members of one nation or society that netizens flaunted personal conviction as the only deserving political creed. There was little attempt to listen to one another so as to reach a common ground of values and beliefs. The platforms of communication became combat fields of words.
Trolls, bots, DDS and the yellow army and the many more in the middle ground adapted to the new norms of discourse. It is quite alright, the president does it, letting loose curses, obscenities and hate speech, all effectively shattering the point of civic and political speech.
In a bloody year, perhaps it is that death that is the most damning judgment of what we have become in 2017.
Melinda Quintos De Jesus