If you look at a map just right — try squinting or unfocusing — the islands of the Philippines together look like the profile of the head of a donkey. I assure you this is no commentary on the character of the Filipino people. In fact, I was born in a small town in the eye of that ass. Alas, I am not actually a Pinoy, but I still can’t help but share in the highs and lows of that country. Some 10 days ago I rejoiced with them when homeboy Manny Pacquiao once again triumphed; from that high, we now get tragic news of a mass slaying in the South. Monday, right in the mouth of the donkey, 100 armed men slaughtered 52 unarmed civilians, many of them women, in order to prevent their participation in elections.
The political extremes in the Philippines are astounding. On the one hand, it is a nation that endured decades under an oppressive (CIA-backed) dictatorship, then promptly embraced democracy by electing a woman, a womanizer, and a born-again believer. This is the nation which has had two non-violent coup d’tats, both successful, and one of which I personally participated in. Their peaceful revolutions, and the attendant concept of alay dangal, have motivated pacifists worldwide. On the other hand, it’s a country still rife with political corruption from top to bottom, usually of a form more overt than what we know in the US. The beauty of People Power is unfortunately starkly contrasted with the deep ugliness that can also characterize Filipino politics, an ugliness made violently manifest on Monday in Maguindanao. GMA, a major media outlet, echoed my thoughts:
The crime that occurred in Ampatuan was uniquely savage, but it was also an extreme example of the violent tendency in our politics. At the other extreme are the many citizens who are bravely committed to the difficult and complex process of peacefully deciding who our leaders should be, such as those souls who perished on Monday. It is this tension between savagery and peaceful process that has marked our electoral history.
I wish I felt much hope for the capture and prosecution of those responsible, but I don’t really, especially since the alleged perpetrators appear to have tentacles reaching across vast swaths of power. Tomorrow, Thursday, is a National Day of Mourning.