Saturday, February 03, 2007

One Year Later

Tragedies happen as they will. It's what follows that bears examination: Collectively, we lament and rage and accuse. Authorities snarl and threaten action. Then follow a spate of denials and disclaimers. Lawyer by lawyer, the resolve starts to unravel. Prone to compromise as we are, we decide it was nobody's fault, after all. And having lost its flavor, we spit out the gristle, and move on to the next juicy morsel.

In the end, it's all just an exercise in forgetting.

Remember this, then: A year ago, 74 people, mostly elderly women, were crushed and killed, trodden underfoot. It happened, so they said, in a matter of seconds. A crowd of 30,000, camped out for days outside a stadium and already at wits' end, surged forward in a mad scramble. For what? Tickets to a noontime game show.

What followed hewed to the pattern that we already know too well. Lament. Rage. Accuse. Snarl. Probe. Deny. Disclaim. Forget. Not one of the game show hosts and TV network officials cited for criminal negligence has yet seen the inside of a jail cell. And in the supreme display of bad taste and lack of remorse, the game show continues its boom-tara-tara beat.

A year ago, I wrote that the tragedy was indicative of a deeper malaise within the fabric of Philippine society. A year later, I still hold to that view. On the surface, we could explain it to desperation borne out of poverty; and while indeed that might be, it's far too simple and too glib and too romantic.

We are not one nation. We are fractured, and so we have been since birth. On one side are the masters who promise paternalistic benevolence; and on the other are the slaves who depend on good fortune and largesse. Odious? Yes, but it all goes down so easily in the festive atmosphere of song and dance and a boom-tara-tara beat.

A year later, the pattern still holds true. The victims and surviving family members got a dole, a pat on the head, and some words of sympathy. Justice? Well, that's a master thing. For all the rest, there's nothing but the comfort of forgetfulness.