Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A Hostage Situation

DAVAO--As I write this post, there's a situation brewing near Manila City Hall. Though I'm in faraway Davao, I'm catching the whole shebang via AM radio. What's happened so far: a day care teacher and companions took an entire schoolbus with 26 preschool tots hostage. The ringleader has issued various demands, including one to meet with Senator Bong Revilla.

The whole affair is being captured live from the bus, complete with conversations, negotiations, threats, assurances, and asides, and supplemented with interviews from relatives and the authorities.

I tell you: it's the funniest, most entertaining thing I've ever heard on radio.

Please don't think that I'm callous. I just can't help being amused. In the background, you can hear the children laughing and playing, oblivious to the comings-and-goings around them.

While waiting for the good senator to arrive, you could tell that the fellow, a senior citizen, was already at wits' end. On the other end, you could hear radio announcer Ted Failon in panic, asking him to calm down. "Huminahon ka, konting pasensya na lang! (Calm down, a little more patience!)"

What do you know? Revilla did make an appearance. Against all common sense and crisis protocols, he went inside the bus to talk with the hostage-taker. At the height of the drama, he was saying: "Mahal kita, pare! (I love you, friend!)" Well, not quite what I expected from an action star, but forgivable under the circumstances. (Oh, I forgot he does mostly comedies now...on top of his duties as senator.)

So the story starts unfolding: the old fellow has a heart condition, he wants to see a doctor, the family is poor, etc. etc.

Once a radio or a camera is trained on the average Filipino, he turns into a drama queen. It's an instinctive, irresistible reaction, this urge to ham it up. We're well primed to play the against-all-odds underdog.

Revilla handed the hostage-taker his cellphone with a patch to national radio so he could air his demands. He starts off in self-conscious fits and stammers, but once he caught his groove, he was really rolling. He launched into a tirade against corruption, against politicians, against poverty. He called for the Filipino people to unite behind Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. And his demand: free education up to the college level for all his hostages.

The man is clearly deranged.

Then, we hear more background information about the fellow, peppered with interviews from his family and neighbors. This, apparently, is not his first hostage-taking incident. Previously, he had taken his parish priest hostage over a small-claims dispute.

Segue to interview with the ringleader's son:

Interviewer: "Sa tingin mo ba, may pagka-violente ang tatay mo? (Is your father a violent man?)"

Son: "Hindi naman. (Not particularly.)"

Interviewer: "Pero dati niyang hinostage ang pari gamit ang granada! (But he took your parish priest hostage with a grenade!)"

Son: "Peke naman iyong granada! (But the grenade was fake!)"

Segue to another interview, this time with a neighbor whose son is among the hostages in the bus.

Interviewer: "Kinakabahan ba kayo para sa anak ninyo? (Are you worried for your son?)"

Neighbor: "Hindi naman. (Not particularly.)"

Interview: "Bakit naman? (Why not?)"

Neighbor: "Kilalala namin siya. Mabait siyang tao. Matulungin. (Not really. We know him (the hostage-taker). He's a nice man. Very helpful.)"

So it goes on. There's method to the ringleader's madness: they have enough food on the bus to hold out for two days. Police generals and security advisers have started to mobilize. They've closed off Lawton. Revilla has bought ice cream for everyone on the bus. I can just imagine the crowds of kibitzers forming around the scene. The whole thing is turning into a circus.

When did we become such a madhouse?

*Photos from