The wisdom of hindsight

() - August 29, 2010 - 12:00am

There is absolutely no question the bloodbath last Monday could have been avoided if the situation was handled properly. It could have been just a local problem, but because eight foreigners were killed, it has now become an international disaster. All that is now hindsight. Everyone has become an expert in hostage-taking situations. But the fact is, we have had so many similar situations  yet we have done nothing to prevent it from happening again.

The era of instant communication has made the world become much smaller. The way the hostage taking was vividly shown on TV worldwide made the country look as if it was in a state of confusion, from the time the assault team surrounded the bus up to the surge of the unruly crowd of kibitzers swarming all over the place when hostages were being taken outside. With Twitter, Facebook and all sorts of e-mail, the whole world instantly knew what happened. I myself received emails from as far away as Ireland commenting on how chaotic the Philippines seemed.

The hostage taking reminded the entire world about the Abu Sayyaf kidnappings in war-torn Mindanao. But because the tragedy happened right in the heart of Manila  ground zero  at the historic Quirino Grandstand to be exact, it became even more devastating for the country. Bloody Monday desecrated the proud memory of Luneta and everything it stands for in our nation’s history.

We can never give back the lives of those who perished, but their loss would not be in vain if this tragedy would, hopefully, help those elected into office finally take stock of the serious problem we have and begin the process of transformation. Time and time again we have been complaining about the image of the police and military going to the pits, with corrupt men in uniform being harbingers of all sorts of crimes, their presence dreaded rather than welcomed in many parts of the country. Past incidents of botched hostage rescues, plus the recent torture video involving another police captain, gave the perception that our men in uniform cannot be relied on to be protectors and saviors of Filipino citizens and now even foreigners.

The tape of Serbian Special Forces shown by Migz Zubiri at the Senate hearing simulating an assault on a bus seemed like the exact replica of the situation in Quirino Grandstand. But unlike the quick and decisive action by the Serbians  complete with Kevlar vests and helmets down to frame charges and ladders, storming the bus with such agility  Manila’s “finest,” crack SWAT team showed agonizing inefficiency and clumsiness. Senator Jinggoy even got the police officers to admit they forgot their gas masks, and instead of small firearms they used long assault weapons that were totally inappropriate for confined spaces like a bus. They were ill equipped, ill-trained and literally out of shape.

In hindsight, hostage situations have happened in this country many times before, so it would have been reasonable to expect our men in uniform to display more competence and efficiency. Unfortunately, the incident reinforced the perception that the capability and quality of our police officers have deteriorated over the years. But to be fair to them, one main reason is the perennial lack of funds.

But whatever it is, the current situation in the Philippines is far more serious and critical. If one can remember, a recent Paris-based United Nations report on countries in Asia stated the Philippines may cease to exist in 50 years or less due to a number of reasons. Corruption is one and the other is the disorganization prevailing in the military, with poorly trained and ill-equipped men and women. Current figures show 51,000 or almost half of the entire Philippine police force having no handguns.

The report further cited the unmitigated growth in the country’s population – now at 99,900,177 people as of July 2010 – clearly shows it is increasingly becoming more difficult for 125,000 policemen to secure almost 100 million Filipinos. That’s a horrifying ratio of one policeman assigned to protect almost 1,000 people. PNP chief Jess Verzosa said some 80,000 policemen are needed to approximate the ideal ratio of 1:500. But to achieve that, they would need 15,000 new recruits every year for the next 10 years to catch up with the ever-growing population. Just try calculating how much it would cost to train, equip and pay the salaries of these men and you’re back to the root cause of the problem: funding.

The prospects are very grim if we do not do anything quickly. The Philippines could easily become another Somalia – ravaged by war since the overthrow of its president in 1991. It is a country steeped in chaos and violence with factions and clans murdering each other (doesn’t this sound familiar?) compounded by famine and disease that have caused the death of close to one million people. There is absolutely no law and order because they have no law enforcement to speak of. The only industry thriving is piracy with Somali pirates becoming the number one menace to the international shipping industry. If you seriously think about it, we’re not too far from becoming a Somalia at the rate the peace and order is deteriorating in many parts of the country particularly in the south.

Black Monday’s bloodbath will be the acid test for the Aquino administration on how seriously they intend to solve the perennial problem of our police force and more importantly, the peace and order situation. We have said it before, international organizations have said it before, foreign entities have said it before  this country will cease to exist if we do not move quickly and decisively. Time is not on our side.

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E-mail: babeseyeview@yahoo.com

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