Of hunger, anger and looting

DIRECT FROM THE LABOR FRONT - Atty. Josephus B. Jimenez - The Freeman

It is far too easy, even convenient for many people, who are in the safety and comforts of their homes, to act judgmental and condemn those who looted and stole whatever they could find anywhere, in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, just to feed themselves and their starving loved ones. These people who are too quick to judge their brothers in distress just do not realize the meaning of survival because they might not have experienced the same situation of extreme starvation and utmost need. But as for me, who has actually seen the pains, the anguish and the heartbreaking sight of the victims, I would rather look at the situation in its proper context. It is not for us to pass judgment on these unfortunate Filipinos for we have not truly understood the meaning of hunger.

I was there and I saw hundreds of dead bodies scattered all over. I saw a mother who lost her husband and four of her six children. The two were sick and starving. I gave her my baon and I opted to eat just one piece of less than ripe pomelo that I picked up from a fallen tree. I was there and I witnessed how a young child of less than three years old, almost naked and begging for food while grieving over the dead body of her mother and brother. I was there and I saw a young boy of twelve who had a broken arm and a wounded leg. I had to tear my undershirt and fashion it into a tourniquet in order to save him from loss of blood. And because of what I saw, I would not judge any of them if they steal a banana or a camote just to survive for a day.

I saw an old woman crying into the sea, as if losing her mind, calling with her muted voice, the names of her daughters and sons. And I remembered the image of Sisa calling for Crispin and Basilio. I saw a man trying to pick up piece by piece the bamboo and nipa strips that used to be their huts along the shores in Kabalawan. I saw young kids rummaging through the debris trying to look for anything that looked edible and I witnessed how a family were sharing the meat of a single coconut that the father managed to retrieve from the raging waves. I saw all the pain, all the anguish, all the sorrows that the poor have suffered in those trying times. And so, I am not about to judge them if they do anything out of the normal ways because those times were abnormal.

I am a lawyer and I am not about to justify stealing or to find an alibi for looting. Not at all.  But, to our mind, there is a higher law which is more compelling than the penal code. And that is the law of survival. These people are not politicians who stole billions from the PDAF and used fictitious NGOs to siphon public funds. They are simple folks with no premeditated malice or scheming evil intent. They are only trying to survive under very difficult circumstances. I do not condone stealing TVs or any appliances and loading them in trucks as some syndicates might have done. They certainly deserve arrest, prosecution and conviction with the heaviest aggravating circumstances for them to be meted the most stringent penalties.

Neither would I condemn the policemen who were not around to guard the malls and supermarts which were looted. Those officers were trying to save their own children and spouses and other loved ones. They could not give priority to their public duty while their own families were in danger. With all due respect, we also submit that it was also improper for any national leader to come to a city in distress and blame the local executives for having been unprepared. Nobody could be absolutely and totally prepared for such a magnitude of a disaster. Much less was it appropriate for a national leader to walk out of a disaster assessment conference just because he does not like the term "minor devastation'". Times of crises call upon leaders the highest level of equanimity and calmness.

In such trying times, when people are hungry and angry, shouldn't we be a little tolerant and understanding of each other. Those of us who have not even seen the face of death and devastation should better keep their mouth shut and hold their judgment to themselves. Even Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has counseled to go slow on arresting looters who are compelled by obfuscation, and Secretary Dinky Soliman of DSWD has advised people to be more compassionate to those who suffer utmost hunger and extreme need. These indeed are the times that test our character and true selves. Behind our masks and vain pretensions, we should ask ourselves whether we do have the moral authority to pass judgment on people who are in pain in times of crises and difficulties.

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