If one does not have access to television, radio or any form of media, he would not know that something horrific has occurred several minutes ago. Of the fifteen, based on the estimate made by the media, that were hostaged by a certain Police Inspector Rolando Mendoza, six were killed. Aljazeera, CNN, BBC, and even a hardly known Russian English news channel called RT covered the breaking news live using videos either taken by their own cameramen or signals taken from ABS-CBN, the country’s biggest TV network.
The Philippines is back to world prominence again, this time because of the barbarism of its people, a slight deviation from the usual images of the Philippines in international media, where these barbaric people are being killed by typhoons, earthquakes, or any imaginable natural calamity except maybe an avalanche.
For a long time, I have not watched prime-time news programs on TV because news are predictably reeking with negativity, boring soap operatic narratives of the schmaltzy lives of local celebrities, or uncalled-for commentaries by newsreaders; and because I have other better things to do, of course. But this evening was different.
I came from an intensive one-hour work-out in the gym and several lapses in the pool, when a friend of a friend texted me that he’s staying in the house this evening. I accompanied him to our unit and not wanting to wade in ghostly silence, I switched the television on and we were greeted by this breaking news that seemed to have been inspired by Tagalog action movies in the 90s.
I saw on TV policemen, very hesitant and fearful for their own lives, approaching a chartered bus that contained fifteen Chinese tourists, the driver of the bus, and a policeman who sought to be reinstated through means of a violent nature after being fired a year ago. After more than 10 hours of waiting, the policemen finally decided to take the matter in their hands and do what they should have done several hours ago. The hostage taker was brutally killed. In one of the least graphic descriptions made by a news reporter, he said without any remorse– “tumilapon ang ilang bahagi ng utak niya sa direksyon namin” (some portions of his brain flew toward our direction).
It’s a story that is not uncommon in a third world country like the Philippines. But it was a news story that the news-starved media in the Philippines has been waiting for. Not that they are always deprived of it, in fact they have enough and consistent sources of materials for a high-rating story such as this story, only that they can’t get enough. So they positioned their men/women around the scene, some of them even had the privilege of being with the policemen who attempted to forcibly (how else?) open the bus and pluck the victims one by one, most of them got in the way in the already sloppy operation done by the Philippine National Police.
The 12-hour hostage drama, a ‘drama’ as all the newsreaders of both stations lovingly call it, ended violently as it can end in no other way than violently because the media have determined it to be so. All the coverages, whichever channel one chooses, were closest to a farce because the media thought this is only some sort of a reality TV, by nature, farcical and spectacular.
But if there is one thing the media did impeccably well, it was showing without missing a single detail the ineptitude of our police and their obvious inutility. Bravo, Philippines!