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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Sunday, October 29, 2006

entry arrow9:37 PM | How Much More Blood, Mr. Perdices?

"Natuslok ka na ba ng ice pick sa Lo-oc? O naka-pick-up ng babae sa Tocino Country? O nai-snatchan ng bag sa Luke Wright? O na-hold-up ka na ba sa PNB? May gana ka pa mag-aral sa Silliman nursing? O maagawan ng cellphone sa Tinago? Tara na tara na! Byahe tayo sa Dumaguete City, City of Gentle People!"
-- content of text message, a reworking of the popular "Wow Philippines" jingle, currently circulating around the country

We are slowly being murdered, all of us.

When the boy was rushed to Silliman Medical Center's emergency room in the early morning, no one, not even the PGI on duty, knew exactly what was wrong with him. He was already a syncopetic mess, complaining of a black dizziness that drifted in and out, but other than that, there were no real reasons to suppose that the boy was going to end up dead before daylight could even come.

He had straggled in on the shoulders of friends whose faces were masks of concern and fright. Theirs were college boy faces etched with surprise at sudden turns of events -- guises of youth given in to an unanticipated collision course with hospital gray walls and early morning tomb silence, when they should still have been out celebrating being blissfully careless, the way only the very young can. All of them were, predictably, refugees from the Friday night, straight off from El Camino Blanco. They still smelled of beer and cigarette smoke, but now their gelled hair were disheveled, and creases marred the silky sheen of their nightlife clothes.

On most Friday nights, surgery and the emergency room in Dumaguete were beehives of activity. Always, on weekends, there were bursts of vehicular accident cases coming from all over the city and nearby towns: mostly young people with broken arms, or broken legs, or broken necks. The weekend dead count was usually high, a pathetic statistic marked by hormones and reckless exuberance -- boys and girls who'd crossed the deceptive veneer of mortality, meeting it head-on in a crush of metal, rubber wheels, asphalt highways, and scattering of blood, and flesh, and brains.

The boy in question was soon barely conscious. There was a fight in the parking lot outside the bar, one of the boys said slowly. Later, in the hospital, the ER staff would discover a puncture wound in the right lower half of the boy's belly. It was small in diameter, almost undetectable -- something an ice pick could cause. But they knew the small wound was far deeper and deadlier than it looked, its gash only a wink to the deep slash underneath, perhaps already perforating his intestines. The blood and intestinal contents, including the feces, might have since spilled into the abdominal cavity, and the bacteria might have already eaten through the sterile cavern. It would not be long before there could be peritonitis. Or worse: a ruptured abdominal aorta, gushing blood into the peritoneum like a mad river, the body a ticking time bomb. Already, the boy was exhibiting a rapidly extending abdominal distention, and soon shock would take over from the lowered blood pressure. That was why he was groggy, dehydrated, blacking out.

But for some strange reason, the resident ruled out surgery, and the boy was taken instead into the Intensive Care Unit, just as dawn was breaking out and there was a shock of deep blue scattering throughout the wakening skies. Amidst the dark and the hum of machines, the boy was bleeding inside. He was dying. Before daylight came, he was dead.

That boy was a friend of mine, a college mate. I wish I could name him specifically here, but in the name of privacy -- and friendship beyond death -- I cannot. How many years ago was this? Not too long ago. I usually think of that unfortunate night as one of the beginning death knells that have led us now to a city curiously awash in blood. Every morning now seems to bring us bad news of newer massacres, of senseless murders.

Angeling Lajato. Erlinda Tomongha. Jong-jong Sibala. Dennis Mainit. Joel Canon. This litany of names, of course, is only a fraction of the many who have met grisly ends. And to add to that horrifyingly growing list, here is one more name: Nina Estacio. The last two -- Joel and Nina -- were students of mine, two people you would never think of as candidates for murders. In the end, the senseless manner by which they died could only sharpen what is true about crime: that it could happen to anyone.

Of course, it still puzzles me how their lives could end the way they did, in a place where we used to joke around like this: "Nothing bad can happen to you in Dumaguete. If something bad does happen, you'll like it." Now, nothing is plain laughing matter anymore. Perhaps we have overdrawn too much on our past as a place where nothing much happens. We have become complacent to the surges of the times, and that may have been our biggest mistake.

Still, a little more than three weeks ago, Silliman University and the rest of the Dumaguete community finally did what should have been done a long time ago: we rose to protest the seemingly endless cycle of blood that has drenched the city.

It's remarkable to me how we are finally capable of something we are not usually known for: outrage. Is it enough, however? Because if there must be a final recipient to end the blame game that has now ensued, the culprit would very well be you.


All of us.

It's the utmost irony worthy of an Oedipal tragedy: that when we finally get to unmask who the proverbial murderer is, we are the one who is slowly killing ourselves.

Never before in the history of Dumaguete City has seen this community stumble in a state of slowly dawning shock, of outrage and disbelief, of siege. Our nature has always been to take for granted our genial ways, our myths of trustworthy neighbors, and our legend of cultivated sophistication. Nothing bad can happen in Dumaguete. That has been our consistent mantra for years.

How foolish that mantra sounds now.

We do live in a state of siege. The siege's name is fear. And the fear is palpable in the way we go about our lives now: always looking over our shoulders to see who might be following, always being wary now of the overcrowding of strangers, always mistrustful of the pulsating and descending darkness of night. But even the daylight no longer provides the sense of security which we now all feel to be elusive. For it was in the daytime, after all, when Sillimanian nursing student Nina Estacio was brutally murdered in what should have been the safety of her home, a knife sticking out of her chest, one of her eyes gouged out by strangers who did not respect the sanctity of life.

What is happening now is a perfect shock to the system. We stumble simply because we are coming to grips with the reality the way any nitwit would stumble through something completely foreign and unprepared for. The city simply does not know what to do with this flood of blood.

There has been much finger-pointing in the wake of all this blood. Some of us, of course, are all too quick to assign the murderous reality by harping on the theory of foreign elements, that those who perpetrate these outrageous crimes are misfits from Davao, from Cagayan de Oro, from Iligan, from Zamboanga, all of them come to Dumaguete attracted by its element of naivete. The attempt in this message seems to be that Dumaguetenos are completely incapable of bloodshed, a perfect delusion that erases the city's hidden bloody history.

Some blame the city's progress for the escalation of crime. "It's perfectly natural for a growing city," one friend remarked, the way a teenager acquires zits, for example. Dumaguete is indeed growing, its population mushrooming, and with that probably comes an innate inability to monitor everybody the way small towns usually can. In small towns, conformity and moralistic prejudice are the ready buffers for everyone's behavior (not always a good thing, of course). That small town safeguard quickly dilutes in a metropolitan setting. Still, no one can halt progress. And progress as a harbinger of evil is really a lazy myth, with a perfect foil in the fact of Singapore, where progress moves on but chewing gum is still considered anathema.

Some blame an incapacitated police force, many claiming that the current number of policemen simply cannot handle a growing city. And there are many others who claim a certain ineptness in police procedure. "That's why most people do not even trust the local police anymore," says a friend who wishes to remain anonymous. "We were robbed once. We called the police. A plainclothesman came over in less than an hour, surveyed the damage, and said, 'Do you have a camera which we can use?' Can you imagine! They don't even have the equipment to gather evidence! The police soon told us that a complaint would be filed, but that there was nothing they could do really."

Which should provide our mayor an answer to his complaint last week. What did he say? He said something in the vein of how impossible it was to solve these crimes when no one was even filing charges.

Simple, Mr. Mayor. Because no one wants to bother. Or if we do want to bother, we are inherently afraid of reprisals, no matter how paranoid that may sound.

Because we know nothing will happen, bisag magpa-ugat ug file ug complaint.

Because we know that even the deaths of people of consequence -- Angeling Lajato (a close friend of the mayor) and Erlinda Tomongha (a City Hall official) -- remain unresolved, their deaths reduced to mere statistics and cautionary tales. How much more the majority of us who only have ordinary lives to lead? Only a few, for example, can remember the name of that grade school girl in Taclobo who was recently raped, and then murdered. Worse, no one at all remembers that Boulevard banana fritter girl whose body was dumped like ordinary garbage years ago, when I was still in college. I don't know what happened to the killers, or whether they were caught.

Because we know that the old cliche remains true: that the local brand of justice does not work, or is infuriatingly slow, especially if the criminal in question happens to have deep pockets, or deeper political connections. We also know too well about the botched attempts at criminal prosecution. (Consider the still unresolved Dumaguete sex scandal.) We have generally lost trust in the way justice gets done. Or if we do want to raise noise, we fear most for our lives.

Still, there is one unbendable truth in what the mayor has complained about. It is not an excuse for any of us to be living in fear, to be complacent about things. Silence, and an unwillingness to prosecute when needed, can only breed a more vicious cycle of things. Our inaction will not stop the horror. There will always be a certain nobility -- quixotic it may be -- in raging against what seems to be an impossibility. Who cares about justice predictably going awry? The point is to try.

In the final analysis then, what is slowly killing all of us is a mutant kind of Dumagueteno complacency. It is a complacency that is both benign and festering with fear. The last one I have already detailed above. That other characteristic of being benign, however, is a gradual accretion of our "gentle airs" and "inviting hospitality" -- so much so that we have become like contented cows, breeding a false sense of security and a naive view of the ways of the world.

A good example for this tendency exploded in the last elections. Convinced that our little gentle bubble should not burst and that the old gentle ways should still remain the status quo, we voted to keep Dumaguete the way we thought it should always be: we voted for a man whom we know would do absolutely nothing. Three years ago, somebody said, "Dumaguete deserves the mayor it votes for." Three years later, we can only reply: And how!

Because the crimes in Dumaguete is nothing but a damning indication of a failure in leadership. (What does the proverb say about the buck stopping where it should?) The only decisive thing this mayor has ever done is concretize our roads (which has led to the overwhelming heat that now engulfs this city on most sunny days), and banning movies. There is a word for this kind of politician: lameducks -- incapacitated public officials whose days may be numbered. There are talks that he may go on for the next term he is still entitled for. Or that he may go on to run for governor. The thought comes to mind: administrator for the whole island? He can't even run a city properly!

What we need is new blood in politics. Where are the civic-minded young men and women who are still uncorrupted by all these traditional politics? Why not put to pasture the old, always recycled political geezers of Oriental Negros, and bring this city and this province into the twenty-first century?

Because how much more blood should be spilled, Mr. Mayor, before you will do anything?

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