Online outrage over Manila hijack

28 08 2010

(Originally posted in the Asian Correspondent website on August 16, 2010.)

By Romeo Moran,

The unfortunate hostage-taking incident last Monday was definitely an eye-opener, I’ll give you that. It definitely proved more than just a bit about the Philippines and its people. There were many collective Philippine sighs, shrugs, head-scratching, head-pounding, and all around outbursts of emotion as we witnessed live the police failing to successfully rescue the hostages, the media making fools of themselves by indirectly causing ex-officer Rolando Mendoza to start shooting indiscriminately, Mendoza’s brother allegedly directly causing it, and bystanders eschewing police authority to get a good look at the incident.

However, what we didn’t see on TV (at least, that night) was the outright cacophony that was people’s reactions on the Internet. Live and direct and as up-to-date as what we were seeing on television.

Needless to say, as the night wore on, as Mendoza committed his atrocities and the police bumbled their way through the operation and the bystanders swarmed the crime scene, emotions over the Internet got more and more heated. People got angrier and angrier, which is understandable. This was a traumatic incident, with both lives and the country’s reputation on the line. People lost it when we lost both.

However, observing and reading everyone’s reactions led me to a conclusion, which had also been drawn by a few other wise men and women online. The anger, the snarkiness, the cynicism everyone expressed over the failed rescue was hardly cathartical or helpful in any good way at all. People were just being self-righteous, and all the negativity was simply annoying, and stupid.

As a journalism student I believe in free speech for everyone, for sure, but honestly, there are times when I wish that not everybody can have that right. This was one of those times. Although I understand that yes, it’s normal to feel angry (people hate us now, but only a few are to blame) or to act all-knowing (of course we know how to do it better, because we’re the ones watching this at home), when you get right down to it, there’s simply no excuse. We were all immature, and we were all stupid. Yes, I say “we” because I’ve partaken in it myself. It feels rotten now, though, the more I think about it.

For example, many, many people between here and Hong Kong keep on wondering out loud why the police didn’t shoot Mendoza when he made himself a very easy target. These people were so swept up in the tempting lack of difficulty in the situation that they either didn’t know or had forgotten that first of all, the police were following the proper procedure of negotiating before shooting, two, they were negotiating because he was still cooperative, and three, these were because even if he was a criminal, Mendoza still had rights. The police had ultimately failed, but that was one of the two places where they did it right. Speaking of the police’s failure…

People honestly need to stop with the SWAT jokes. Again, yes, they failed. But these jokes had served no purpose at all when people first started saying them, and they continue to serve no purpose now. It is but a manifestation of the public trait of beating a dead horse just to reinforce everyone who isn’t part of the Manila Police’s intellectual superiority. While I am by no means innocent of producing similar comedy, it’s a matter of yes, we get it. The acronyms are merely shallow now.

And there are those who blame President Aquino more than he should be blamed. Yes, he was hardly anywhere to be found, but the point many level-headed people raise is that it is not his position to coordinate the rescue; it was the Philippine National Police general’s. Most of them are either his haters who conveniently forget how the chain of command truly works in a situation like this, or those who honestly really don’t know how it works. I’ve read about a Hong Kong national in the newspaper today that downright called for the President’s resignation on Facebook. Now that’s definitely uncalled for. But speaking of Hong Kong…

No offense to anyone from Hong Kong who might happen to read this, but any Hong Kong national who madly lashes out at the Philippines, our government, or any Filipino is overreacting. While granted, it’s an overreaction they are allowed to have for a certain amount of time before they are expected to stand tall, move on, and maybe forgive, Hong Kong must remember that, like many level-headed people have also brought up, something like this could’ve happened anywhere. Just because an angry ex-cop chose tourists as his targets certainly does not mean every Filipino hates people from Hong Kong. That would be a very illogical assumption to make. I’m not saying that people from Hong Kong aren’t smart enough to comprehend such a notion, but stranger things have happened.

The temptation to damn and condemn and criticize is strong, I know. I’ve fallen to it so many times myself. But after we speak our minds, a right which we are definitely entitled to, I just wish people would stop and think and realize that everyone who was involved was just as human as they are. And when we get collectively angry, our collective intelligence level goes down. It’s not a good image for us, and our reputation is already fragile, if not shattered.

That night, the wisest of the wise online were the only ones to bring up the fact that we must rise above the finger-pointing and work together to repair what we had lost. It may seem cheesy, but it’s honestly one of the smartest things I’ve read all week.