The bombing was not only an attempt at mass murder but a national lese majeste, an brazen act of political sacrilege that makes us shudder for its confidence and contempt…
I had just gotten home from the office when I saw the news flash, that the Batasang Pambansa, the seat of the Philippine House of Representatives, had been bombed. Those who’d like to know more may turn to the pertinent articles on Postcard Headlines and how now, brownpau? and follow the links therein; the former also reproduced an early analysis and reaction by Sun Star editor Anol Mongaya. It suffices to note here that at least 2 people were killed, including the presumptive target, Representative Wahab Akbar of Basilan–may God grant them His peace, and their families His consolation–, and several others injured; and that it is to their credit that the obviously shaken Congresspersons acted with aplomb in response to the attack.
First off, a caveat, in view of the fear expressed by some that the Philippines will become another Iraq: It’s impossible, at least for the moment. Our society’s fissures are too shallow, our people too un-ideologized, and our factions and minorities too small, for us to suffer the violence of present Baghdad, 1970’s Belfast, or 1930’s Barcelona. The patronage system, for all its faults, has kept the nation sleepily in thrall to a single political system, even as it mouths a single political ideology (a bit more on that here); and we do not have clashes of fundamental values that, for instance, characterized interwar Germany. For that, at least, we can be grateful.
That said, however, the gravity of the Batasan bombing–and the shock value for its perpetrators–are nevertheless very real; for this is the first time since the restoration of (relative) democracy in 1986, and perhaps in all Philippine history, that such an attack had been made at the very seat of a House of Congress. By contrast, the Plaza Miranda bombing, though it also targeted a group of prominent political figures, was done at a political rally held at Quiapo, the beating heart of Manila–a very public place with little security or political sanctity. But in Batasan? It’s like a bomb exploding at Capitol Hill, or at the Houses of Parliament–a terrorist act, a breach of public security, and an insult to the nation all at once.
Beyond the questions of why and who are 3 very real concerns that arise from this act. First, how could they think to do it? For while the legislators are not deemed epitomes of integrity–and in recent years, in fact, the Lower House has seemed lower still, a very expensive rubber stamp fit for a Queen–, they are legislators nonetheless, anointed with the ill-used but still real dignity of representing the nation in its districts and sectors; and an attack on them remains, by constitutional fiction, an attack on us. The bombing was therefore not only an attempt at mass murder–or perhaps at simple murder with multiple collateral casualties–but a national lese majeste, an brazen act of political sacrilege that makes us shudder for its confidence and contempt.
This takes us to the 2nd concern: Who then is safe? If our legislators with their security force and phalanxes of bodyguards can be attacked at the very center of their power, then what of us–who, when we ride the trains and enter the malls, have only private guards to keep us unharmed, searching our bags for bombs they would hardly recognize, shielding us more from comfort than from danger? The Glorietta “gas explosion” was bad enough; and even as we continue our daily routines, we know that we’ve gone back to the second lowest step of Maslow’s hierarchy (if, that is, we ever left it, or ever ascended from the first). One can hardly blame the tourists and investors for staying away, for they have a choice. We have none, and must go as before, though perhaps adding a prayer for safety to our morning rituals.
The 3rd concern proceeds from the foregoing: What next? Was this but the first ledge of a descending cascade of violence, unleashed by maybe Maoists, Islamists, Arroyoists, or random thugs? Will our government seize on it as an excuse to formally impose martial law, which it has proven all-too-willing to do for the most intangible reasons? In this light, though the intentions behind the attack are still uncertain, and its economic and social results remain to be seen, the needed policy response is already clear: For the sake of the nation and its people, the violence must be halted now, and its real perpetrators must be identified and prosecuted as soon as possible–but the means used must not, through excess, threaten to destroy the very ideals they seek to protect. More anon, perhaps, when more facts come to light. Deus vobiscum.