It is quite ironic that in a police state such as the Philippines where around every corner and at every doorway, armed security forces stand ready to fire high-powered shotguns and assault rifles at any suspicious-looking loser, one or the other politician is now weighing in with their opinion of how slack security had recently been at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 3. This is following a rather amusing brawl between hot-headed B-List celebrities Ramon Tulfo, Raymart Santiago, and Claudine Barretto the other day there. According to Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla who is — get this — “chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Services” the incident could’ve been managed a bit better by NAIA personnel: “Both parties could have been pacified and there could have been no injuries if only the airport security personnel acted promptly and properly…”
I seriously doubt that a lack of security measures is what is really the key issue underlying this recent media circus. NAIA is a fortress compared to other airports around the world. Security checks, X-ray equipment, a huge contingent of manual bag-searchers, and ubiquitous uniformed and plain-clothed staff are already deployed at the NAIA. But it seems that no security measure can mitigate the risks presented by the bad manners and bad breeding of self-important Filipino politicians, celebrities, and dollar-waving “I’m-an-American-Citizen” balikbayans.
The incident is a microcosm of Philippine society. Outside NAIA within the teeming megalopolis that surrounds it, there are more traffic officers visible per kilometre of road than most modern cities. Yet traffic remains more gridlocked and, when moving, far more chaotic than in other cities where one can go about an entire day and not spot a single cop. There are more janitors per square foot of building space. Yet toilet facilities are among the most appalling in the civilised world. Red tape and excessive control measures choke just about every transaction — from paying bills, getting a driver’s license, and paying income tax. And yet banal fraud and thievery have come to define modern Philippine society.
My colleague Ilda wrote about what is behind this key component of the Filipino condition a while back…
The society is quite extraordinary in the sense that simple rules and regulations whether on the road or in the work place are for the most part ignored. This is because each individual has this baseless sense of being more important than everybody else. It is why you see people cutting you off on highway lanes on the road or pushing their way in lines ahead of the rest in a queue. In other words, Filipinos in general tend to put their own interest first before other people.
Unfortunately the collective results of a society known for such bravado and machissmo quite simply disappoint. This is because much of what Filipino chest-thumping is built on rests upon rickety social stilts. The lack of an illustrious martial tradition in Filipino heritage is reflected in the country’s pipsqueak military force which now finds its testicles bulging out of its throat as it faces the Chinese Armada in the West Philippine Sea. Upon virtually one man, boxing champ Manny Pacquiao, and one woman, reality show star Jessica Sanchez, rests virtually the entire concept of “national pride” of the Filipino people. And on a single case involving trumped-up charges versus a single man — Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona — rests a national illusion that graft and corruption will finally be “solved” in this sad Third World basketcase.
As such, an inflated national ego does tend to do a lot more damage in a society starved for objective evidence of real collective achievement…
There seems to be something wrong with a psyche that makes us so vulnerable to getting upset or offended so easily. Most Filipinos get offended so easily from a perceived indiscretion and are often unable to move on to something bigger or higher than such trivial pursuits. We tend to be consumed with words that should mean nothing to us if they were untrue. This demonstrates a real sign of having an unhealthy ego and insecurity. As someone aptly put it, Filipinos can be onion skinned cry-babies.
Rule-of-law, arguably the centrepiece concept in a modern democracy, demands that every citizen be a stakeholder in its continued application. Yet the fact that the Philippines is a country of lawyers highlights the disturbing irony of a society held hostage by the Law’s letter — because many Filipinos simply fail to appreciate its spirit. Greg Sheridan in his book Asian Values Western Dreams explains what Filipinos consistently miss by showing what we are not:
In Japan there are very few lawyers and the codes are mostly unwritten, but they are binding, nonetheless.
So was this week’s Thrilla in NAIA really all about lax security measures at the country’s premiere airport? Not likely. Like wretched poverty in a land of plenty and gross ignorance in a highly-literate society, senseless violence in a police state is one of those things that boggle the mind no end in the Philippines.
[Photo courtesy BeOnLine.com.ph.]