REFLECTIONS: When public conscience dies, society is in danger

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 01 September) — In 2018, I tested how the general public would react by posting on social media two different pictures: one, the picture of a pet dog sprawling lifeless on the ground, with its owner exuding an aura of grief; and the other, the picture of a lifeless body of the victim of riding-in-tandem criminals bathed in his own blood, with his two little children crying while looking at his bloodied body.

The results of the test were striking, if not shocking.  The picture of a pet dog garnered 180 reactions and 57 sympathetic comments, while the picture of the bloodied man with his crying children garnered only 21 reactions and 10 comments, a couple of them blamed the dead father for being a possible “drug offender.”

Based on my personal count, alone in General Santos city, where I work as a volunteer human rights defender, 266 persons have already fallen victim to riding-in tandem  criminals since January 1, 2017. Of this number, 38 were killed just this year, 2020.

Of 266,  four were women, six minors, two gays, and four policemen. All killed by riding-in-tandem criminals.

Within this same period, again based on my personal count, one enforced disappearance was recorded, while about 40 individuals were killed during police operations.

This number includes three persons manning a cargo truck who were ambushed at the Diversion Road of Barangay Katangawan, General Santos City. One of them was a respected lay leader of the Parish Church of Polomolok who also served as one of the principal operators for the Mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte-Provincial Executive Committee (MRRD-PEC) in South Cotabato.

Within the last two weeks, the killings occurred almost daily in General Santos City, although there were three instances when two persons were killed in a single day. The same bleak scenario is also painting itself continuously in other localities within Region 12.

All these killings were of public notice as they were all prominently reported by ABS CBN TV Patrol South Central Mindanao when it was still operational. Today, the regional station and the rest of ABS-CBN’s regional stations are already functus officio after the network’s franchise was killed by a 70-member “killing syndicate” in the House of Representatives.

But it is not only all these killings that terribly annoy me. What annoys me no end is that all these killings do not only result to the killing of individuals, but they also result to the killing of public conscience.

The continuing and unchecked bloodletting in General Santos City and neighboring localities does not, at all, trigger any public outrage. It is being welcomed only by a stingless public whimper, if any.

The human blood that flows continuously on the streets of the city has proven to be not enough to tickle the public conscience in a manner that galvanizes the people’s collective action to prevent society from pedaling back into the barbaric era.

Sadly, the results of the test that I conducted on social media do not only indicate that the people’s silence on the continuing bloodletting is not all due to fear that they might become victims themselves.

Many local residents, some of whom have solid intellectual and religious moorings, even showed, through written and verbal postulates, their support to shortcuts as a means of weeding out society of what they call as “undesirables.”

A City Councilor described the spate of killings in General Santos City as “not alarming” after two of his neighbors (father and son) were killed by riding-in-tandem criminals and after another two men were cut down by assassins’ bullets a few meters from City Hall, the seat of local power.

A priest in South Cotabato expressed cynicism for my public challenge to bishops, priests, pastors and other religious leaders to speak up against the continuing carnage.

In my TV and radio interviews, I challenged religious leaders not only in General Santos City but also in the whole region to take the cudgel for the hapless victims of the killings, most of them, if not all, toiling residents of various localities in the region, when all indications already point to the fact that formal institutions of power are rendered helpless against the killings perpetrated by riding-in-tandem criminals.

As of now, the balance of power in the city and the region is in advance strategic stalemate, with riding-in-tandem criminals winning the battles as against all coercive state forces.

Civil society and private organizations, including various organizations of lawyers in the region, are also too silent as to betray their activist tradition emanating from the octopus years towards the Marcos dictatorship, and beyond.

Moreover, the lackluster public positioning of local government officials on the killings is rather intriguing. My view is that they do not fear the riding-in-tandem criminals, but they fear someone near-omniscient whose unabashed power may bring them to perdition.

In sum, fear and all other undefined abstractions. Holding us from collectively revolting against of the travesty of human life and from celebrating the innate philosophy of our beings, are indicative of the death of public conscience.

Our silence makes us tacit enablers of disrespect for human life, human dignity and human rights. We are, therefore, as guilty as the riding-in-tandem criminals for the continuing carnage and bloodletting.

When public conscience dies, society is in danger.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Ben Sumog-oy is the Action Officer of IDEFEND-GenSan, Unit Head of the Para-Legal Unit of SENTRO-SOCSKSARGEN, and Unit Head of the Local Mass Struggle Unit of Akbayan-GenSan)

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