“Tricycles in Tagum are too small for its passengers,” said the woman who struggles to fit her body into the tight cavity, while keeping her groceries in place. Along with the struggling sound of the engine due to our imbalanced masses, she mumbled similar thoughts about how the vehicle should’ve expanded its aluminum body to fit all passengers regardless of their sizes. She only stopped talking – repressing all hate towards her situation – when the tricycle arrived at her destination.
From that, I’ve pondered why some Filipinos have become bold enough to show their aggressive tendencies in whatever form, imprudently. I believe, there’s something in today’s context why people seem to be exaggeratedly angry and hateful – wishing death and accusing indolence for poor people killed in police operations, cursing at farmers and Indigenous peoples when they rally at the streets shouting and demanding for their rights – even inside public vehicles and open spaces.
The recent killings in Negros Oriental have caused much fear among us. The reports pushed us to feel an unstable sense of security. Alarmingly, the compendium recorded unprecedented deaths happened consecutively in just a span of seven days. However, the more bothersome reality is how the culture of impunity has given much freedom to flourish, especially when Filipinos have started to become desensitized to the daily dose of images of poor people who died from vigilante and police operations precipitated by the drug war; tribal leaders who were killed despite their unfinished battles for land rights; numerous journalists gunned down by unknown men.
Last summer, I was given the opportunity to join the first OURMindaNOW Tech Camp with other youth leaders in Mindanao. In one of the sessions, a participant whom I seldom talked to approached me and held my hand like a brother of the same blood. Until we’ve reached the basin, seeming boundaries and anxieties that tried to separate us at that moment vanished slowly, while whispering our hopes for a peaceful Mindanao. Afterwards, he tapped my back, rubbed it in a circular motion, trying to assure that we have achieved peace among ourselves.
I’ve realized, moreover, that before peace is achieved, reconciliation is necessary. It’s only when I defied the barriers between our cultures, religions, and beliefs, that granted us peace. In that instance, the act of reconciliation is both personal and collective journey: it needs a starting point for courage to debunk our dis-informed judgments toward groups of people. And I have understood that for so long, Mindanao was just a place of tolerance but not of acceptance. Sadly, even until now, we’ve failed to treat properly our Muslim and Lumad brothers and sisters – consciously and unconsciously labeling them as dangerous – hurting them more than the weight of words through internalized stigma.
I believe that the intensified culture of impunity and desensitization in these times are the consequences of losing our ability to achieve reconciliation. Day by day, we encounter frustrations at work, school, and even relationships. Some of us are tired of contractual work despite the promising offer of the government to end it. Some are pressured by parents in an unjustified manner to perform well academically. Some lacked the sense of belonging due to a dysfunctional family. All of these are reasons to become aggressive and hateful. But these can also motivate us to sink into individualism – exerting all energies to oneself and intentionally turning away one’s back from others. In these acts, we just lost two important human collective capacities: forgiveness and humaneness.
In this political climate, when we our senses have become accustomed to killings, constant slurs and curses by the President, and thinning lines between the truth telling and acts of disinformation, it becomes more convenient for people to internalize aggression and hate if these are perpetually normalized. Also, diversions in social media aid in the flourishing of deplorable actions such as proliferation of gossips, depreciation of others, and social stagnation (or the inability to be politically and socially involved in state affairs). If we allow these personal characteristics to prosper, we create wider thriving spaces for both impunity and desensitization to outgrow.
While I also struggle inside the tricycle’s suffocating space, I completely disregarded the misfortune of repeatedly moving my body to secure at least half of the seat. Instead, I’ve channeled my situation into thinking what had driven the woman to easily and publicly splatter all her hate. After she left the tight cavity as her triggering object of anger, I realized today’s greater need for collective reconciliation: an act that doesn’t just involve moving away from individualistic tendencies, but also demand the embodiment of actions that involve subscription to the truth, preservation of human rights, respect to inter-religious and intercultural differences, and departure from backward characteristics that aim to foster aggression, impunity and desensitization.