Soyez Realistes (Be Realistic)

Sometimes when I want a little peace and quiet I head to my campus (the University of the Philippines here in Davao City) on the weekend when almost no one is around and I could get some work or writing done. Imagine my surprise last Sunday when I saw dozens of military and police personnel on the highway and along the narrow streets leading up to the Mintal campus (and even police personnel inside the campus itself), many armed with high powered rifles! I thought I was entering a war zone.

Even my co-passengers in the jeepney took notice. “Unsa na diay ni?” I overheard one say, concern etched on his face. It turns out that the opening of the Davao Regional Athletic Association (DAVRAA) Sports Meet was taking place on that day at the UP Sports Complex. All the armed personnel, I assume, was there to secure the event.

I am almost sure that if someone had told my co-passenger that the police and military were for that regional sports event, his stance would immediately soften. Why, it’s an important occasion with hundreds of delegates. Of course it makes sense that we need all those soldiers and police to secure it.

The thing is, it doesn’t. Or at least it shouldn’t. One of the things that constant militarization, or continuously renewing Martial Law, accomplishes is that it normalizes the sight of fully-armed personnel and their weaponry in public and civilian spaces (like schools). It makes things that you would only normally see in an active conflict zone a part of our everyday. It conditions us to think that our safety depends solely upon their highly-visible presence in our communities and landscape.

What this does not acknowledge is that rather than being an exemplar of peace and order, this arrangement actually speaks of peace and order’s utter failure. If our first recourse for safety calls for the deployment of camouflage and M-16s, then doesn’t it mean that we have found ourselves in a situation in which every social gathering, sports event, and school assembly has become a potential risk to life and limb? How did we get here?

As I write this the horrible details of the Jolo Cathedral bombing continue to fill my news feed, alongside the protests to resist the lowering of the minimum age of criminal responsibility to below fifteen years. As for the first, the government is already positioning to call in the war dogs, and perhaps place Mindanao under permanent Martial Law, with the rest of the country to follow.

As for the second, it has already been plentifully said that House Bill 8388 has no evidence to back it up, will very likely further punish the poorest and most marginalized Filipinos, and speaks more about the government’s chronic inability to address criminality at its root. And yet, its passage shows no sign of being slowed down in Congress.

HB 8388 is a band-aid solution to systemic issues that push disadvantaged children towards, and consign them to, a lifetime of crime. On the other hand, Martial Law (both real and de facto) has become an excessive and unnecessary response to so-called lawlessness, to the point that “enemy figures” must be re-invoked time and again simply to justify its continued implementation.

Criminalizing children and habituating the public to military rule are both two sides of the same fascist coin. This propagates the idea that punitive (and armed) solutions to problems of peace and order are the only options we can take. This accustoms us into thinking that society is always (and ever will be) in a state of emergency and chronic criminality. This makes the sight of a multitude of uniformed men, in bullet-proof vests and with high-powered rifles, a new normal in my school.

It’s almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy. (davaotoday.com)

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