POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 26 August 2010, Thursday
Sorry, We Aren’t Trained
That is what the acronym “SWAT” stands for in the Philippines, say many in the aftermath of last Monday’s hostage-taking bloodbath.
Former senior police inspector Rolando Mendoza’s frustration over what he perceived was an unjust termination of his bemedalled service in the police force drove him to hijack a tour bus full of visitors from Hong Kong and demand his reinstatement.
When this did not happen and instead an inept SWAT team took a sledgehammer to the back window of the bus, he slew eight of his captive tourists.
Brave but inept policement prepare to storm the bus. (Click on pics to go to image source.)
Hong Kong erupted in anger. According to the Associated Press, several dozen protesters chanted in front of the Philippine embassy there: “Strongly condemn the Philippine government for being careless about human life!” “Filipino police incompetent,” blared Hong Kong’s Ming Pao Daily News on its front page. The South China Morning Post said the incident was “a wake-up call” to improve gun control and security measures.
Interior Secretary Jessie Robredo, in charge of the police, was quoted by AP as having said, “Had we been better prepared, better equipped, better trained, maybe the response would have been quicker despite the difficulty. All the inadequacies happened at the same time.”
This painful admission underscored the galactic incompetence of those involved in the rescue attempt – the negotiators; the SWAT team members; the government officials who panicked and could not be reached by indignant Chinese diplomats demanding news and the safety of their nationals.
It also pointed to another tragedy brought about by corruption. There should have been enough funds for equipment and training. The delivery of basic social services such as law enforcement should have been prioritized by government.
Sadly, this hostage tragedy was not the only violence that humans committed against their fellows around the world.
Last week, a South Carolina mother suffocated her two toddler sons, strapped their corpses into her car, and pushed the car into a river before fleeing the scene. Upon her capture, police officers said she showed no remorse for her deed.
On Sunday, a Virginia man killed three family members and wounded four others in a property dispute.
On Tuesday, a suicide bomber killed 32 people at the Muna Hotel in Mogadishu. The attack followed a day of fighting in the Somali city in which around 40 others were slain, bringing the death toll to over 70 in just 48 hours.
In her column about torture last Monday, MST opinion editor Adelle Chua referred to psychologist Philip Zimbardo’s theory of the “Lucifer effect”, or how good people turn evil through the “pervasive yet subtle power of a host of situational variables” which can “dominate an individual’s will to resist” and cause him to perform actions that he would ordinarily consider evil.
Yet could there be a deeper, underlying cause for all this human rage and cruelty? Eccentric intellectual Howard Bloom, in his controversial 1995 book The Lucifer Principle posits that human evolution can “explain the fundamentals of human nature and the broad sweep of human history”.
Primal rage, he says, lurks within our reptile brains, and “a strange thing happens when humans and other animals are cornered by the uncontrollable. Their perceptions shut down, their thoughts grow more clouded, and they have a harder time generating new solutions to their problems.”
Experiments with rats have shown that faced with electric shock punishments, those given some sort of control (being able to leap to an unelectrified platform) avoided a brain-dulling endorphin surge, “remaining perceptive and alert”.
The rats without control, subjected to shock after shock, suffered from systems flooded with endorphins and were unable to “retain and act on vital information.”
In short, Bloom said, “Control, in humans and rats, energizes the mind. A lack of control can cripple mental powers”.
Perhaps this explains Mendoza’s actions. Freed bus hostage Ng (who did not give her first name) said that Mendoza at first “did not want to kill us, but since the negotiations failed, he shot to kill people.” His lack of control over the hijacking, adding to the loss of control in his own life, pushed a desperate man over the edge.
Many who watched the hours-long live coverage on TV said that it was apparent to them that Mendoza was not thinking clearly. Political science doctoral student and Lopez, Quezon mayor Sonny Ubana said that Mendoza’s use of violence as a way of settling his problems is “not part of our culture; we tend to seek amicable solutions.”
Moreover, by choosing foreign nationals as his victims, Mendoza violated the norms Filipinos hold most sacred – that of hospitality and its accompanying accommodative behavior. His culturally and morally aberrant actions, many opined, were proof of his mental breakdown.
One cultural meme that he got correct was that of the angry man running amok.
Mendoza’s fatal move of taking and slaying hostages was his way of regaining the control he had lost over his employment situation, which had defined him. Being a cop was his identity. Shorn of his badge and rank, he was a nobody, only a shell filled with rage.
For the Philippines and the world, this lamentable crime points to the lack of control of law enforcers and government over extreme situations such as these; the lack of control over corruption; the lack of control of an entire society over one lone killer.
A recent survey says the Philippines ranks twelfth globally on the “net happiness” scale despite low per capita income. Are we as a people too high on mind-dulling happy endorphins to think rationally and logically, so that we give police badges and guns to untrained men who either go berserk or who through their inadequacy botch the rescue of berserker victims?
Ours is not the only nation where violence takes place. The Internet is full of stories of murder and mayhem every day. Yet this particular incident could have been avoided or its tragic effects averted or mitigated.
Sorry, world. We aren’t trained to take control. ***