Since last Wednesday I have remained disturbed.
Watching the broadcast coverage of the execution of the three Filipinos found guilty of smuggling heroin in China left such a feeling of ambivalence. There is that sadness that accompanies death --- especially one that involves a fellow countryman whose lapse of judgment has resulted to his or her victimization.
Then there is the inevitability of it all. One is not quite sure whether sympathy is appropriate considering that justice is merely taking into action. A law has been broken, a crime has been committed. Whether or not Sally, Ramon or Elizabeth were completely aware that they had kilos of heroin stuffed in their luggage as they attempted to enter China was beside the point. They were found guilty and they had to suffer the consequences. To a certain extent, poverty and despair cease to be an excuse or a justification. There is a law. And laws are meant to be reinforced to preserve a larger order --- regardless of what station in life or where the perpetrator comes from. Regardless of what motivated an individual to knowingly (or unwittingly) indulge in a criminal activity.
It could have been a gamble. Or any one of the three could have been coerced into entering China with the contraband. But that is moot and academic. They took the risk. They broke the law. They were caught. They were tried. They were found guilty of a crime punishable by death. And the sentence was finally carried out. All as simple as that.
What could have been an equally simple tale with a clear cut moral lesson about Filipinos being gullible to the temptations of earning a quick buck was somewhat warped by brazen commercialism in the news coverage.
Truth be told: I was so completely appalled by the manner all the major networks dedicated their reportage to a minute-by-minute blow-by-blow account of what was happening in two cities in China where the Filipinos were facing their death.
Yes, the event was indeed sad --- but was there a need to literally squeeze every drop of emotion possible to transform a real life event into an over-the-top melodrama?
Was there such creative exercise in literally cajoling relatives of the three Filipino prisoners to verbalize how they felt, what they were experiencing, how their last meeting with their relative about to be brought to the execution chamber went ... prodding the weeping sibling to provide some juicy sound bytes to capture memorable last words from a dead man walking? I mean, what did these interviewers actually expect?!
That during their last minutes together, the family discussed the weather with somene doomed to die? That they started swapping knock-knock jokes? That the prisoner who was never informed of the day of her execution should be overjoyed that it was all going to be over soon?
Oh, come on!
And worse, why this obsession for details, this addiction to voyeurism ... this almost malicious and carnivorous desire to savor each and every moment that should have been reserved for the family ... and, yes, to give respect even to a criminal whose life has been cut short by the laws of a state?
Contrary to some condescending belief, even a doomed man --- proven guilty of a great crime --- still deserves the respect of his or her privacy even in facing punishment by death. There is an imperative to give every human being the right to cry quietly ... with only those he chooses to show his tears ... and not every breathing creature capable of turning on a television set!
More so, even the relatives in MetroManila and all the way in Isabela were not spared of media molestation. Cameras were literally waiting, aimed at mothers, grandmothers, sisters, cousins --- hoping to gather more sound bytes and highly emotional telenovela moments in real life --- that included wailing while crying, fainting and even incantations summoning the angels from heavens above and demons down under the sea to bring real justice to their doomed relative.
All this real time action on a multi-channel platform had all the dramatic intensity of a fight that involves Manny Pacquiao and whoever there is out there remaining to exchange jabs with the Pambansang Kamao. Somehow all this emotional brouhaha has been blown so out of proportions to completely dilute if not dissolve that important line between reality and fantasy.
Television has that effect of late. It numbs the viewers. It deadens the senses under the pretense of heightening emotions. It desensitizes the common man to think that what is seen on screen is nothing more but a fabrication of media. How it easy it is to forget that these people literally cringing in the pain of sadness are real people and not actors armed with scripts possessing overwrought emotional outbursts. How easy it is to completely miss out that three Filipinos were really losing their lives because of the execution of justice ... and this was not just another episode Maalaala Mo Kaya? or Untold Stories.
In the same manner, how completely desensitized has the Filipino audience become ... that they can stomp their feet, burst in applause and laughter ... while watching a six year old boy do lascivious dance moves while crying quietly on prime time television.
And then again there is that even sadder fact that we have completely missed out on the whole point of the story of Sally, Ramon and Elizabeth. In the desire of media to elicit such overflowing sympathy to the point of hysteria, we also set aside that there were major mistakes made. The mistakes were --- to use the parlance celebrated by television --- major major. And Sally, Ramon and Elizabeth had to pay with their lives for it.
By trivializing their death as yet another episode of the soap opera of mundane Filipino televiewing, we have also lost the entire point of the sadness in their lives ... and the meaning of their deaths.