Headlines about the Philippines peppered many of today’s international news circuits (NY Times, Reuters, BBC, Examiner, etc.) with the words “gunman”, “hostage”, “standoff” and “(insert number here) dead.” The most I’ve seen the Philippines on the news since the presidential race.
55-year old Rolando Mendoza was recently laid off as a senior police officer in Manila, due to charges of extortion and robbery in 2008. A day ago now, he decided to hi-jack a bus load of tourists from Hong Kong at a frequently visited landmark in Manila called Luneta. His main objective for staging the hostage was to get his job back. The story ends with bloodshed, at least 7 tourists and Mendoza, dead.
Mendoza’s standoff reminded me of Raymond Red’s “Himpapawid” or in English, Manila Skies.
Based on a true story, Red’s dark and compelling movie is about a man who loses his job, tries to get a visa to work abroad, gets caught up in a bad, petty criminal situation, ending up hi-jacking a plane to get home to his province so that he could work in the fields instead of struggle in the city. Throughout the whole movie, the main character (whose name escapes me now), is shown sewing together the strike banners of workers at a picket line. He uses this as a parachute to jump out of the hi-jacked plane, which inevitably fails to save his life.
Of course there’s more to the movie, and everyone should go see it. But..
Both these stories have been tragically inspired by common ills in Philippine society:
First, the fundamental and structural problems of unemployment and corruption leaving thousands jobless, desperate and always-at-the-brink-of-crazy. Regardless of which president sits on the throne of Philippine governance, the truth is that the neoliberal policy of migrant export coupled with the weight of political and economic intervention, is killing the Filipino people.
Second, the raw and unrestrained need for survival. On a much personal level, the emotions of the 2 men, one in real life and the other, fictive (but might as well be real), were of frenzied hopelessness. So much so they were grabbing at nothing.
Lastly, the gendering of both t/males, made available to us here in the “West,” points to such a significant loss in masculinity. So much so that the only way to gain back a job, respect, and dignity, was to go assert a violent masculinity. They both convince themselves that the way out of desperation is to spiral off into an even deeper situation. In essence, a lose-lose situation was the only solution.
To me, the circulation of this story is the dangerous part. What are the consequences of this narrative being told over and again about Filipino men, brown men, desperate, brown men? What is it connected to? What work does the circulation do?
At certain points, I think it serves to counter-act (or counter-balance?) the production of the overly disciplined, obedient Filipino female body: the migrant worker, “ilaw ng tahanan,” light of the home, stalwart mother. It definitely produces the Filipino male as unruly, savage, and fanatic.
The circulation of his story as an undisciplined brown man on a killing spree, holding up hostages, and acting against a just and rational police force and a just and rational president, Noynoy Aquino sounds a lot like an extension of the rational for Islamophobia. Its widening grip on anyone and anything that seems to be in opposition to good governance: terror-ists, resistors, and now, disgruntled employees. Really, the pre-emptive strike on anyone and anything that moves to challenge “just and rational governments”. Never the unjust and irrational conditions under which people live without water and food (Pakistan), jobs (Philippines), security and safety (Gaza), homes (New Orleans’ Katrina). Thus everyone becomes a threat, the desperation becomes threatening and then, perhaps, it makes sense for people to play the part, the role of hostage-taker.
No justifications for Mendoza here. I mourn with the families in Hong Kong who lost their loved ones on that bus. And also for Mendoza’s family.
Moreover, I mourn for the many men’s desperation in the Philippines that may or may not hold another hostage. And those who are held hostage by the conditions of unlivable life.