Global Perspective

March 20, 2006 Vol. 3, No. 29

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Gemma Tulud Cruz is in her final year working toward a doctorate in Intercultural Theology at the Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands. Her email address is



Victims twice over

By Gemma Tulud Cruz

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Hyde Park, Chicago -- Very rarely does my home country, the Philippines, get space in foreign news broadcast. If it does it is almost always bad news. In the close to four years I have lived in the Netherlands, for instance, broadcast news from my homeland has been mostly limited to: bombings in Mindanao, the military invasion of a high-profile building in Makati City, a destructive typhoon in Quezon, and the political problems of Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

I am not surprised, then, that the two instances in the past month, in which the Philippines garnered a spot in broadcast media in the popular television stations in America, the news is about tragedies. And, as is often the case, the poor are the victims of these tragedies.

The first tragedy occurred Feb. 4 when a crowd of people trying to enter the popular TV game show “Wowowee” stampeded; 71 were killed and hundreds injured. The second happened Feb. 17 when a landslide buried a village killing hundreds. But the greater tragedy, I would say, is how and why these tragedies happened at such lamentable proportions. As the old adage goes, “the devil is in the details.”

In the first tragedy, the victims were the people who had stood in line for three days outdoors for the chance to win prizes Wowowee offered for its first anniversary broadcast. The prizes included a million pesos (about US$19,000), a house and lot, two tricycles, two taxis and a jeepney. In the second, the victims were people who did not have much choice but to continue to live at the foot of a mountain that had long lost its forest cover because of illegal logging.

Aren’t these cases of the poor as victims twice over?

The stampede shows not just the extent to which the poor go to find a way to escape or, at the very least, ease their poverty, but also the extent to which profiteering TV show producers and companies go to rake in a huge audience and raise its ratings. Everyone knows the stampede could have been avoided. People began camping out at the PhilSports Arena days before the show, so the show’s producer and the TV network had ample time to come up with better security and crowd management measures.

The landslide shows not just the limited choices available to people who continued to live in a hazardous area, but also the deplorable acts of illegal loggers and the appalling inaction of local and national government officials on the problem of deforestation. Again, vested interest at the poor’s expense prevails in this case, especially since illegal loggers are some of the biggest donors to politicians’ campaign funds.

Profit-driven TV producers and companies, illegal loggers, and ineffective and corrupt politicians are examples of a unique breed of vultures, that is, the vultures of the poor. What makes their breed deplorable is that they prey on the voiceless, the defenseless, and the powerless in a society already marked by stark inequalities. They capitalize on the poor’s vulnerability and exploit the psychosocial consequences of poverty by lulling their desperate victims into a false sense of security. Others, like illegal loggers, trample on the poor’s rights. Still, others, like government officials, close their eyes to the poor’s plight.

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To be sure, there will be inquiries into these tragedies. But, like many investigations, these could turn out to be a travesty of justice that penalize the small fry and exonerate the big fish. The inquires won’t answer questions such as: How could people take advantage of the vulnerable at their weakest and lowest point? When did private interest overcome public service?

In tragedies like these, one laments how low human beings have sunk in greed. (As an aside, one of the images from the Asian tsunami that has stayed with me is that of a man a robbing a floating corpse of jewelry. In the same video footage, another man shows the world what it means to be truly human by castigating the other man and stopping him from robbing and desecrating the dead.)

Nowadays, we have so many incidents of appalling acts toward the poor and the defenseless. Even here in the United States, we hear of the Katrina scams and the theft of body parts from the dead for commercial purposes.

As I wrote this column Feb. 24, President Arroyo had just declared a national state of emergency after a foiled coup attempt by the military and in the face of massive rallies mobilized by an opposition persistently calling for Arroyo’s resignation. The state of emergency also coincided with the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the First People Power revolution. The state of emergency was lifted March 3. Who is the ultimate victim in these political maneuverings?

This is the irony and tragedy of a supposedly more evolved humanity. For what is more awful than further impoverishing the poor? What is more terrible than trapping the defenseless and forcing them to live in dangerous places? Indeed, what is more tragic than killing the literally and figuratively dead ... again.

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