Humanity

Broadcast of Herbert Morrison’s eyewitness account of the Hindenburg catastrophe.

“OH, THE HUMANITY!” wailed WLS Chicago broadcaster Herbert Morrison as he watched the Hindenburg explode in flames on May 6, 1937. “…[T]his is the worst of the worst catastrophes in the world…,” Morrison sobbed amid screams and the clangor of crumpling metal. “Listen, folks;” he stammered, “I… I’m gonna have to stop for a minute because I’ve lost my voice. This is the worst thing I’ve ever witnessed.” 

Its spectacular horror has seared the Hindenburg disaster on popular memory. Thirty-five of the 97 people on board perished that day; not much by current standards – but it was enough to render the seasoned Morrison speechless.

I’m thinking about the Hindenburg because I woke up today with his plaintive cry roaring in my head: “Oh, the humanity!” It came at the tail end of a dream – not surprising, because life has been impinging on my sleep lately, causing vivid, disturbing scenes that often thrust me awake. Reality is making rest elusive. This administration is not good for my health.

“NOT HUMAN”

The daily reports of death-by-cop, or death-by-riding-in-tandem, or death-by-alleged-vigilantes have made me wonder, what has happened to our humanity? Rodrigo Duterte’s savage rhetoric against drug users and pushers, people he has classified as crud, endorses utter intolerance against them. He fudges when confronted about this, but his meaning is clear: they are scum and the country needs “sanitizing.” The result: murderers have undertaken the “clean up” with alacrity.

The news that his current performance rating is at a record high of +66 deepens my frustration. Assuming that the SWS survey accurately reflects the national mood, does this mean that we as a people are not alarmed by his messaging and the ensuing spate of killings? Are we not bothered by the slew of deaths and violence around us? Are we forsaking our humanity? 

I wonder what kind of training the PNP Academy cadets receive and how they are taught to view human life. They are educated about the penal system; definitely, they are taught that crime must be punished. But do they learn to balance sanctions with respect for human dignity? Or are these concepts too abstract for a workhorse police force up against “animals”?

Is that what PNP cadets learn, that transgressors of the law lose their humanity? After all, Duterte said “junkies are not human.” Vitaliano Aguirre echoed him, huffing and puffing that criminals are not human.” “What is your definition of a human being? Tell me,” Duterte challenged reporters when confronted with the concerns of human rights groups. That is a question I want to throw back at him. Who is a human to you, Mr. President? And do your categories define us all now? 

They seem to set the protocol for some cops at least, who have leveled-up Duterte’s formula by treating even minor offenders as “not human.”

There is the recent case of the so-called Yantok Cops of Mandaluyong, PO1 Jose Tandog and PO1 Chito Enriquez, who were caught on video brandishing their pistols and beating the daylights out of two men detained for imbibing in public beyond the curfew.


Not long after, three Cavite cops were reported to have repeatedly mauled a suspected drug user in their custody and forced him to perform oral sex with another detainee. It is noteworthy that all five policemen in these incidents were rookies.

PNP Chief Bato has responded by throwing them to Marawi where they will supposedly “learn their lesson.” It’s not the wisest of decisions, in my view, because Marawi is troubled enough and should not be a schoolmarm to rogue cops. But Bato is standing pat. (As the head is, so is the body, I always say.) The latest news on the Yantok cops is that they have been disarmed of their bludgeons and given high-powered firearms instead – an M60 for Tandog and an M4 for Enriquez. They patrol the cleared portion of Marawi, protecting it from looters and feeding abandoned animals with donated pet food. Perhaps the state of the poor dogs and cats of Marawi will teach them a thing or two about being human.

COMPASSION

In contrast, there is this video that has gone viral for another reason. Watch it.

This video gave me pause. I imagined how much different our national situation might be if we had an executive policy of compassion for folks who look like criminals, who may act like criminals, but who are merely stretched to their limit and have lost their way. How much more human it would be to treat them with tolerance and equanimity, even when they are wielding a knife.

I am not minimizing the damage they can do, such as the recent massacring of the innocents in Bulacan. I am no Pollyana who thinks substance abusers present no real and present danger. But if in pursuing justice, we subvert it by blatantly disregarding human rights and dehumanizing suspects, then what is the point of seeking it at all?

Tandog and Enriquez excused themselves by saying, “Tao lang po” – “we’re only human.”  Indeed. But they have been trained exactly to address situations such as these.  I am reminded of Senator Sonny Trillanes’s trenchant comment on Duterte’s first year in office, “Simula ng nagpapatay sya ng mga Pilipino, doon pa lang zero na sya. Hindi pwede yun e. Presidente ka ng bansa e dapat pinoproteksyunan mo sila. Kung nalihis man sila sa landas ikaw ang nagtutuwid e. Aalagan mo sila dapat e, hindi mo sila papatayin.”

Key figures in our executive department and police force consider suspects/detainees/users/pushers/(fill in the blank) “not human.” How arrogant. More than that, how ironic. By their behavior, it is they who have shown us all that they have well nigh lost their humanity.

So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.  – Genesis 1:27

Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. – Genesis 2:7

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