Friday, August 26, 2011

When Grief Has Nowhere to Go

Hong Kong citizens are angry at the Philippines.

The Philippines is the place where hostages in a bus to get shot. And it is the place from which no apology has issued forth.

Expressions of regret and condolence have been issued by the Philippine Government. But not apology.

Perhaps this is the reason. Please allow me to slip into the chair of the Presidential spokesperson, but speak more frankly than he would.

We intended no harm. What do we have to apologize for?

A madman murdered innocent people. Not us.

Our view is simple. In the chaos of a tense and bloody scene, our men on the ground did the best that they could. There is no need to apologize for that. What is important is our acts going forward. We will provide better training for our police and a better crisis command structure. That is our commitment.

What is happening in Hong Kong is a media frenzy. It is mob mentality stoked by grief with no place to go. Hong Kong is going through a fit like any mother would if her son were needlessly shot. Throw plates at the wall. Smash the TV with a bat. Explode. Let it out.

Only today, the Philippines is that wall. And it is made the traditional way. Of cement.

I have mixed feelings about this.

I always instructed my young daughters, as they grew older and learned the ways of things, to stop apologizing for their acts. If they intended no wrong, but things went wrong, there is no reason for shame. That is no reason to go weak, to accept blame. Motives good. Outcome wrong. No apology necessary.

How, exactly do you write an apology to Hong Kong?

We, the Philippines, apologize for how poorly trained our emergency response people were, from the leadership to the men who tried to break into the bus, provoking the gunman to shoot. We wish the decisions had not been made as they were made. We are incredibly sorry for your loss.


We apologize for not having the time to get our best people in place to deal with this situation better. The circumstances got the better of us, and we are sorry for that, and for your loss.

I dunno.  It's hard to do. Critics of the President would want him to say "I'm sorry I am incompetent for having incompetent people on my staff, and for all of us botching things royally." But he hardly had a direct hand in that. And, like an Army Colonel sticking up for his men, he has gone to the wall for his people. There is something admirable in that.

I am reminded of my time as an American in the Philippines when the Philippine media, for three years, would not let the Nicole incident fade from sight. Anger ran deep and wide in the Philippines under the assumption that an innocent Filipina had been abused by a sex-mad American serviceman.

Conclusions were drawn about America as a society, and they were not pretty. Filipinos wanted the American Embassy and Army to cede to Filipino outrage; apologize, if you will, by turning over the offending soldier. The US refused to do that, preferring to let the legal remedies play out. In effect, that is what President Aquino is doing. If anyone on his staff broke the law in the bus incident, that person should pay the appropriate penalty.

As the situation with Nicole played out, we discovered that she was not exactly innocent. That, indeed, she and her back seat "date" Smith were both drunk and irresponsible. The incident ended with a huge fizzle, as the courts overturned Smith's conviction (on the basis of Nicole's belated confession that she made up a story to assuage her mother's anger), the US spirited Smith out of the Philippines and Nicole migrated to the US to seek everlasting happiness.

The big media bubble was so much hot air, a reality of its own making, having little to do with what happened. The truth is that these were two immature, irresponsible people who did not deserve one column inch on page A12, much less three years of headlines.

Shame, grief. They are such powerful emotions.

They have the capacity to conquer common sense. They are the mirrors in the funhouse that distort what they reflect.

I don't blame President Aquino for not wanting to apologize.

The Philippines intended no harm. How can you apologize for good intentions that went bad? To grovel in shame, when only one or two people should carry the blame, and the shame.

But decisions were made. They turned out tragic.

The reason to apologize has nothing to do with compassion. But the simple recognition that the longer this draws out, the steeper the price the Philippines pays, in terms of hostility from Hong Kong and how it affects trade and tourism and things we can't know about.

For me, personally, in this instance, I'd apologize for the poor decisions as a matter of compassionate diplomacy. Not out of shame.

Accept responsibility.

Turn the page.

But be ready for another blast of anger that it took so long to issue the apology.

Hong Kong has lots of plates. Lots of anger.


  1. HA!HA!HA!HA!

    I was angry at the government and the Filipinos that perpetually elect incompetently unproven corrupt presidents by watching pathetic rescue efforts in Youtube over-and-over again.

    First, I was entertained. It looked so comical. I was totally amused.

    I got angry. Angry because the attack was sooo pathetically comedic. Gaggle of audience, kleig lights, video cams and pops of camera flashes. Not one PMAyer ever thoughted to turn-off the lights so the hostage taker cannot know what's going on. HA!HA!HA!HA!HA!

    The soldier that held the sledgehammer barely able to lift it. Couldn't they find someone who can bang it like a hammer?

    I was angry for the PMAyers not knowing that the glass were made of plexi laminated glass. It wouldn't shatter at one strike.

    The PMAyers did not use sharpshooters with night-vision.


    The Philipines should sell the video to Most Funny Video or Candid Camera to make money and use the proceeds for just compensation to Hong-Kongese victims.

  2. I just cannot imagine, Joe, in your previous article that you recommend Philippines buying dilapidated mothballed Coast Guard cutter(If it did not work for Americans, it wouldn't work in the Philippines).

    If the PMAyers that handled Chinese Rescue operation cannot do the right simple thing how much more PMAyers handle 20-years-ago technology on Coast Guard cutter.

    My 2nd important axiom still holds true: IT IS EASIER TO TEACH AN OLD DOG NEW TRICKS THAN FILIPINOS OLD TRICKS

  3. I agree with Hong-Kong government for blaming 94,999,999 Filipinos of the massacre. Because Filipinos always vote for what is recommended by idiot, oblivious, clueless, coin-operated Philippine Media. I DID NOT.

    The Chinese came to Philippines for just compensation AND ALL THEY GET IS A MASS AT LUNETA. Even their God did not come across. Why would Filipinos?

    Shouldn't the tithes and collection made in that mass ought to go to the Chinese massacred? Why did it go to the church ? THAT IS REPREHENSIBLE

  4. Yes, the Philippine government had good intention in rescuing the Chinese, they should also know their limitations. They could have gone to Papa America to Team Six Mendoza. Instead they tried their hands. And their hands were not good enough.

    If Filipinos cannot run back-stabbing, squabbling 3rdworld Philippine Government, of course, they cannot do Rambo on Mendoza.

    Give it up Filipinos.

    OUTSOURCE THE PHILIPPINE GOVERNMENT TO MYANMAR NOW! Filipinos has no business running a government.

  5. I think your first apology example would suffice, and I think Philippine shame can be an effective tool to bring about change. That bus incident was indeed embarrassing, as it showed college educated Philippine police officers working like a bunch of ninkumpoops.

    Shame or "Hiya" gets Filipinos to be on their best behavior IMHO

  6. Think of a restaurant where a customer got food poisoning. The chef and perhaps the restaurant owner would be sued at court at the customer's whim.

    Good intentions, but the outcome turned out bad.

    Something like that.....

    Pnoy was only asked for an official apology and just compensation, not to be sued in court.

  7. The problem is after one year no head/s have rolled, and it is not helping that his communication group are getting back at Hong Kong. IMHO it would have been better if they have just shut up and take it like a man.

  8. Anon, yes, good point. It is the lack of holding anyone accountable for poor performance of a civic duty that is the disgrace. It is a case of skilled excuse making by those in charge. Or favors, the details of which are hidden.


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