Victims and victimizers

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THEY’RE victims twice over, casualties of the brutal struggle for survival in a country of absent opportunities and grinding poverty, and dupes of the drug syndicates that lure them into carrying illegal drugs to and from the Philippines.

That’s basically the argument of the OFW advocacy groups, and much of the media, that support the Philippine government’s (temporarily successful) efforts for a stay in the executions of three Filipinos sentenced to death in China for drug trafficking. But add another argument in support of getting the Filipinos off: the laws of China are too severe; they punish drug dealing with death while the Philippines doesn’t. Ergo, the Filipinos’ conviction was unjust and it’s only fair to commute their death sentence to life imprisonment or even less.

That argument has a Jurassic ring to it. Behind it is the assumption that the Philippines is the former’s superior in that it’s more humane. It echoes the anti-Chinese racism of those times when Filipinos looked down on the Chinese because their country was then prosperous enough to be a preferred destination among Chinese immigrants in search of a better future. Today the opposite is true; China has the world’s second largest economy, the Philippines one of the smallest. The only way any Filipino can feel superior to it is to ignore its economic might and to focus on the severity of its laws, or, if he or she’s a bit more informed, its human rights record.

That’s what poverty and being the subject of much of the world’s contempt does. They make you scrounge around for something, anything, to be remotely proud of. You may be sending off your women to other countries as domestics, sex workers and drug mules, but you’re the only Christian country in Asia, your country and people are known for their hospitality, you were liberated at EDSA in 1986, you have the “freest press in the world,” your laws are more forgiving, and you speak English.

You may know only enough of the king’s speech to take orders from the Singaporean housewife you want to scrub toilets for. It may be more a matter of the laws’ not being implemented rather than their being forgiving. The press may be cheap rather than free. You’re Christian only on Sundays, and your weekdays are reserved for hanging around the neighborhood and beating your children. EDSA may have merely replaced the rule of one wing of the elite with that of another, and your so-called hospitality may include fleecing foreigners of their euros. But at least you can pretend that what you say is true, while you look around for some way to get rich quick — naturally, “abroad.”

When caught carrying drugs to a country that takes its laws seriously enough to line criminals up before a firing squad, you call yourself a victim. You and your relatives take refuge in the excuse that you only wanted a better life for yourself and your family. You blame everyone — poverty, the government, God, China — but yourself, in the sure and certain conviction that you’ll have the TV talking heads and newspaper columnists with you, all crying “victim” and decrying how severe some countries’ laws are. Your own ineffectual government, the same one that over the years has succeeded so well in reducing the country to penury, may even send off its current vice president to plead your case.

In short: you had no choice, no free will — and no values beyond assuring your family a better future no matter what the means, in much the same way that certain generals make sure of the same thing by not caring for anyone except themselves and their families, letting their wives carry hundreds of thousands of dollars into the US to shop at Saks Fifth Avenue and to buy houses with, disgracing, as much as you did, the country you claim at every opportunity to love.

It’s part of the Filipino syndrome of self-fulfilling victimhood that at the same time victimizes. Everyone claims to be a victim in this earthly paradise, but forgets that victims can be victimizers too: look at the Holocaust victims who victimized the Palestinians in the 1940s and whose descendants are still at it today.

The bottom line is that drugs kill, which is why even the Philippines has an anti-drug use and trafficking law (RA 9165) that, at least on paper, is as severely punitive as any in Asia, and why death is the usual penalty for drug dealing in practically every country in the region.

The Philippines has a huge drug-abuse problem that afflicts even high school students, abetted by the usual police and military thugs and some government officials (150 of them in one town in Negros Oriental alone, says the NBI). It is also a transshipment point in the Asian drug trade. Clandestine laboratories in the Philippines produce drugs for shipment to other countries. Filipino drug mules, traveling not only from Manila but from places as distant as Peru and Brazil, are being arrested all over Asia, from Thailand to Macau, Hongkong to China, indicating that more and more Filipinos are becoming part of the distribution networks that sustain the drug problem among Asian populations.

There is some truth to the claim that the drug mules are victims — of the poverty that forces millions of Filipinos to leave the country, of the syndicates that have mastered the art of enlisting Filipinas in their service. Victims they may be, but they’re also criminals, whether by the laws of the Philippines or those of other countries.

The Philippine government should by all means protect Filipinos in trouble abroad, and see to it that their rights are respected. Even more fundamentally should it put its own house in order, and create the conditions at home that will provide its citizens the means to sustain themselves in the present and to guarantee their future. But those who leave the country supposedly to better their lot also need to reexamine themselves and the values that drive them, most of which are centered on a sense of entitlement arising from a sense of victimhood, and a focus on the self and the family at the neglect and even expense of the rest of society.

(BusinessWorld)

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