"What are your thoughts on the recent incident in Atimonan, Quezon, where 13 people were killed?"
This is the question friends and associates have been asking me lately. It seems they value what a local government official has to say about a gruesome incident that took place in a province within the same region as Rizal.
My usual answer: "I don't know" and "I have nothing to say."
"How come?" they would insist that I give my view.
"It's because I am still in shock," I would answer. That answer is an honest one and probably reflects the current mental state of the general public in connection with that incident.
My many years in public service have taught me that the public psyche goes through several stages as the people confront the reality of a significant event as frightening as that which took place in Atimonan.
Stage 1: Shock
Stage 2: Puzzlement
Stage 3: Interpretation
Stage 4: Outrage
Stage 5: Resolution.
Shock is the initial numbness of the mind and emotions which happens as we initially face the reality of such an incident. Shock is a survival instinct. We initially ward off the pain but shutting off our faculties that process that feeling.
As we slowly move out of the shock, we enter into a state of bewilderment. We are puzzled by what just took place. We ask, "What happened?" Slowly, we try to make sense out of the event that unfolded before our eyes, directly or vicariously through media reports.
Then, as we exit the puzzlement stage, we begin to interpret the event. We put meaning into what just happened. We identify the players and ascribe motives to them. We try to put two and two together. We try to put sense... even when there is none.
And, realizing that the incident which resulted in the death of many hardly made any sense, we graduate into anger. We feel the outrage welling up within us. That is when we join others in a collective outburst.
Finally, we try to resolve the issue and look for more positive ways to channel our outrage. We either accept the reality that events like the killings in Atimonan are a fact of life which we cannot change and, therefore, must be resigned to it... or we decide to do something about it.
We went through the same process when we were confronted by the deaths of several innocent children at the start of this year caused by stray bullets fired by trigger-happy hooligans. We were shocked, and then puzzled by the cruelty and uselessness of these deaths. Then, the anger and the collective outrage.
We interpreted these deaths as having been caused by guns placed in the wrong hands. We attempted to resolve the issue by looking at the possibility of a total ban on guns in the hands of civilians. The President nixed the idea, and it looks like he has a point.
After all, those who fired the guns that caused the 13 deaths in Atimonan had full authority to carry guns and even to fire them. They were not civilians. The bullets they pumped into the bodies of the 13 fatalities were not stray; they were aimed, were on target and looked like they were intended not to maim but to end life.
Several national officials have been doing a good job helping us interpret what happened in that lonely stretch of a Southern Tagalog highway. The event is now being interpreted as an "ambush," "rubout," or even as a "summary execution."
The problem with the interpretation of the event we hear at present merely answers the question "what happened."
In the aftermath of our collective bewilderment, what we want answered is the question "why did this happen?"
The other question is, "how could this happen?"
Sometimes, the absence of a clear answer merely prolongs our collective outrage.
Unless we accept as reality the fact that our questions may never find a clear answer.
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