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Not stranger than fiction anymore


CONSIDER: half of the living in the entire universe suffered a tragic death. The culprit responsible for such a vicious atrocity has been recluse, and is living out his miserable existence alone in a planet. Planet earth, on the other hand, the venue of the great Infinity War where the forces of good and evil ultimately clashed causing all the wanton destruction, is in total decay and disarray. The ones who survived the intergalactic Armageddon has either abandoned all hopes of resurrection or are just getting by with their lives, without directions, and are mostly in various forms of pain.

Then, the Marvel super heroes finally got their acts together to save as much lives, and essentially, brought back life where it was lost. As all good-versus-evil story, it begins with an agonizing and traumatic plot with the evil getting all the upper hand. Then, slowly but surely, the good stumbles into strength, into love, into hope, into resurrection, into resiliency, into victory. This is Hollywood fiction at its creative and at the same time money-making best. This, is Avengers: the Endgame, the movie.

However, the contemporary reality we are all in, as recent events across the globe have shown, is not only closer and familiar than this Avengers’ fiction, but is also as wretched, as brutal, as heartbreaking and as deadly a story-telling plot one can get, or even worse. Little by little, we are coming into terms that these catastrophic tragedies are increasingly becoming the “new normal”.

Two recent events are literally leaping out of fiction and memory: the Sunday Easter massacre in Sri Lanka, and the earthquakes that hit mostly Central Luzon and some parts of the Visayas, and indeed, we have to catch up on all the other tragic news going on around us. The major drift is that these tragedies are not products of imagination. The massacre in Sri Lanka, for example, is man-made and the series of earthquakes in the country is caused by nature.

A week after the rubbles were cleared, the confused and unprepared Sir Lankan authorities finally got their acts together, and was able to deliver the correct numbers, and possibly the right forensic analysis. Nine suicide bombers attacked 3 Catholic churches and another 3 luxury hotels leaving 359 dead and 500 wounded, at a time when the whole Christiandom, at least in Sri Lanka, was celebrating the resurrection of a dead God. As declared by the Sri Lankan authorities, the massacre was not only riddled with vengeance and hatred of a specific group but also with a vicious intent to create divisiveness in a multicultural country such as Sri Lanka. The notion of inclusive Sri Lanka is not only fragile as it is, but is currently showing all the cracks. Just a week after the bombings, reports of minority Muslim refugees being threatened or were evicted from their place are a caused of alarm among Sri Lankan authorities. After all, the country just a decade or so ago came out of the bloody civil war.

Of the 359 fatal casualties in the Sri Lankan bombings, 45 of them were children and 38 foreigners. As always, the death of the 45 innocent children were the unkindest cut of all. The narratives of the surviving relatives, especially the parents, sliced our hearts like no other. The visuals are like re-living in contemporary and real time the massacre of the Innocent during the birth of Jesus, horrors and all. While cringing in the savagery and cruelty of it all, we note that the massacre in Sri Lanka represents the worst of humanity. And while we wag our heads in horror, we note further that these calculated barbarism should and must not be given a place in a civilized society.

The 6.1-magnitude earth quake that hit the country on April 22, on the other hand, brought the tragedy closer to home. When the rubbles were cleared, 18 were dead and 282 injured. Though the fatalities are less in number than the Sri Lankan massacre, the pain, the trauma, the jolting agony were not. What transpired in the Chuzon supermarket in Porac, Pampanga, was a nightmare recipe that will haunt us in our dreams for a long time. Imagine a woman with her limbs being cut off to literally save her. Or, in another location in Pampanga, imagine a grandmother and her grandson wanting to have a cover from the shaking ground, only ending up crushed by the dropping rubbles. However, these are not something we can only imagine, they are for real.

The local authorities of Pampanga respond in haste. Save for the miserable and unnecessary micro-management of President Duterte, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council Team, the governor, the mayors, the police officers, the fire fighters and many other ground work personnel and volunteers were at their best.

We knew from observation that Pampanga if not already showing readiness, will at the very least systematically put their acts together in crisis situation like this. We know that tragedies in fiction and reality do not diff er much, at least in essence, if not in its internal logic. Three things are worth noting if we are in the business of saving as much life as possible during tragedies: the necessary plans we make before the tragedies, the quality of response we make during the crisis, and how we handle the tragedies once the rubble settles.

However, let us note that this is not just about preparations. This has also something to do with how w e actually frame our understanding of tragic events. When we are confronted with a tragedy, it is good to harp on our individual and collective strengths, rather than sow hatred, anger and division to score political points. Tragedies are not only about the brutality of life, they are also marking points of our compassion, love, hope, strength and resiliency as human beings. Yes JP, we must ensure against all odds, that just like the Avengers super heroes we watch, our elected leaders, current and the future ones we are going to still elect, have them.


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