Yesterday evening, millions of Filipinos saw on primetime TV the hysterical standoff between the court sheriff and his assistants and the Grand Central legal counsels and their security guards and mall employees as both sides tried to prevent the other from gaining the upperhand in this real-life drama.
What many people normally do not see is what happens after the confrontation. It was past nine when I reached Monumento yesterday evening and this is what I saw: ordinary Filipinos, uniformed policemen mingling with Grand Central security guards, resting after a hard day's work.
Which brings us to the lessons of this drama:
First, what the standoff demonstrates is that, in this country, if you have money and you can hire high-profile lawyers and deploy an army of security guards, you can basically hold off the Philippine government. With money, you can match force with force, power with power. At least long enough to buy time to think about your next move. But if you're a nobody, the authorities will simply run you over. Wala kang kalaban-laban.
Second, in the struggle, it is the ordinary people -- security guards, mall employees, police officers, court workers -- who are pitted against each other, ready to bang their heads and bruise their bodies simply to get the job done for whoever is paying their salaries. With the open-close-open-close nature of their recent operations, the small stall owners inside the mall are in a daze, anxious about what the future holds for them and their businesses.
On the other hand, the mall owners, Caloocan City Hall officials, the judge who issued the order, all of them are physically detached from the confrontation. Safe sila, malayo sa disgrasya kaya madali sa kanilang mag-isyu ng mabibigat na mga confrontational orders. Well I guess that's how the system works, but it doesn't mean that it's fair.
Third, the force of the law and police power should be used responsibly by those in position of authority. They are meant to equalize life's opportunities and access to justice for both the poor and the wealthy instead of unsettling them further. But I don't think the paradigm should change at all.
Hearts and minds need to change if we are to really be a nation under the rule of law and not of wealthy and powerful men.