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Barry M. Gutierrez: Fallen hopes


Let me start with a confession. Last May, a few days after the elections, with disappointment at the outcome still weighing heavily on me, I seized upon one desperate hope: I wished that Rodrigo Duterte would succeed.

My thinking was simple enough. After all the hate and vitriol of the 2016 campaign, I needed something good to come out of that toxic morass. And the most obvious hope to cling to was that, just maybe, the 16 million Filipinos who gave the man his plurality were right –that his invective-filled, murderous rhetoric was simply part of a persona he assumed for the campaign, and that he would soon settle down and apply his much-vaunted political will into serious efforts to make our people safer, our bureaucracy more efficient, our public officers more accountable.

It now appears I was wrong. Terribly, fatally, unequivocally wrong.

Yesterday, the story of 14-year old Reynaldo “Kulot” de Guzman flooded both the airwaves and social media. This was a young boy, missing for the past twenty days, and last seen with 19-year old Carl Angelo Arnaiz, a UP student who was gunned down by Caloocan police in what they insisted was yet another case of a suspect “resisting arrest.” Kulot was just in Grade 5, but when he was found — floating in KinamatayangKabayo Creek in Gapan, Nueva Ecija, more than a hundred kilometers from his home in Cainta – someone had seen fit to wrap his head in packing tape, and stab him more than 30 times.

14 years old. 30 stab wounds. Unimaginable.

The stories of Kulot, and of Carl, and of Kian delos Santos, and of dozens of other childrenmurdered in the 14 months of the Duterte administration, arethe final nails driven deep into the coffin of any hopes I may have had for this President and his government.

While we may still debate about how well (or how poorly) he has dealt with corruption (worse than ever, from what I hear, but maybe I’m overly cynical), traffic (still bad, though we’ve been advised it’s all just a “state of mind”), the national budget (bloated with pork, but who really cares anymore?), and protecting our sovereignty (those rocks after all are in the South CHINA Sea, anyway, right?), as far as I am concerned, even if we grant that he is running the most awesome government in the solar system, if it comes at the cost of murdered children, then his government has failed us.

Nothing can be worth this.

I do not know for how much longer we can stand to live in a country where, every time one of our sons or daughters leaves the house, we feel real fear that he or she may wind up floating face down in a creek in some remote barangay, head wrapped in packing tape, pierced by dozens of stab wounds.

This is definitely not what “safety” look like. And this is in no way acceptable.

I would never have believed this would ever be our reality, but here we are, securely in the grip of this new, horrifying normal.

And the horror – and perhaps even the unreality – does not even end there. Shortly after the terrible news about Kulot, the pro-administration social media machine kicked into high gear – attacking those that dared express outrage or even simple concern, fabricating outlandish conspiracy theories (Kulot was killed by the “dilawans?” Really?), and belittling the significance of the entire incident.

In some sense, this unrelenting and unapologetic spinning of even this horrible tragedy is even more appalling.

That there are those whose first response to the brutal murder of a child is to ask “How can we spin this to protect our principal?” is deeply disturbing. Is this truly who we are now? I would like to believe not.

I would also like to think that the day will come when we will look back on these timeswith rage, regret, and a commitment to never again let such horror hold sway. A day when we will work to bring justice to the fallen, and when we can set aside our fears for our children.

I just hope that it will not take the lives of more Kulots, Carls, and Kiansfor that day to come.