August 23, 2010. Manila. All that were in the news from this morning until 9 pm was the continuing drama in Qurino grandstand, where a Police Senior Inspector, 55 year old Rolando Mendoza held a tourist bus with 22 foreign passengers captive to draw attention and express his sentiment over the decision made to remove him from the police service. The hostage taking began at 1o this morning, at around 12 PM 6 hostages were released and at past 1 this afternoon, at least 7 were already released leaving 15 passengers still captive until this evening.
The hostage taking was a protracted narrative that glued the eyes of the Filipino audience to follow it through the news on TV and over the radio. The internet is likewise so speedy in delivering the infromation to the world. Reuters and teh Agiance France Presse were wired sources of the Manila National Post, to say minutes before the local TV news announced the hostage crisis was over. The lenght of media exposure that was given to this event, perhaps, creeped into me as powerful media effect, that I am actually blogging about it.
Armando Doronilla, columist from the inquirer have written about the long history of hostage taking in the Philippines. In his column, Doronilla (2007) writes how a hostage drama unfolds into the universal human experience in homes locally and worldwide through television. Newsframing, indeed is a clever media agency action to draw audience attention and keep their interest on the dramaturgical elements that play on screen in full audio-video format, giving a various shots to the location and several views about the event. In this blog, I attempt to make sense of the narrative of hostage taking which the media find newsworthy.
Today’s hostage drama is just another sequel to the epic of hostage crisis in Manila and in the Philippines. In March 2007, a similar event took place near the Manila City Hall, where Armando Ducut, lived his name to dukut or take some children hostage in a bus. That story lasted for 10 hours. Today’s drama was longer by an hour. Ducut’s story line was melodramatic that he seized these children and used them to air his grievance on the corruption of government. There is a theme that holds a hostage drama together, that theme is in the message, demand, claim or sentiment of the hostage taker. But often this theme is negotiated for a temporal resolution.
Mendoza’s sentiment is ego-centric. Being sacked from the police service and his inability to comprehend and resolve his personal struggle, he staged a stunt to draw public attention. Such is an abberrant behavior but which in Filipino constructs can be understood as kapit sa patalim, a high risk that one does bahala na kung anong kahihinatnan. Staging the stunt to take it that long is something that is not really contemplated upon. It must be a silakbo ng damdamin that is hindi na mapigilan. It could have been a premeditated attempt but the process of thinking about is not in anyway strategic, instead tactical only to get attention. Hence, it is such a crazy thing to do, an episodic event in psychological terms. In dramaturgy, such event is a result of failed solliloquoy.
The two hostage takings in Manila are parallel in getting public attention. The earlier had at least a resolution where the negotiator ends up as a hero. Then, the politicians took the hero’s role. But today was a tragedy, the negotiation did not succeed and the hostage taker drooped in his own blood. A hostage drama is a contextualized conflict, action-filled and enormously empathic. If not, the hostage taker fails in performing his role to be upstage while the protagonist remain behind the scene. Today, the sniper who got to hit the hostage-taker with his bullet will be the celebrated hero. No politicians, no master planners can take that reward from him.
As an unfolding narrative over the media, the audience remained as spectators to the hostage-taking: musing on the continuity of action; following the entries and exits of actors; listening to the ongoing dialogue between the protagonist and the antagonists; eves-dropping on the muted voice of the victims playing the chorus; gazing on the spectacles of sights and sounds; and anticipating the awaited resolution of the human conflict. Since the resolution is not easily discernable in the unfolding of events, the audience are engaged in the anthology. The same dynamics is probably true as to how the law enforcers reacted to the situation.
I do not wish to think that the crisis was plotted to paint a heroic image for our police officers. Such crisis is a human crisis, a drama of a man in which others would like to participate for a resolution. This is evidenced by the usizzeros around the area who flocked immediately into the scene right after the hostage-taker was gunned down. The theme in hostage taking is always explicit, and they remain incomprehensible when the narrative ends in a tragedy. The voice of the antagonist is muted, and never paid attention to because it is upstaged by the emerging conflicts and dramas in the anthology.
Ducut’s sentiments were about corruption in the Philippine Government during Arroyo’s regime. Mendoza’s sentiments which is written on paper that he posted on the bus window shields reads: “BIG MISTAKE TO CORRECT A BIG WRONG DECISION: RELEASE FINAL DEICISION”. Mendoza believed that he was unjustly removed from service, Ducut thinks that there is injustice in corruption. The two themes are coherent to suggest that injustice is an issue to human conflict, and justice is necessary to resolve it. Mendoza may be claiming that the decision to sack him was a wrong decision. On another it could imply that he was victim of injustice, framed up or set up to carry a penalty that is not due for him. There is no more way to find this out, because the drama ended in a tragedy already.
In historical and anthropological terms, narratives play in our cultural transformation. Our culture is both a product of our oral traditions and our education. The process in which culture is transmitted is through communication, that sharing of meaning and understanding. If Mendoza is right in his claim, he was misunderstood and a wrong decision was placed upon him that beget a mistake he did – to take some people hostage with for an illusive resolution of personal conflict.
The drama that was today, were all on TV, my 6 year old nephew asked me “What is hostage?” As I was busy with writing my academic papers, and my attention is divided about the news, I guessed I was not able to answer him right, that I told him that was hostage taking. In my break, to be away from my desktop for a while, he was online watching scenes from war craft that were available in youtube. I do not know whether there is a connection to what he saw on TV and he is watching in the net, but he seems to be happy watching the latter, without understanding what violence is that was right there on the television.
The narrative is of great significance to a dramaturgical performance. The narrative is made flesh by the dramatic elements that give its wholeness and completeness. The narrative is essential to discourse and the communication of culture. The narrative of Manila hostage crisis is but a projection of who we are, aside from an aberrant behavior? It is to me a narrative of powerlessness of our law enforcers. It is to me a narrative of our desire to participate in the resolution of human conflict. It is to me a narrative of our own life stories consistently in conflict with many other things that we no longer recognize to exist – the conflict of now knowing who we really are for others, and who others are to us.
Watching the hostage drama unfolds provide us the temporal relief from the routine and the common things that our eyes peers through in television. A real life event unfolding right in front our very eyes, guns shooting, blood smearing bodies, crying victims, people dying, victims being freed. These are images of that narrative of human tragedy – the loss of sense for the value of life. We participate in watching the scenes, but we do not want it to happen to us. We are satisfied to being just spectators to life’s drama, even though we have a sphere of influence to the actors and elements in the drama.