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The Messiah and the Mob

On May 30, 2016, a “mummified” body wrapped in a trash bag and tied with packaging tape was found in the town of San Fernando in Cebu. On top was a message written on bond paper: “Tulisan ako (I am a robber), DU30.” A week before this incident, a walk of shame for drug pushers called “Flores de Pusher” is conducted in the city of Tanauan in Batangas. Eleven suspected drug pushers were paraded with paper taped to their bodies which read: “Ako’y pusher, wag tularan (I am a drug pusher, do not emulate).” The parade is sanctioned by the city mayor.

On May 14, after the Philippines elections, two masked gunmen in Davao, cruising in a motorbike, shot a 47-year old drug user returning from a cockfight. The murder made no headlines in the city of Davao, Duterte’s stronghold.

One would assume that the knee-jerk reaction to such incidents would be anger towards the perpetrators, and mercy towards the “victims”.

However, that is not the case.

An InterAksyon.com article dated May 26, 2016 titled “Beware the Parade of the Little Digongs” emphasized the chilling effect such incidents have on those who witness it or know about it.

“…there are those who are aghast, and there are those who merely shrug, but the loudest camp has decidedly been that of the cheerleaders.”

It’s OK, as long as it’s in Duterte’s name — this is what the people believe, and you will get persecuted if you don’t. Duterte is the leader at the helm, with 16 million Filipinos at his mercy. He is the incoming leader who thinks that Davao Death Squad executions are justifiable, that the rape and murder of a nun is something that a mayor gets first dibs on, that journalists deserved to be killed because they were corrupt, and that prioritizing friendship with the son of a dictator is more important than giving his competent vice president a Cabinet seat.

“Relax, there’s nothing wrong with that!”

***

In 1963, one of the most famous studies on the conflict between obedience to authority and personal conscience was conducted. This was called the “Milgram Experiment,” developed by Stanley Milgram. He wanted to answer the question, “Could it be that Eichmann and his million accomplices in the Holocaust were just following orders? Could we call them all accomplices?”

The experiment procedure was that the teachers (participants) were required to send out an electric shock to the students (ally of the experimenter) every time they get an answer wrong (which the students are required to do on purpose). Whenever the teacher-participant refused to administer a shock, they were prodded by the experimenter to continue. Results showed that two-thirds of participants continued to the highest level of 450 volts. Milgram concluded that ordinary people are likely to follow orders by an authority figure, even to the extent of killing another human being, even someone innocent at that.

Unfortunately, Filipinos are also regarded to be highly fanatic, not only in religion, but also in idolatry of celebrities, political figures, or the latest popular culture craze among others. It is quite notable that “our lands were conquered with the sword, but our hearts were conquered with the cross,” said sociologist Bro. Clifford Sorita.

Filipinos are highly emotional creatures that love moving storylines. We tend to raise such figures to messianic heights, that it manifests itself when an “unqualified candidate wins because he has the best narrative, he has made the people feel good, and he has managed to make majority of the population believe he has their backs,” according to a piece by Shakira Sison.

Does a true, competent leader have the citizens’ best interests at heart if he allows killing without due process?

If the majority thinks he is a true, competent leader, then he must be!

Mob mentality is highly characteristic of the election process. Group behavior tends to be more extreme than the behavior of its individual members. Deindividuation, or the loosening of normal constraints on behavior when people are in a crowd, lead to the high likelihood of more impulsive and deviant acts.

Also, when people think they are operating in anonymity, or even if they aren’t, but they think they’re untouchable, as in social media, they are more encouraged to move in mobs. “One dog may bark at you, but it’s more likely that a pack will attack you.” If the group behavior is headed towards violence, the larger the group, the more magnified the calls for violence will be.

With the incoming administration, there is a moral ground that the president-elect is coming from. To an extent, it is a valid goal — to rid the country of drugs, corruption, and other forms of crime. But this cannot be the end-all and be-all of his agenda for the next six years.

He has to understand that to justify the end, he must correct himself and prove the nation wrong about him. He cannot keep dismissing the questions that the people need answers to, he has to make us believe that he has the moral ascendancy to steer the country in the right direction. We need a leader that will quell the nations’ rabid desire for “change”, lest we are ready for a certain kind of civil war.

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