First written on July 31, 2014 but I decided to just actually finish it today. Also publishing this weeks after the incident to avoid being insensitive:
I’ve been putting off writing about things that caught my eye on the news the past couple of weeks so as to avoid tackling anything depressive.
But after weeks of not seeing anything other than Israel’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, seeing images of people being hurt on both sides, after the several plane crashes within the same week, and catching a report on the TV showing a parade of hearses in the Netherlands carrying the bodies of those that died at the MH17 crash, I found myself scribbling my thoughts on random pieces of paper – the back pages of my planner, grocery lists, and even some receipts.
I was putting it off but I knew I had to sit down and write something about it – as what I would’ve done if I were back in Manila. It would have been for work and most likely with a political angle but it was getting it off my chest all the same.
This is not about Israel or Gaza (my husband and I have already been spending so much time during meals discussing the issue and we’ve both felt the sensitivity and emotion that comes with it that I guess it is best to avoid it at this point). This isn’t even about my heartbreak over the Chibok girls – something that I’ve been harbouring for a while now. Nor is this about Joseph Kony or who’s to blame over the MH17 crash.
After all, I promised my husband I won’t write anything political anymore so that I don’t get us in trouble ;) (We’ve been keeping my ‘scoops’ and my crazy opinions to ourselves as healthy discussions for meal times).
It’s about how people, as a nation, mourn.
In the Philippines, typhoons are expected from June till late in the year. We prepare, we try our best to minimise the casualties every time the weather centre reports that ‘another one’ is yet to come. Our lives and perceptions on typhoons changed in 2009 when Typhoon Ketsana (Ondoy) damaged Metro Manila and its neighbouring provinces. High death tolls, 2-storey houses completely submerged, people homeless. We thought we’ve seen the worst.
Along came Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) in 2013. Winds at 350kph, thousands homeless, infrastructure heavily damaged, over 6 thousand people dead.
On both times (and in several other tragedies), our country mourned. People prayed, differences were set aside and the whole nation (and even the world) came together to give the victims help and expressions of solidarity.
A couple of weeks ago, I accompanied my husband to an inter-faith gathering for the people that died in the MH17 crash as well as those people on board the lost MH370 plane. It was held at the Malaysia Airlines Academy in Kelana Jaya. Quite a long way from our place but I told my husband that I wanted to come along, pay my respects, and see representatives of different religions come together.
Diplomats, public officials, families of the victims, and employees of Malaysia Airlines were present to pay their respects. The transport minister came as well. And so did the media.
What was supposed to be a solemn gathering where families and friends of the victims as well as employees of the ill-fated airline company could pay their respects to those that lost their lives was mildly disrupted by the camera flashes, the noisy chatter, and the standing and constant moving around of the cameramen and the photographers trying to get a shot of the transport minister and the ambassadors who were praying. It irked me and made me spend a couple of minutes in my seat trying to remember if I was ever that disrespectful during a coverage (my memory might be hazy but thank goodness I don’t remember a time when I was that unruly during a coverage back in Manila).
I didn’t take photos of the actual inter-faith ceremony as I was quite interested with the Muslims, Christians, Sheiks, Hindus, Taoists, and Buddhists that took the stage one by one and prayed for the souls of the victims. It’s quite mystical to see and hear prayers in a different language, recited so beautifully. There was also a video presentation composed of photos of the crew of MH17 and MH370 as well as the passengers. It was so heartbreaking that I had tears in my eyes and I was fighting heaven and hell not to cry as I have the tendency to bawl and making me stop is quite a lot of work.
All the while, photographers were just there – in front of the stage. Sometimes, they’d take photos and footage of the one leading the prayer but they would focus more on the transport minister and the Malaysia Airlines officials who were deep in prayer. Yes, I know that would make for good pictures on the newspapers the next day but really? All throughout the event? How many photos of the same people do you actually need?
Some of the photographers would even walk around the venue (noisily) and they totally ignored the pleading of the host in between prayers to take their seats.
No, I am not angry at the media. I know and understand how hard the job is. I’ve been there myself. Though I do believe that they could have tried a bit harder to keep the solemnity of the event. They could have moved a bit more quietly, taken their shots quickly and returned to their seats.
After the prayers, everyone was invited to lay flowers on the entrance of the academy and to write something on the signature wall the airline company prepared.
Right after the CEO of Malaysia Airlines was able to place some flowers on the small altar they set up on the entrance, the media went wild again and started swarming towards him. I was a bit scared for the old man as he was quite old and at about 5’3″ a lot of us were way taller than him – especially the media who could easily envelope and trap him in a tight “ambush” circle. I heard one reporter shout at the old man: “Is it true that you are not doing enough for the families of the victims?!” Good thing there was security who whisked the old man off back inside the academy. Am I getting soft? Aren’t tough questions important anymore? I still believe that they are but there is always a way not to intimidate or to harass the person you are trying to get an answer from especially if he’s old and frail. Maybe this is my soft spot for older people talking but I believe there should still be enough amount of respect towards people – even if you’re interviewing a convicted criminal, it doesn’t give you the right to call that person names or make fools out of them on national TV (yes, I am thinking of certain journalists who love doing this back in Manila). Reporters, I believe, should be respectful to beget respect. They should offer both sides of the story and ask the tough questions without being rude.
And speaking of the media, remember how international channels ran special coverages on the lost MH370 plane and the MH17 tragedy? Back then, it was all you can see on the telly, hear about on the radio, and read on the newspapers and online news sites. Nowadays, after the parade of hearses in the Netherlands and after the bodies have been brought back in Malaysia, there’s hardly a peep about it. We can’t force the media to come up with stories especially when there’s no development (there’s so many other things happening elsewhere that are also news worthy) but what worries me is when the public starts to forget.
It’s a trend that I’ve noticed in Manila and in other countries where disasters struck. After a disaster, people would talk about it for days and weeks. Donations will come. The whole world will say their piece about what happened and after a while, when the news dies down, you don’t hear anything about it anymore from other people.
That’s where the media comes in. And this is one of the things I love about journalism. Not only does the media report what’s happening right now but they also play an important role in keeping the memories and lessons learned alive. News agencies will then air something about it every now and then, say when there’s a new development, a new donation, when something goes awry in the rebuilding of homes in typhoon-affected areas or when the investigation on MH17 is taking a bit long, then comes the what I like to call “in-memoriam” and “looking back” stories aired or printed during the tragedy’s anniversary.
The time for mourning for MH17 won’t last long. In media timelines, even, it’s been over for days. But for the people of Malaysia, the shadow of MH17 and MH370 is still there. They go about their daily lives but you still see signs of mourning within the city.
I’ve heard that there might be less or even no fireworks this year for the Merdeka Day Celebration (Independence Day) here in Malaysia in deference to the tragedies that still feel quite fresh. In every mall, you see candles and areas where people can write their prayers for the victims of the tragedy. You see electronic billboards flashing messages of condolence from different entities here. You see people looking at Malaysia Airlines adds all over the city with a look that suggests sadness or loss. After all, it’s their national airline. I can’t help but feel a sense of pride for the people here.
I see the similarity we Filipinos have with Malaysians and even the Dutch who are also mourning their citizens who died in the MH17 tragedy. Like us Filipinos who often say that our spirits are waterproof and can weather any storm, the Dutch and the Malaysians also bond and get inspiration and support from each other when tragedy strikes – then they bounce back. You feel that they are sad, that they are mourning but you also see the resilience that people develop when something devastating happens to them and affects their nation. I think resilience is not just a Filipino thing. It’s a human being thing. And though we get more typhoons and natural disasters in the Philippines than some countries and that we practice resilience more often than others (that’s why ‘resilience’ is actually synonymous to being Filipino these days and it makes me proud and happy that the world sees that about us), I’m pretty sure that other nations can do it too.
In fact, we Filipinos often find ourselves smiling after a storm. It’s not because we’re crazy. But it’s because we know that after that much rain, tomorrow’s gonna be sunny for sure.