Journ Classroom

April 21, 2007

Blaming the dead

Filed under: general — Luz Rimban @ 8:59 am

It’s so easy to blame the dead. Dead men (and women) can’t talk and defend themselves. And to blame them for the tragedy that befalls them is the height of insensitivity, callousness and irresponsibility.

I saw this mindset at work just recently during a family tragedy. My cousin, a seaman, died in Argentina less than two weeks after their ship left malaria-infested Dhoala in Cameroon. When we were arranging to have his remains flown home, someone from the company explained his death: “Kasi hindi ho siya uminom ng gamot na anti-malaria eh (Because he didn’t drink anti-malaria medicine).” I seethe every time I remember that conversation.

Now Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales says Julia Campbell was to blame for the fate that befell her. That’s what you get for walking alone in a foreign land; if not for what you did, this wouldn’t have happened, is Gonzales’ message.

Yes, yes, at the back of our minds, we think those thoughts. Why, Eric, why did you not take those anti-malaria pills? Why, Julia, why were you out walking all alone at dusk? Those who grieve cry out those questions, directed at no one in particular. They also know those questions are likely to remain unanswered forever, but the mere act of asking the question takes them a step nearer to closure. For closure to be achieved, those left behind need to know what truly happened.

But for a government official, and a Secretary of Justice at that, to voice those thoughts and make them the official line is the height of tactlessness and insensitivity, to be kind about it. The subliminal message was that the Philippine government had nothing to with Julia’s death, and worse, can’t be blamed if justice isn’t served.

In my cousin’s case, the shipping company should be responsible for the welfare and well-being of its employees, Eric included. In the same manner, the Philippine government should be responsible for the safety and well-being of its citizens and guests, Julia included.
But that is not what is happening. “Don’t look at us,” Eric’s company was practically saying. “Don’t look at us,” said the Justice Secretary in not so many words, washing his own, and the government’s, hands of any blame.

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