Friday, September 23, 2011

What were they, we, thinking?

*my column in the Sept. 25 issue of Cordillera Today

What were they thinking, those young boys, when they ganged up on their helpless classmate? After the first punch on the face, the first stab of that pen on his body, what motivated them to go on?

I have had my share of pre-preadolescent fisticuffs – an older schoolmate once engaged me in a mano-a-mano over a girl he had a crush on who happened to be our neighbour, and our walks together on our way home from school made him jealous. I was about to “win” that fist fight after landing a couple of punches squarely on his face, but then I hesitated when I saw he was hurt, and let down my guard – a mistake he took advantage of. The next thing I knew he has pinned me down on the ground and was peppering me with his fists on the face. But he too somehow stopped when perhaps he realized that judging from the number of punches he landed against those that I did, he has already won.

That was how far physical confrontations used to go in my time. And that’s why I was shocked to find graffiti in the back pages of my son’s notebook a couple of years ago depicting gang logos and their twisted slogans. I felt chills running up and down my spine as the word “kill” seem to jump out of every page. I wanted to dismiss it then as just something harmless, even when I got to listen to the lyrics of some of the music he listened to, gangsta rap, as it’s called. But when we learned that gangsters were actively recruiting members as young as 10 years old in their school, it reinforced our resolve to home school our children in the meantime.

I have heard so many different theories about the tragic event – that is was a simple bullying incident that went way too far; that it was an accident and that the students were simply engaging in horseplay; that it was actually a gang initiation rite where neophytes are required to stab someone with a pen. And this isn’t the only shocking news to hit Baguio involving children in criminal activities – aside from murder, we’ve heard of and seen cases of vandalism, theft and even rape.

Some are now clamouring for the amendment of the Republic Act 9344, or the law establishing a Juvenile Justice and Welfare System, which essentially lets those 15 years old and below get away with crime. Some want the age threshold lowered, some want it repealed totally. At the current rate congress gets things done, if they get anything done at all, how many more murders, vandalism, thefts and rapes will be committed before anything is done?

According to Psychology Today (, “A time of both disorientation and discovery, adolescence describes the teenage years between 13 and 19. With increasing rates of early-onset puberty, the preteen or "tween" years (ages 9-12) may also qualify.” It adds, “No longer children but not yet adults, adolescents struggle with issues of independence and self-identity.”

At those ages, pre-teens and adolescents go through radical changes physically and psychologically. Young girls experience the onset of menstruation, boys see their bodies grow right before their eyes, they begin to be aware of their sexuality - there’s so much energy going on inside them and that energy needs to be channelled somewhere and expressed somehow.

If mainstream society does not, if we do not provide for venues where our young can express themselves, provide for something they can identify themselves with, others will fill in that gap – that cannot be expressed more by the circumstances that surrounded the unfortunate incident at the Baguio Central School. The teacher stepped out of the classroom for a while, and in her short absence, a pupil died in the hands of his peers.

In our homes, if we don’t step in, the world wide web -, it’s that parallel universe where they can easily access pornography, depictions extreme acts of violence, etc., will. In the late 80’s and the early 90’s, we were scandalized by Carmi Martin and Alma Moreno dancing scantily clad on TV – that’s nothing compared to what they can easily access these days with a click of the mouse. Just a little over a decade ago, we cringed at the thought of the crime Leo Echegaray committed against his own daughter, and later by his execution by the state – that’s nothing compared to the videos of people being beheaded by extremists, young girls and women being violated and other despicable and gut-wrenching acts they can watch freely on the internet. Before, parents were shocked by the naughty insinuations of the ditties sang by Tito, Vic and Joey and their like – have you heard No Vaseline by Ice Cube, or Dr. Dre’s B*tches Aint Sh*t, and all those other songs they play for the public on radio?

What were once unspeakable, despicable, are now common occurrences we take for granted.

And every time a basketball court where the youth can play and develop themselves physically and learn the concept of cooperation and teamwork is turned into a venue to accommodate illegal vendors; every time a public park where they can run and play and smell the flowers is left neglected; every single cent we take away from our education budget that results in shortage of classrooms and teachers to finance suspicious public works projects; every time we turn our attention away from our children even for just a moment, we ourselves are making it possible for a 10-year old to die in a classroom in a senseless act of violence.

Think about it.

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