Manila bombing and a Man of Peace


By now most people have heard about the bombing of the Glorietta 2 Mall in Makati, the financial hub of the Philippines. For those of you who’ve never been there, Makati is the luxury shopping capital of the country, with old European fashion houses claiming their share of real estate right alongside Kate Spade and Kamiseta. Traditional Pinoy restaurants attract as many customers as the ubiquitous Hard Rock Cafe and California Pizza Kitchen.

At the moment 11 people are reported dead, with over 100 more injured. So far no one has claimed responsibility for the attack, although in a city that’s beyond weary of coups d’etat, impeachment threats, talks of Constitutional Charter changes, and the occasional kidnap-for-ransom of foreigners and Chinese businessmen, there’s definitely no shortage of theories and rumors.

I only hope that this doesn’t further increase the number of Pinoys who are fleeing the country for safer harbors (i.e., the United States). It’s difficult for me to write that, as I myself enjoy the relative security of living in America and have done so since I was a little girl. While I have lived elsewhere for significant chunks of time (Japan and, of course, the Philippines), this is where I’m most comfortable, having been raised primarily in this country, in this culture. I can hardly blame anyone for wanting to grab their share of this enormous, generous pie.

But I do mourn for my old country, not just because of the lives lost under the rubble of last week’s tragedy, but also because of what I perceive as its agonizing death in the face of so much corruption and the palpable sense of defeat. So many writers, artists, intellectuals, politicians, and yes, ordinary citizens, are rallying their fellow Pinoys and Pinays to stand up to the terrorists, the cronies, the cruel and indifferent rich who plunder the nation’s resources and ignore the poor and dying. But is that enough? According to the thousands who emigrate to the Middle East, Australia, Europe, and the United States, no.

When I was in Manila a few weeks ago, not a few people mentioned the extremely tight security in and around Makati. You could see it in the routine bag searches, metal detectors and drug-sniffing dogs that are just a part of life around the hotels and shopping malls that dot the cityscape. But I also noticed that, particularly in the entrances to the malls, the security staff are often quite lax about their inspections. Backpacks receive cursory glances, and more often that not, they’re only manually inspected and are then handed back to their owner around the metal detectors, rather than through them.

It bothers me that I, my mother and my cousins spent a considerable amount of time in Glorietta during our visit, as it was closest to our hotel. It’s a beautiful, sprawling mall that’s filled to bursting from the moment it opens at 10am to the time it closes late in the evening. But it bothers me more that despite the city’s claim of security, despite the presence of thousands of people at any given day within its walls, despite the country’s desperate attempts to attract foreign tourists (when nearby Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, even Vietnam get so much more of them), something this awful should still happen.

And the idiots in the government offices and at Malacanang will continue to get their panties and briefs in a twist trying to figure out what’s going on, while the rest of the country continues to plan their escape abroad, all the while keeping their head down and hoping that something like this doesn’t happen to them.

p.s. I missed the Daniel Pearl Music Day. However, I did see a very moving, very thought-provoking film this weekend called 10 Questions for the Dalai Lama, about the filmmaker’s interview with His Holiness in Dharamsala, India. I thought I knew plenty about the Tibet situation, but I hadn’t realized the extent of current Chinese atrocities in the region. I find lately that merely catching a glimpse of the Dalai Lama even in a photograph or poster is enough to make me burst into tears. The man is goodness and unconditional love personified, and he just exudes this aura of peace, something I’ve never found in any other human being, even the late Pope John Paul II. On the one hand, I will miss him when he retires and will mourn his eventual passing, as I don’t think we’ll see anyone quite like him again for a very long time. On the other hand, I’m starting to understand now that the tragedy regarding the Panchen Lama (the young boy whom His Holiness personally chose to be among the few who will discover the next Dalai Lama, and who was kidnapped by the Chinese in 1995 and has not been heard from since), while horrible and deserving of much more international attention than it’s receiving, is something that is of only minor concern to the ultimate global fate of Buddhism as a whole.

The Dalai Lama himself has said that the institution of his office is something that Tibetans themselves must evaluate, implying that his official role is only tangential to his actual mission, i.e., that of promoting peace and harmony. Like the Buddhist monk whom I heard speak this weekend, His Holiness is concerned not with converting as many people as possible to Buddhism, but rather with encouraging open and honest dialogue between warring enemies so that peaceful resolutions may be found. He only wants love among our neighbors, not hatred, and I gather that his tireless efforts, his amazing schedule of activities, is done in the name of disseminating this revolutionary idea as much as possible before his health forces him to retire.

I’ve never been a fan of George Bush and have often been ashamed of calling him my president. But I have to admit, I raised a cheer when the man not only attended the ceremony on Capitol Hill honoring His Holiness as the recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal, but he and Mrs. Bush also chose to sit next to the Dalai Lama. Perhaps there’s hope after all for this administration, and for the possibility of lasting peace.