Monday, February 06, 2006

Of Stampede, Power of Media, Human Error and Mendicancy

After the euphoria brought by Manny Pacquiao’s victory, the nation was shocked by a tragedy far worse than any typhoon which visited the country in 2005 in terms of human lives lost. A stampede caused the demise of more than 70 people and injured more than 600. It transpired in lieu of the first anniversary of the popular game show of ABS-CBN, Wowowee.

The disaster was a confluence of three major factors: the media promoting the culture of mendicancy, sheer human error and grave poverty of the people. Left-wing groups have ascribed the ULTRA tragedy to the worsening economic condition of the country. Opposition parties were easy to attribute the event to the shortcomings and weaknesses of the Gloria administration. The rampant graft and corruption, loss of confidence to the president and the increasing price of petroleum products and its domino effect to other commodities have exacerbated the depressing condition of the rural and urban poor. In times of poverty, game shows are a great relief for the ailing masses. But they carry a double-edged sword. Their objectives are indeed noble, that is, to alleviate the emotional and physical poverty of their televiewers. However, their strategy to provide instant money has its own demerits. Foremost, the mechanics of the gameshow make joining the contest more difficult. Unlike with other game show's strategy, Wowowee encouraged long queues outside their studios. This make things harder for aspiring contestants. Although Wowowowee promotes the concept of “bayanihan” or cooperation (e.g. The Filipino Channel (TFC) subscribers can freely give dole-outs and financial aid to studio contestants), it unconsciously stirs the collective pathos of the people and further enflame their need for money. No game show in the history of Philippine television has ever accomplished what Wowowowee has been doing. It reaches out a broader segment of the marginalized sectors by enjoining street sweepers, embalmers, janitors, security guards, firecracker victims, maids, among others to join its contests. The host, Willie Revillame, has been loved by many because of his biased toward indigent contestants.

Lack of coordination between the event organizers and the PNP made the matter worse. Many witnesses blame the security personnel guarding the gates leading to the stadium. The fact-finding committee would release its report on who were indeed responsible for the tragic event. The ABS-CBN management easily passed the buck to local police command for their failure to augment the crowd control force. But as far as the PNP protocols and leadership are concerned, event organizers have the primary responsibility to control the crowd if an occasion is a private affair. They are the ones who should pro-actively coordinate security concerns. It is a fact that the show’s organizers wrote to the city government to secure a permit and request for police assistance, but it was apparent that they fell short of requesting for more crowd-control teams when they witnessed how the mammoth crowd increased days before the anniversary celebration. There was a dearth of First-Aid Teams. Many would have been saved if there were only enough medical volunteers present. Organizers witnessed how the mammoth crowd increased days before the anniversary. The “washing of the hands” press statements of ABS-CBN only showed how desperate its executives are to get rid of any law suits. As the DOJ Secretary suggested, the only way out is to settle things with the families of the victims.

Game shows in the country are enticing because of the message they project—prospects for instant buck. Far worse, people take chances not with their money but with their lives. Many people stayed in their queue even after the stampede. This is because they were so seduced to the promise that the show would give prizes ranging from P20,000 to P50,000 for the first 300 people who can enter the football field outside the stadium. Many of them even slept outside the ULTRA premises for several days to secure their place. These events magnify man’s attitude toward money. The Bible declares that money is not an evil per se. It is the “love of money” that God despises (I Timothy 6:10). The people who went to ULTRA were not all financially-challenged.
Many of them were just lured by promises of event organizers. The writer of Hebrews wrote that "Let your way of life be without the love of money, and be content with such things as you have, for He has said, "Not at all I will leave you, not at all will I forsake you, never!" (Hebrews 13:5).

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