Widespread riots can happen here too
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2011-08-25
Just because a dreaded event has not happened yet in our country is no assurance that it will never happen. The recent riots in London and other English cities triggered by the shooting of a Black person by policemen are a classic case of infectious mob mentality spreading far beyond the riot’s point of origin.

The spontaneous combustion that characterizes a riot can happen in any social setting. The shooting of a person here by cops may not necessarily provoke Filipinos to riot but we have other social conditions that can provide the spark for a major public disturbance.

When your Chair Wrecker was still the Chairman of COPA (Council on Philippine Affairs), the late Teddy Benigno — a known Francophile — repeatedly warned us that we might encounter food riots here. Teddy expressed this concern during the period when our economic conditions went from bad to worse during the Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo regimes. Teddy was associating our conditions with that of France before the Storming of the Bastille, the trigger of the French Revolution.

Teddy would say that hunger is a big provocateur for a big public disturbance. When a man sees his family wilting because of hunger, he can be expected to resort to illegal means in seeking relief. One study done by Mercy Abad, now retired TRENDS head, had noted that as much as 25 percent of our people would consider resorting to illegal means if their situation in life became desperate and they’ve run out of legal options.

Teddy would cite the possibility of the First Class Makati subdivisions of Forbes Park and Dasmarinas Village becoming objects of the ire of the poor, just as the Bastille was in 18th century France. If such an assault by the most poor of our society on the most rich ever occurs — it could become infectious and trigger widespread disorder. We could have a class war in our hands.

In the case of the recent riots in Britain, the triggering event was not really what provoked most of those who participated in the rioting, mugging, looting and burning. From the BBC News Magazine August 9, 2011 article of Tom de Castella and Caroline McClatchey, we get good insights on what goes on in the minds of rioters, looters, muggers and pyromaniacs.

Castella and McClatchey tapped Professor John Pitts, a criminologist and an adviser to several London local authorities on young people and gangs. Pitts said “some of those taking the lead in the looting will be known to the authorities, while others are swept along.” “Powerless people suddenly feel powerful,” said Pitts, calling it a “very intoxicating” experience.

“The world has been turned upside down. The youngsters are used to adults in authority telling them they cannot do this or this will happen. Then they do it and nothing happens,” Pitts added. “Numbers are all important in a riot and the tipping point comes when the rioters feel in control,” Pitts was quoted.
Pitts added: “You cannot riot on your own. A one-man riot is a tantrum. At some point the bigger crowds confronting the police realize that they are in control.”

The authors also quoted Dr. James Thompson, honorary senior lecturer in psychology at University College London: “Morality is inversely proportional to the number of observers. When you have a large group that’s relatively anonymous, you can essentially do anything you like.”

Psychologist Dr. Lance Workman was quoted: “Humans are the best on the planet at imitating. And we tend to imitate what is successful. If you see that people are walking out of a shop with a widescreen TV and trainers, a certain kind of person thinks why shouldn’t I do that?” What Dr. Lance Workman said could easily apply to hungry Filipino food rioters.

In Britain, which earned notoriety for producing unruly soccer fans, it’s easy to recruit participants to a riot. Over here, Filipinos may not be as inclined to join riots. However, that is no guarantee that we won’t experience a wide scale “Perfect Storm” of a riot. Hunger could be a far more intense motivation than innate hooliganism. Hunger could push persons who never broke the law to resort to illegal means — including revolution.

The State’s greatest fear would be when a riot, especially one that is provoked by political and social conditions, becomes uncontrolled and quickly replicates all over the country. In the Philippine setting, there are easily 20 million Filipinos who would be prone to joining a food riot. That is a lot of rage for our police and military forces to contain when riots become omnipresent. Bear in mind that the lowly cop and soldier also live under these depressed social conditions and can easily be enticed to join the tempest.

The government’s Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) Program is a big step in the right direction in trying to diffuse these possibilities of food riots and the empowering of the poorest of our poor to improve their lives. If the CCT can effectively reach the bottom 25 percent of Philippine society — that could remove the reasons why the poorest of our poor will join a riot.

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Election lawyer: PCOS critics should put up or shut up

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