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OBLIQUE OBSERVATIONS | Festivals and the mob mentality

By Atty. Gilberto Lauengco, J.D.

“Barbarism is the natural state of mankind. Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.”- Robert E. Howard

THERE is a famous novel penned by a British author named William Golding about a group of British boys who are stranded on an uninhabited island without any adult supervision and become savages. The novel is called Lord of the Flies and has been used as a cautionary tale on the effects of the lack of order on young people. Without anyone enforcing any type of rules on them, the lads in the story run wild and quickly descend into chaos and violence.

I remembered the book when I saw videos of teenage boys and young men in San Juan during this year’s “Watah Watah” or “Basaan” festival performing various acts of hooliganism during the said festival. By now, almost everyone has seen the videos of mobs of boys swarming a car and violently shaking it. There were also videos of merrymakers who forcibly opened some vehicles and threw what is hopefully just water on the passengers who were already pleading that they be spared from the massive water dousing. Then there were also several scenes of commuters on their way to work being mercilessly doused with water by groups of what some described as “unthinking and uncaring savages” who were ignoring their pleas and complaints that their electronic devices or documents were being damaged. Lastly, you have the motorcycle riders who, aside from being doused, were physically harmed when they resisted or complained.

The water dousing festival in San Juan has been around for decades. What began as a special day to commemorate the feast of St. John the Baptist, the occasion has since degenerated into a mere water-dousing festival. Though the frequency of water dousing seems to have waned over the years, recent celebrations of the feast have apparently become more “barbaric” or intense. Despite attempts to regulate the event by the local government, some of the residents’ merrymaking has increasingly become rowdier and even more violent. To make matters worse, the residents involved in the incidents seem to be unrepentant as evidenced by the actions of the new poster boy for the event aptly nicknamed “Boy Dila”.

To its credit, the local government has begun taking action against those revelers accused of having violated provisions of the pertinent city ordinances and laws. It has vowed to assist anyone with valid complaints against those said rowdy revelers and has announced changes to next year’s celebrations. The question is, are these measures enough to deter future similar incidents?

A classic theory in Psychology states that people in large crowds lose their sense of self and become emotionally impulsive and susceptible to the influence of others. As a consequence, those people in the crowd can become more reckless and violent, especially in an environment that encourages loss of inhibition. In festivals held in other countries, incidents of rioting and violence are commonplace.

I have always been proud of the fact that Filipinos have rarely engaged in the type of violent riots and looting sprees that have been prevalent in some Western countries. I have always believed that our culture and upbringing act as a filter to control our base instincts of reverting to barbarism. Unfortunately, the images of last week’s incidents have made me doubt this belief. Even if we believe that Filipinos will never cross the line, the likelihood of one irate victim of extreme water dousing reacting violently has now increased. During the height of the water dousing incidents, one irate motorist threw acid on some revelers. It is not unthinkable then that if the water dousing festival is allowed to continue, a more violent incident may be triggered in the future.

Perhaps, it is time to remove these types of festivals altogether. This is my oblique observation.

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in the foregoing article are solely the author’s and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the Philippine News Agency (PNA) or any other office under the Presidential Communications Office.



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