Opinion

Justice Cannot be Rushed by Public Indignation, Especially When Kids are Involved

The recent viral video of an Ateneo junior high student bullying a schoolmate has gotten out of hand.
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From the uproar on social media, you can almost imagine the lynch mob with nooses for the perpetrator, and torches to burn the school down. Apparently people would prefer the perpetrator expelled RIGHT HERE AND NOW (I certainly do). Given the videos that have surfaced about his character and behavior, there can be little debate about the bullying that was done to other students.

But this is also where we have to pause, and this is where so many online posters have not. Please think carefully before jumping to conclusions. The university has many shortcomings, and as an alumni, faculty, and administrator, I should know, but much of what has been expressed of late is simply too much.

Because Ateneo is THE Ateneo—I cringe everytime the "THE" is used—media has had a field day keeping track of developments. Were this some backwoods university, bullying news would get maybe a few paragraphs, and then the story would be forgotten.

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Because Ateneo happens to be THE Ateneo, all sorts of people with misconceptions, cynical alumni with grudges, and yes, trolls paid and trained to hate the university, are out for blood. If you want to get angry, and you have a right to be, do so, but for the right reasons.

Because so many Filipinos are not known for critical thinking, fake news about a student from an elite university is even more easily proliferated, absorbed and regurgitated. Just look at the crazy rumors going around about the family, the university, or anything and everything about the case. That the university is protecting an influential family, covering up to save its reputation, that the kids are into drugs, and so on and so forth. Stop it already.

The university has many shortcomings, and as an alumni, faculty, and administrator, I should know, but much of what has been expressed of late is simply too much.

For the record, I despise bullies. Like everyone else, I've had my share of run-ins with them, and have my own memories of being bullied. What this kid did earlier this week was wrong. There are no if's or but's about his action and whatever motivated him. I would like to see the maximum implementation of penalties against him. And i would like to see his associates—for want of a better word—sanctioned as well.

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Whoever took the videos for all the bullying incidents, whoever did the first upload, whoever conspired with him to create scenarios for bullying, and even those who willingly chose to do nothing when they saw their schoolmates being beaten up. In case you haven't been paying attention, this isn't a simple case with a simple resolution.

It is not enough to know the physical circumstances. Rather, it is crucial to understand what drove these minors—and yes, they are minors—to behave like animals. Only by studying the background behind the events can more stringent measures be implemented to prevent a future occurrence.

I do not know exactly what people mean when they demand IMMEDIATE action. Apparently they haven't seen how the criminal justice system in this country works or does not work, or how this government endorses bullying and extrajudicial killings. Maybe they expect more from THE Ateneo, or maybe they want the university humiliated no matter how this case turns out. There are many motives out there for emotional outrage, but not all of them are sensible.

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A society has every right to demand justice, true. But justice, by definition, demands due process, and cannot happen overnight, cannot be rushed by public indignation.

What we do know can be gleaned from the videos. That is all. Unless actual, factual data emerges from a properly run investigation, I would really appreciate it if people reassessed exactly what is driving their anger. Irresponsible posts and mindless threats aren't helping at all except to further whet the appetites of the wrong kind of people.

The actions of the kid and his buddies are a very ugly display of behavior committed by Ateneo students. It is bullying, and has no place in an educational institution, and no place in daily life between individuals, groups, and nations. But equally mindless reactions are showing a very ugly display of human behavior on social media.

I am aware that no amount of statements from the university will appease the mob. By definition, mobs are not known for rationality. And that, precisely, is the danger here. A society has every right to demand justice, true. But justice, by definition, demands due process, and cannot happen overnight, cannot be rushed by public indignation.

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Justice is done for the sake of the victims, the perpetrators, and the society whose values have been clearly violated. If we are to behave like animals ourselves, then there is little to differentiate ourselves, especially in fits of self-righteousness, from those whom we seek to punish.

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About The Author
Jo-Ed K. Tirol
Jo-Ed K. Tirol, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor at the Department of History of the Ateneo de Manila University.
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