Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Bulletproof Vests Anyone?

In the wake of the news making the banner headlines of many national newspapers recently concerning the killing by suspected communist New People's Army guerrillas of five Army soldiers and the wounding of two others in an ambush attack in the Lianga area, a lot of people from other places in the country and elsewhere in the world who have been planning to visit their families and friends in that town and the many other communities around it for the Christmas holidays are already having second thoughts about making the trip. Of primary concern to them, of course, is their personal safety and that of their companions if they do choose to go ahead with their travel plans.

The standing joke now among the would-be Lianga vacationers is to make sure you have always extra space in your luggage for the bulletproof vest and Kevlar helmet. And, of course, to check that all life insurance policies are current and all last wills and testaments have been signed, notarized and filed properly.

I would laugh if I find that, in any way, funny.

In the many years I had lived in Lianga, I have never felt personally threatened by the insurgency war between the government and the communist New People's Army. In most cases, that war was always fought clandestinely, in the sparsely populated, mountainous and thickly forested areas of the rural countryside. The ordinary folks, except for those with relatives and friends among the combatants, are largely passive bystanders and curious non-participants.

In some cases though, the conflict has spilled over to the populated centers like Lianga which has had its municipal hall attacked at least twice but such cases have been more the exception rather than the general rule and civilian casualties in both cases, in general, have been very slight. Even the NPA has been extra careful to make sure that the "collateral damage" from their offensive actions would be minimal if non-existent in their bid to retain the support of the rural masses.

Whatever inconveniences the war has caused Lianga residents and visitors have always been the result of such "spill over" effects like checkpoints and random security checks which can make traveling there such a pain in the neck. One does not fancy, of course, being caught by chance between the crossfire of a military and NPA encounter but that has seldom happened.

On the whole, life in Lianga and in its immediate area is as normal as life can be in any other part of the country. In fact, I feel more uneasy for my personal security when I go out to do some malling in Metro Manila or Cebu where frequent and random acts of criminality can erupt at any time and place one's life and health in danger. In my hometown, I travel freely and with a greater peace of mind about my personal safety.

So if friends from afar call me up and ask if it is safe to go and visit Lianga during the holidays I always tell them to go ahead and make the trip by all means. And I always tell them, jokingly of course, also to leave the vest and helmet behind. After all, they have usually better odds of catching a wayward bullet while doing exactly what they do everyday where they are now than getting hit by one in Lianga.

Sometimes as the immortal Franklin Delano Roosvelt said, there is really nothing to fear except fear itself.

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