HOW ironic that the very place where President Aquino received his first salute as commander-in-chief of the country’s legal armed forces would become the site of a bloodbath that could be the first major blot in his administration.

The incident near the Quirino Grandstand was symbolic of the many things that are wrong with Philippine society: frustration with, if not the failure of, the justice delivery system, an ill-prepared and ill-equipped police force, an insensitive media and an undisciplined public.

Whether hostage-taker Rolando Mendoza was a rogue or a wronged cop is not relevant insofar as his responsibility for the carnage is concerned. But we can only ask how abysmal the distrust in our justice system has sunk as to drive an otherwise sane officer to resort to an extremely desperate measure that he knew would cost him his life.

Did you see one of the messages that he stuck to the hijacked tourist bus? “BIG MISTAKE TO CORRECT A BIG WRONG DECISION,” it read. Big mistake, indeed, but bigger still because he chose the innocent-–in the sense that they had nothing to do with the “big wrong decision”--as victims.

The next time, God forbid, that someone is driven to the same depths of despair by an act of injustice, I hope that he chooses the one who falsely accused him and the decision-maker who wrongly convicted him to go to hell with him. That may not correct any “big wrong decision” but at least it will serve stern notice to those who may be minded to commit it that sometimes justice doesn’t crawl but is swift and also unforgiving, not to mention live and in color television.

If TV, as they say, is a cruel medium, it was particularly so the other day, literally and figuratively and knowingly and unknowingly. Practically everything that happened after Mendoza hijacked the bus carrying Chinese tourists was on the idiot box. It wasn’t only we who were watching the tragedy as it unfurled; people from all over the world also were, as ABS-CBN anchor Ted Failon incessantly flaunted throughout the whole sorry episode, courtesy of his network.

The whole world and I saw the police at work and my verdict is that while their effort and dedication to their job may have been nothing short of commendable, they were ill-equipped and unprepared for the job. That scene showing a policeman pounding the bus door with what looked like an axe was comical: he lost grip of the tool at least twice and had to retrieve it from inside the bus.

I’m not sure if the world and the country agree with the verdict but one reader does. In a letter dripping with sarcasm, Miguel Mendes of Guadalupe wrote: “Seeing the efficiency, dedication and daring on the PNP on world TV, citizens can now feel secure enough to support the total gun ban crusade of Gen. (Jesus) Versoza.”

By “world TV,” Failon and Mendes must have been referring to BBC, CNN, Singapore’s Cable News Asia and China Central Television. I switched to these channels every now and then and found their coverage of the “breaking news” refreshingly sober, a stark contrast to the hysterical reporting of most of our own TV reporters.

Of course, not all the sober reporting in the world can detract from the severity of the carnage or mitigate the damage to our standing in the community of nations. Some say that the tragedy that befell the Chinese tourists was a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Try telling that to the Hong Kong government, which imposed a travel ban to the Philippines immediately after the incident. In their eyes, ours is the wrong place all the time.

(frank.otherside@yahoo.com)