Please see previous posts for details of this incident.
Powerful arguments can often be marshalled on each side of difficult problems. Yesterday I received two pieces of advice from friends on the question of whether or not to pursue the case; both were eloquent and convincing, although they reached very different conclusions.
First, here is a British friend who has lived in the Philippines for many years.
... everything I see [on Torn and Frayed] reinforces my earlier gut instinct.
There is no gain and possibly some danger in pursuing this case.
Just be grateful that Noel and Tina are alive.
Mr. Benzon is clearly a deeply unhappy and disturbed man.
It is highly unlikely that you will have him put behind bars without an incredible lot of frustrating effort against a bunch of people who want to do nothing -- unless you pay them handsomely, which is like throwing good money after bad.
Even if Mr Benzon goes to clink he will get out one day and he will get drunk and might resume his mindless violence against you and yours or Noel and Tina or the neighbor.
I really think your generosity and admirable sense of civic duty need go no further than helping Noel and Tina find a home in another neighborhood.
As for retribution, have no doubt: Mr. Benzon will meet a deservedly bad end and will die unmourned and unloved, a sad waste of a life.
Be thankful that you had better luck with your parents and your upbringing etc.
I forwarded the letter to a Filipino friend who came back with this analysis.
Let's put the issue of cost aside for the moment.
Having been a police reporter and having had various experiences with the police over the years, I would say that "the system" (of law enforcement in the Philippines) is not completely unreliable. It works "in a certain way", which is to say that you need to know what buttons to push, and that is rarely very obvious.
What has happened is a basic and manifest crime. There is evidence, a witness. The police now know that people are very aware of what has happened. For them to fail to investigate it and prosecute it would be a public dereliction of duty.
Noel and Christina need to provide the necessary paperwork— nothing gets done in this country without reams of paperwork.
Benzon is demonstrably dangerous and needs to be put away. Whatever connections he may have with the local authorities will do him very little good if the spotlight of public attention is focused on him. If the current channels fail to make headway, I can bring this to the attention of people like Ramon Tulfo who just love cases like this, whatever else you may think of him. His Honor the Mayor of Taguig is now aware of this case, which should make Benzon's life a little more uneasy.
Of course, if Benzon can get away in Taguig with stabbing random people for unclear reasons, that tells me that the place where he lives is the kind of situation where, if someone were to ride up to his house on a motorcycle, shoot him in the head, and ride off, very little would be done about it. I am, of course, not suggesting that you or anyone should do this, simply that Benzon is well aware of it.
What I'm saying is, give the system a shot and see if it works. I've seen it work before and I know it can happen. I've also seen the system fail, but for me, it's a 50-50 proposition, which means there is a chance.
Time and emotional energy are up to you. I didn't need the stress and expense of time to fight for Louie Gonzalez, but I did it because I know for a fact that he is innocent. I think if we let Benzon get away with what he has done, at least without a fight, then we have no right to complain about the kind of society we live in. Justice is never automatic, it must be fought for. Injustice fills the unwatched spaces when we choose to look away.
There is always a turning point at which you realize the chances are too slim. The moment you come up against a brick wall, e.g. someone asks you for a lot of money, then you decide whether to drop it or not.
I don't see a brick wall right now. When Major Obong phoned me, he was all effusive and obsequious, evidently Mayor Tinga had had something to say on the matter. I would go with that flow right now.
If you want me to turn up at Taguig Police Station for a chat with Major Obong, I would be quite happy to do so. It would, of course be more effective (and I know this is totally Kafkaesque) for the paperwork to be complete first.
Here are some extracts from my reply to the second letter.
If only my interests were at stake, I would certainly pursue this case. Everything I feel about justice and civic responsibility revolts against walking away from it. I am also keen to see where it may lead and to document every grubby step of the way. As you say, the result may not necessarily be a bad one and I would certainly learn a great deal about how the system here functions “in its own way”. I also agree that in a country like the Philippines we do not have an all powerful state that we must submit to; the state is what we, in our actions, large and small, make of it. Refusing to pursue such a blatant and violent breach of the social contract would be another small step away from the society that we need to build to prevent this sort of thing happening.
Rightly or wrongly, I don’t feel personally threatened by our involvement in this. We are too far removed from Benzon and his world to allow him much opportunity of taking revenge on us, even if he and his family had the resources, which I doubt.
Noel’s situation is very different and I am not sure that his and his family’s interests would be served by his involvement in what is certain to be a long drawn out affair. If we pursue it, he will not be able to draw a line under this horrible incident and to move on; leaving aside his vulnerability to some sort of attack from Benzon, the case is something he will have to carry with him for many months, or even years. I am concerned about his wife in particular, since she is a simple provincial soul, quite overwhelmed by the city even before any of this happened.
My main concern with pursuing the case is whether we would be exposing Noel and his family to some sort of violent response from Benzon. Even if Noel hides himself in the great wen of Manila, Benzon knows he works for [Frayed’s company] and of course Noel will maintain contacts with his old neighbourhood. He won’t be that hard to find. Even if an attack never comes, Noel will carry an anxious burden as he passes every shadow. I would feel so awful if he were to bear the cost of our search for social justice.
On the other hand, I am so far from the world where this took place that it is quite possible I am overestimating Benzon’s capacity to react in any way. Even if he has barangay connections that have rendered him an “untouchable” in his own milieu, in the broader scheme of things, the odds are stacked against him. It is also true, that, since he has not demonstrated any capacity for rational thought, he may pursue Noel even if we withdraw from the case, though I suspect that if Noel leaves the neighbourhood that is not very likely.
We will mull over the arguments in your very good letter over the next few days and discuss them with Noel and Tina. I have always said that the decision has to be based on what they want, even though Noel is happy to leave it up to me.