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A Gunman Held People Hostage in the Philippines. The Reactions Are Unexpected.

An aggrieved security guard who held dozens at gunpoint for hours, has garnered controversial sympathy from netizens who liken the incident to the movies 'Joker' and 'Parasite.'
05 March 2020, 12:09am
netizen reactions to greenhills hostage
Members of a police SWAT team take positions outside one of Greenhills' entrances after the hostage situation was reported on March 2, 2020. Photo by Ted ALJIBE / AFP. 

On Monday, March 2, dozens were held hostage inside the Greenhills Shopping Center in Metro Manila. Gunman Alchie Paray, an aggrieved former security guard, fired shots at around 10 a.m., injuring a fellow guard and sparking what would be a 9-hour standoff with the police.

Paray allegedly didn’t want money — he refused the PHP1 million (about $20,000) settlement his employers offered him. He said he wanted was justice. He claimed there was bribery and corruption between the mall’s vendors and security officials and said that he was threatened and fired for not participating in it. During the hostage crisis, he demanded that his bosses resign, which they did in front of the media. He eventually agreed to leave his weapons inside the mall and walked out with his over 30 victims.

By this time, the usually busy mall had been shut down, but people surrounded the complex to live stream what was happening. Paray stood before the onlookers, authorities, and media in a press conference, without handcuffs, almost as if nothing had happened. At home, people followed the drama on TV and social media like an afternoon telenovela.

Surprisingly, the gunman is not the villain but the anti-hero. Some even clapped during his speech.

An act of terror such as this would not normally be a moral grey area but Philippine social media is now filled with posts expressing controversial sympathy for the hostage-taker, drawing parallelisms between the incident and this year’s Oscar Best Picture winner Parasite.

Parasite is about a poor family conning their way to jobs in a rich family’s home. One of its most enduring metaphors comes in the form of ram-don, an instant noodle dish topped with expensive steak. Like the film itself, it shows how two classes can be together, while still staying apart.

Those feeling sympathy for the hostage-taker relate these similarities to the struggles of lower-income families in the Philippines.

Greenhills Shopping Center is the same, a mall that sells second hand phones, but also chia bowls that cost as much as daily minimum wage in the country. It’s frequented by bargain hunters but sits beside one of Manila’s most expensive gated communities.

Now, people are sharing quotes from Paray’s statement as if it were a poignant monologue.

“This will hopefully serve as a lesson, not just in this commercial establishment, but anywhere,” he said. “We are all important. To the management, let's respect each other. Don't harm the people you work with."

But even if about 20 percent of Filipino families live below the poverty line and about 2 million people are unemployed, many other netizens insisted that romanticising terror acts for whatever reason, is harmful and wrong.

They pointed out that Joker, another movie the hostage incident was compared to, is a prime example of how violence is a troublesome and dangerous approach.

The movie is the origin story of Batman’s most famous villain, stylised like a 1970s Martin Scorcese thriller. While it earned big in the box office, reviews were mixed, with many calling it problematic. In the film, a psychologically troubled man named Arthur Fleck kills people as the pressures of poverty and social injustice overwhelm him. The scenes are violent but are backed with cheeky pop music. Critics say Joker validates “violent glory seekers” and could lead to terror attacks, similar to the Colorado shooting during another Batman movie a few years prior.

Many Filipinos voiced their frustration about the Greenhills hostage-taker’s sudden popularity. Some are also criticising the police and media for allowing Paray to freely speak in front of a crowd. Still others, recognised the consequences of capitalism and acknowledged that there is much to be done to fix social injustice.

A day after the incident, Paray was charged with frustrated murder, serious illegal detention, illegal possession of firearm and ammunition, and illegal possession of explosive and incendiary device. After surrendering, he said that he was well-aware of the consequences he will face.

“Before I even did this, I already knew what would happen to me,” he said. “I was already dead from the moment I planned this.”

His victims, meanwhile, are still recovering from physical and mental injuries.

This article originally appeared on VICE ASIA.