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Manila: red roses and student blood

Blood splattered on the cold pavement. The victims grimaced in pain.

The blood that flowed out of their wounds was as red as the undistributed bouquets of roses strewn all over a busy road in the Philippine capital city of Manila.

There was mayhem and chaos and, as one famous Filipino lawyer Theodore Te said, there was evil cloaked in Greek letters.

It is 26 September 2010, the last Sunday of the month. It was the last day of the traditional Bar Examinations, the life-changing test that is both a dream and a nightmare to every law student.

It is the much-dreaded, much talked-about culmination of four years of brain-wrecking, heart-wrenching and mind-boggling law schooling.

Photograph: Keith Briones

In the Philippines, the Bar exams are held during the four Sundays of September.

Tradition has it that every last Sunday of the exams, friends, relatives, colleagues and supporters of the examinees gather outside a university along Taft Avenue in Manila to greet the bar candidates.

And as tradition would have it, they came that afternoon of 26 September with bouquets of flowers, food, drinks, streamers, cheers and lots of warm embraces.

But that fateful Sunday was different from all the rest.

Around five in the afternoon, just when people were about to pop open their champagne bottles, a bomb exploded and sliced through the festivities.

Photographs show the cruelty of the blast.

Photograph: James Torrico

Photograph: James Torrico

About 47 people were injured. A law student from San Sebastian College, a university in Manila, had to have her legs amputated. She was near the site of the grenade explosion.

Authorities are still investigating the incident. This early, they're looking at the possibility that the bomb blast stemmed from an ongoing war between rival fraternities from different law schools in Manila.

Philippine president Benigno Aquino III said the government would do everything it could to get to the bottom of things.

'To those of you who are guilty: the full resources of the state are being unleashed against you. Surrender... Do not add to the troubles you are now facing. Otherwise, have no doubt that you will be caught. You will not escape the consequences of your actions,' he said.

In universities in the Philippines, there are a lot of Greek-lettered organizations – fraternities and sororities which all claim to uphold the ideals of brotherhood and sisterhood.

Students, freshers especially, are lured into these organizations because of the idea of 'belonging' or being part of an important organization in a new world such as the university.

However, problems start when these Greek-lettered organizations become violent and engage in so-called fraternity wars with their rival organizations.

For decades, authorities have recorded varying degrees of fraternity-related violence. This, needless to say, has resulted in the deaths of many innocent students.

Throwing a bomb in a crowd of innocent civilians is not unlike the acts of terrorism committed by various groups around the globe. It was, as lawyer Te said, a pure act of evil.

'26 September 2010 will enter the history books as the day when the Bar Examinations were bombed and blood was spilled. For a country with notoriously short memories, this day should not be forgotten because it was the day that evil visited the Bar,' Te said in an article published on abs-cbnNews.com, an online news agency, the day after the bombing.

I was not there when it happened but I could not forget the images of the bomb blast I saw in the newspapers, television and on the internet.

I can still see in my mind's eye the pain, the blood and the gore. 

And so I write so that others may remember that day. But most of all, I write so that I never forget.

Photograph by Keith Briones




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