I write better when I smoke. Don’t ask me to reduce it to a science.

What is a life worth

All this talk of 200 thousand pesos for every one of Sulpicio’s latest victims has gotten me thinking whether they’ve got the valuation right. I have a sneaking suspicion that Sulpicio pegged the compensation arbitrarily.

One can almost imagine a bunch of Sulpicio bosses, sitting around a board room, talking about how deeply they were willing to dent the company’s wallet to recompense the victims. I’d like to think, that in that scenario, there was at least one BYM (bright young man) who spoke up – no matter how timorously – to tell his bosses that they could never pay anyone enough. But as these things go, no such BYM might have existed at all.

So, they get down to haggling. I’m pretty sure some nervous ninny suggested 500 thousand to begin with. Then some lawyer is gonna argue costs of litigation and whatnot, so the number gets chopped down to 400 thousand. But wait! the myopic accountant pipes up: we need to patch up some of our other ships! We can’t afford to pay every claimant 400 thousand – make it 300 thousand. Then one of the bosses harrumphs – those people can’t be worth more dead than alive, can they? And besides, it’s nearly Christmas (wtf?!) so we need the money for bonuses. Make it 250 thousand.

One imagines that everyone falls silent when this number is mentioned. Everyone knows it’s less than what is fair, but is still more than what they’re willing to pay. Then someone yells, “Fuck it! Let’s give ’em 200 thousand and tell them that it’s up front and they don’t have to wait for the courts to award them damages. They know we have lawyers and they know if they go to court, they prolly won’t get anything at all! Hell, I’d say give ’em 100 thousand if I thought we could spin that with PR. They’ll take the 200 thousand. Believe me.”

And a collective sigh of relief sussurates around the room. The press release is drafted in 15 minutes.

But what is a life really worth?

Most valuations take into consideration the deceased’s age, physical condition, mental health, and educational attainment; all of which go into determining first, how many more productive years of life he can reasonably expect, and second, how much money he can earn during that time.

Other valuations involve happiness indeces; how happy was this person in life? How content was he? And how much would it have cost to keep him that happy for the x-number of years he might stay alive? Cultural factors are brought in, as well as lifestyles – if he were an adrenalin junkie, for instance, he might not live too long. It’s a little like insurance, I suppose, only a little more morbid since the object of the projections is already dead.

The problem is that if Sulpicio were to follow these formulas for everyone of its victims, some would get more, some would get less. That would be a terrible PR position for them to be in. Those who get less will crucify the company for sure. Not to mention the fact that those who get a judgment may actually net more than 6 million in damages – the recent award for the family of a victim of the MV Princess of the Orient.

So for Sulpicio, both financially and from a PR standpoint, only an across-the-board valuation is even worth considering. By its very nature, therefore, the valuation is arbitrary and does not accurately reflect the value of the life lost.

So why offer it at all? Because, as the imaginary boardroom anti-hero said, people will take the money, no matter how crappy it is.

Part of the problem is the mendicant mentality most people have: they will fight for scraps because scraps are better than nothing. And they don’t even have to actually be beggars to think and act this way. All it takes, I think, is a certain kind of despair; the conviction that things are so unsalvageably bad that you have no choice but to grab the knife by the blade, even when you actually don’t have to.

In the case of Sulpicio, this despair is created by, among other things …

Wait …


Don’t you hate it when reporters and juh-nahlists write things like “the plaintiffs filed an instant case?’ As if cases were noodles or three-in-one coffee. For future reference, people, when a Court’s decision uses the phrase ‘instant case’ what they actually mean is ‘this case.’ As in, this specific case we’re currently resolving. Derived from “instance,” the phrase makes reference to the present and immediate matter under consideration.

… the belief that the justice system is so irretrievably flawed that justice cannot be expected, and is fueled by the overwhelming desire for instant gratification. But since the latter is a clear function of social conditions – and therefore unavoidable for some people – it isn’t really something one can object to; it simply is. What aggravates the situation, however, and turns the desire for instant gratification into repetitive whining and breast-beating self-pity is the populism of media, pundits, and politicians.

Media sensationalizes the story, dwelling on the tragedy and playing up the pathos, thereby reinforcing the helplessness already felt by the families of the victims; pundits expound hate and anger – as I myself did – further fueling the sensation of being hoodwinked by someone; and politicians, well, politicians politicize the issue, casting the victims into the role of victims twice over: once, at the hands of Sulpicio, and again, at the hands of the government.

Its a recipe for despair, and it plays right into the hands of Sulpicio.

With this ready made atmosphere of desperation, it takes very little to convince the victims that it is in their best interest to take the shut-up money, and in the process – perhaps even unwittingly – to commoditize their grief.

And they are not alone. The rest of us, by letting this happen, also commoditize our outrage; it’s just that we’re not the ones getting the money. When we see the victims get paid off, we pipe down, content with the altruistic feeling – an illusion – that we have done something. But kid yourselves not: we haven’t done anything worth writing about. All we’ve really done is compromised the dead by putting a monetary value on their lives.

What’s a life worth?

It is worth remembering.


Filed under: blogging, musings, politics, society, , , ,

14 Responses

  1. cvj says:

    The Old Testament answer is that a life is worth another life.

  2. rom says:

    cvj:true that. but that sort of thing doesn’t apply anymore, uncle. maybe in the heretofore and the hereafter, but definitely not in the here and now.

  3. fluffy says:

    I completely agree, I mean, imagine all the breadwinners that died… How much is tuition now? Can the families left behind handle with what little they have? How about the young lives whose potentials were just wiped out? A life is worth so much more then P200,000.

  4. Bencard says:

    rom, could it be that 200k is the limit of recovery for each passenger under sulpicio’s liability insurance coverage? if so, sulpicio is not shelling out the amount out-of-pocket. of course, they have paid the premiums.

  5. rom says:

    bencard: quite possible, uncle. in which case, they are not legally bound to cough up any more. morally, on the other hand …

    normally, of course, the carrier shouldn’t be subjected to this kind of moral pressure – but that’s assuming the absence of fault or negligence. In Sulpicio’s case, there is that cloud of doubt that they had culpability – not just from their dismal track record, but also from their remarkable efforts to discourage law suits.

  6. rom says:

    fluffy: welcome to the smoking room! true that.

  7. Jen says:

    hi rom. It’s really sad if you look at it this way. A person’s life is only worth slightly more than a jazzed up Apple Macbook Pro or a pair of frickin “studio-quality Triode-Tube Ipod speakers” .

  8. rom says:

    jen: i know, luv. And that’s gotten me really depressed. which is my I think the emphasis of reparations should not only be on throwing money at the victims’ families but should include plans for the erection of a memorial or something – something that will outlive the shut-up money. Especially since it is now emerging that Sulpicio could have done something to prevent the flipping over.

  9. UP n student says:

    The republic has already established a baseline monetary value for a Filipino life. It is the amount that the government paid to the families of those who died when Muslim terrorists sank Superferry14.

  10. cvj says:

    ‘Baselines’ (if it can be called that) can be changed.

  11. UP n student says:

    An item of minor interest: Sulpicio offered the same compensation amount without regards to age, student/non-student, employment status, or number of children left behind by the people who died.

    What was the amount paid for Supererry14? Was there even compensation to the Super14 victims’ families?

  12. UP n student says:

    July 7, 2008 is 4rd-year anniversary of London terrorist bombings, and the city of London (led by its mayor) held flower-laying ceremonies to remember the victims.

    On this-year, last-year and earlier-years’ anniversary dates, has metro-Manila tossed flowers into Manila Bay for SuperFerry14?

    I remember deQuiros fuming and ranting and practically apoplectic that the US was so effusive in commemorating the names of those who died on 9-11. A few years has passed since 2004. Has deQuiros led any action to commemorate the names of those who died with SuperFerry 14?

  13. UP n student says:

    Over a hundred Filipinos died February 27, 2004 in the Philippines’ deadliest terrorist attack and the world’s deadliest terrorist attack at sea.

    Maybe next year February 27, 2009, a few metro-Manila citizens will remember to toss some flowers into Manila Bay. No anti- or pro-Malacanang march, just to remember.


    Worth remembering.

    that’s the answer someone provided to the question :

    What’s a life worth?

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