Faith and Spirituality

[The Wide Shot] The public stoning of Boy Dila

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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[The Wide Shot] The public stoning of Boy Dila

BOY DILA. Lexter Castro is seen in the foreground bowing his head in a press conference organized by San Juan City Mayor Francis Zamora on July 2, 2024.

Jire Carreon/Rappler

‘That many Filipinos stuck out their tongues at Boy Dila is the real tragic state of our nation’s morality’

Who was not enraged at the viral video of Boy Dila?

Boy Dila is Lexter Castro, a 21-year-old San Juan City resident who fired a water gun at a delivery rider while sticking out his tongue during the Feast of Saint John the Baptist last June 24. Filipino netizens “baptized” him as Boy Dila – literally translated as Tongue Boy – for making his tongue gesture while reveling at the driver’s misfortune. 

The risk of a court case – which later dissipated after the rider forgave him – should have taught Castro his lesson. While San Juan City Mayor Francis Zamora said Castro did not break any city ordinance, it was still evil behavior that should never be condoned. 

But does any wrongdoer deserve the treatment that Castro received?

After netizens watched him fire a water gun at a delivery rider, they immediately retaliated by stoning Castro to a proverbial death in the online world. Boy Dila became a byword on social media platforms such as Facebook and TikTok. Various memes of Castro’s tongue spread online. He was bullied and demonized as he became the talk of the town.

Worse, TikTok videos showed how food orders and different packages, amounting to thousands of pesos, had been booked for Castro’s residence without his knowledge. Zamora appealed to people behind the fake bookings to stop harassing Castro, but who knows if these online crusaders will heed the mayor?

Citing his city’s tarnished image, Zamora himself took the bait of Filipinos who felt the viral video was the end of the world. The 46-year-old mayor, who presumably has more concerns such as health care, traffic, and crime in his city, presented Castro in a press conference on Tuesday, July 2, in the same way that police would show handcuffed criminals before television cameras. 

Daming time (Lots of time), Mayor Zamora?

In the press conference, Castro cried as he appealed to Filipinos attacking him online. “I am already stressed,” he said in the vernacular. “There are now so many threats against me, especially my family. Please spare them. If people are angry at me, I hope they’d direct their anger at me. It pains me because it also affects my family.”

When asked how many threats he has received so far, Castro told reporters, “I have lost count.”

‘Pasikatin na ‘yan!’

It’s part of a trend called “online public shaming” or OPS. In the Philippines, we see it in social media posts that aim to humiliate “evil” people: “Pasikatin na ‘yan (Make that famous)!” 

Political philosophers Guy Aitchison and Saladin Meckled-Garcia, in a 2020 paper “Against Online Public Shaming: Ethical Problems with Mass Social Media,” describe OPS as “a form of norm enforcement that involves collectively imposing reputational costs on a person for having a certain kind of moral character.”

Aitchison and Garcia argue that OPS is “ethically wrong” in two respects: “breaching basic respect and imposing informal punishments that are inherently not amenable to due process.” The consequences of OPS “can be severe and unconstrained.” For the authors, social ostracism through public shaming, online and offline, “is an illiberal form of social regulation.”

Still, Castro’s critics cite different “moral” reasons for attacking him. 

The religiously inclined would say his act goes against the spirit of Saint John the Baptist, in whose honor the “Basaan” (Dousing of Water) or “Wattah Wattah” is held every June 24. For labor rights advocates, it is a slap on the face of ordinary workers who want to earn a living without anyone dousing water on them.

The moral bottom line, according to Castro’s attackers, is the need for respect.

Hypocrisy, not morality

But what kind of morality condemns a bully – and bullies the bully to exact justice for the oppressed?

I can hear many people say: “But he did what is evil!” Or: “Dasurv!” – a colloquial Filipino term that means a person “deserves” a certain good or a bad thing in life. In effect, they argue that it is not immoral to commit immorality against an immoral person. Or that being morally upright is a precondition for moral treatment.

Such a mindset, I believe, is not morality but hypocrisy.

If we claim to uphold moral values, then we ought to uphold these values regardless of the situation. If we say we value respect, then we ought to respect all people – even the disrespectful. We cannot condemn the disrespectfulness of Castro by disrespecting him in return. Otherwise, we are not upholding values but only our egos. 

We can learn from Immanuel Kant, an 18th-century German philosopher, who speaks of of a “categorical imperative.” This is a principle stating “that one should always respect the humanity in others, and that one should only act in accordance with rules that could hold for everyone,” according to the peer-reviewed Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Kant formulated the categorical imperative in two ways, according to Encyclopedia Brittanica:

  • “Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”
  •  “So act as to treat humanity, whether in your own person or in another, always as an end and never as only a means.” 

This perspective of Kant is one way by which we can view the issue – on a philosophical level, which can apply to all regardless of religion.

But since we are a predominantly Christian country, we can also turn to theology. In the Gospel of Matthew (22:39), Jesus declares, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 

Jesus states: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on [your] right cheek, turn the other one to him as well” (Mt. 5:38-39). In another biblical verse, he says: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt. 5:44).

In the story of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus tells the scribes and Pharisees, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first one to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7).

Internet vigilantes

But even if we subscribed to “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” the way Filipinos retaliated against Castro remains unjustified.

Justice Morrish Fish of the Canadian Supreme Court, in a 2008 journal article, debunks the perception that “an eye for an eye” or the principle called lex talionis (law of the talion) is “a barbaric law of retaliation in kind – and nothing more.”

(Lex Talionis, by the way, is the name of the law school fraternity of former president Rodrigo Duterte. “An eye for an eye” is also one of Duterte’s guiding principles.)

Lex talionis, according to Fish, “is better understood as a seminal expression of restraint and proportionality as moral principles of punishment.” In other words, “an eye of an eye” ensures that that if one eye was “taken,” only one eye will be taken away from the aggressor in return. This Old Testament principle served “to restrain inordinate and irrational revenge.”

But, in Castro’s case, “inordinate and irrational revenge” was exactly what internet vigilantes did. 

Yes, vigilante is the word – the same description given to masked killers of drug suspects during Duterte’s presidency. Vigilantes and their supporters claim that it is part of “justice” even if due process is absent. 

Internet vigilantes booked fraudulent deliveries in Castro’s name, sent him death threats, and cyberbullied him on various platforms as a way of exacting justice for the delivery rider he wronged. The context is our dysfunctional justice system that cannot hold wrongdoers accountable, making people resort to vigilantism or taking the law into their own hands.

Political science professor Carmel Abao, in a 2018 Rappler Thought Leaders piece, wrote that “‘vigilantism’ or ‘vigilante justice’ seems to be the new specter that is haunting political systems and societies all over the world.” 

Abao cited criminology professor Les Johnston who said that vigilantism is the “informal regulation” not only of “crime” but of “morals,” too. She quoted Johnston as saying that “vigilantism always involves private citizens and can, in fact, be associated with “autonomous citizenship.” Abao said that based on literature, “vigilantism is always violent.”

Ironically, many of those who engage in internet vigilantism claim that they do so because they seek justice – and peace.

Internet vigilantes have punished a boy who fired a water gun by stoning him in public.

It is true, as the saying goes, that we become what we hate. It is most elegantly put by the 19th-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche: “He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster.” 

That many Filipinos stuck out their tongues at Boy Dila is the real tragic state of our nation’s morality. – Rappler.com

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  1. ET

    “It is time for the ‘tongue out pose’ to become the symbol of our nation’s morality. This may symbolize how our people are tired of making a living in this country, how the Chinese government bullies us in the West Philippine Sea, and how our ruling political dynasties play with or disrespect our government, misinform our people, and much more.”

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior multimedia reporter covering religion for Rappler. He also teaches journalism at the University of Santo Tomas. For story ideas or feedback, email pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.