Let Luli Be

Today, I got another email that almost made me regurgitate the chicken breast I was devouring for late lunch. The email, which I understand has been going around various email groups (I got mine from two email groups and the return path listed a host of more email groups!) was purportedly written by a certain William "Willy" Santiago.

Pardon me, but who is Mr. Santiago? I do not mean this question in a camp and condescending sort of way; I certainly do not have my eyebrows raised at the moment. It is a genuinely sincere question. I do not know who Mr. William Santiago is, and perhaps it is my fault that we do not breathe the same air. But is it too much to ask that if one feels he has enough authority, not to mention only the best intentions, to dispense supposedly good advice that is broadcast to all Filipinos and his dog and cat, shouldn't he at least provide some information about the chair he is perched in?

For those of you who are blessed not to be at the receiving end of all kinds of political hubris, I quote certain parts of the email here:

"You are an Ateneo alumna and many who know you are proud of you as such. Look at the names in the recent statement, do you know any of them? At least, any that count? I hope you compare this to the Ateneo statement calling for your mom's resignation. Some of your respected teachers -- even your friends -- signed that one.

"Amidst the crisis caused by your mom's decision to run again, I hope you realize that you have such a crucial role to play. After all, your mom is already wary (and quite understandably) of the voices whispering around her. De Venecia, Ramos, Puno and others have their own game to play. But YOUR voice counts. Thus, this letter of appeal. Talk to your mom constantly. Give her sound advice. Save our country, please. Be the Luli that people know as good, well intentioned and wise. Otherwise, the perception which many have of you as the most "progressive" Arroyo will only be for naught. Except to provide punchlines to jokes which Filipinos are now forced to resort to."

The email attempts to hide its political undertones under the cloak of merely dispensing generic advice: it’s a simple letter of appeal, talk to your mom constantly, give her sound advice, etc. But the parental stance and good intentions are sadly blown by the admonition to “save our country.”

If there is doubt about the political persuasion of Mr. Santiago, the email actually begins by retelling that joke about Imelda and Imee being in plane debating about what to drop to people below to make them happy. The punchline is that Imee suggested dropping their dad from the plane to make all Filipinos happy. Now, substitute Imelda with Gloria and Imee with Luli and you get the picture. Then, tell me if the joke works the same way.

I think this is exactly one of the reasons why many Filipinos (including me) has not actively joined the calls for the President’s ouster. I lived through the Marcos regime and was a victim of oppression as a student activist and quite frankly, this abradabra about the ghost of Martial law just does not fly. The fact that Imee Marcos herself is in the same boat as the others who conjure these acrobatic logical deductions reduces the whole message to meaningless political mumbo-jumbo. Please get the message: the fact that people can make up these stories and make all kinds of accusations turns the whole Martial Law logic inside out. Nice try, but no cigar. The context is simply different.

But what really gets my gall is the patronizing tone of the email. What is it about us that makes us reduce issues to a lose-lose pissing contest of what and who is moral or not? If one does not fit another's concept of what is moral or right, does that make the other automatically immoral and wrong? What is with this penchant to dispense moral superiority over others? Why can’t we listen to each other without invoking moral ascendancy? Since when did God give anyone absolute powers to discern what is right or wrong? Since when and under what right did we become parents to Luli? Under what authority does anyone presume to suggest a better way for children to deal with their parents?

As if it is not enough that we have to put up with former trusted accomplices suddenly having an attack of conscience, now we encourage daughters to turn against their mothers all in the name of saving a country. Now we presume to know a better way for a daughter to relate with her mother in the privacy of their home.

I think it is uncalled for and cruel to drag children into the muck simply because of some genetic accident. I do not know Luli personally although from what I read and have observed so far, she is behaving admirably well given the garbage that she has to deal with. But it is not her fault that her mother is GMA, and she is not to blame for the fact that her mother is president. To ask her to use her familial ties for political reasons is not only intrusive, it is out of line. To actually call on her to save the country by giving her mother the "right" advice is pure unadultered sanctimoniousness of the highest order.

And please, what is the point of pitting names against each other? So what if names on a list have not accumulated enough academic and political clout as their teachers? Does that reduce the worth of their opinions? Does that mean they are not worthy of expressing their own convictions? Last I looked, this was a democracy and everyone is entitled to his or her own beliefs.

I have always thought that Ateneo was in the business of molding individuals who can think for themselves. I never for a moment considered the thought that they were in the business of producing robots that operated according to the dictates of some moral masters. As an academic person myself, I believe that the essence of being a teacher is in allowing students to find and speak their own voices, even if they are contrary to mine. How tragic if a teacher expects students to swallow hook, line and sinker all his stereotypes and prejudices.

For the record, sure, I think that GMA did wrong. But beneath all that, one can not argue that despite the tragic flaws she continues to operate from good intentions regardless of how the opposition demonizes everything she does. I wish I can say the same of the opposition. Don’t get me wrong, I do not favor absolute clemency; but I would like to give her the benefit of the doubt and do not want to rush to imposing a moral penance; that can wait. In the meantime, let us get on with our lives while we wait and see how she will make it up to the people.

But I must admit that personally, I think that the fact that the President herself apologized counts for something. After all, even the Marcoses and Erap and his minions continue to profess their innocence even in the face of such irrefutable evidence. I find it futile for people to make interpretations about whether it was sincere or not. Who can fathom the depths of one’s conscience and say one is not sincere enough?

Let Luli be. Let her find her own voice. And if it is contrary to ours, that doesn’t mean she is bad person. We each have to live with our conscience. We all have to face up to our own Higher Being.

Enough of the sanctimoniousness.


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