Monday, December 03, 2007

Inflated egos

This is my column today.

It’s a wonder the Manila Peninsula did not blow up on account of the massive concentration of highly inflated egos that converged there last Thursday.

When we come down to it, that whole caper was propped up primarily by—in fact probably by nothing else but—a fallacious sense of self-importance so tremendous to the point of being delusional. Consider the events.

A military general and a renegade senator, both already on trial for rebellion, walked out of a courtroom in the middle of a hearing, marched to the Makati commercial district, forcibly took over a five-star hotel, and all throughout the whole surreal chain of events actually proclaimed moral superiority and righteousness.

Heck, forget about breaking laws. Antonio Trillanes IV, Danilo Lim, and their cohorts broke laws, yes; but that’s the least of the problem. What was worse —what was grossly unsettling to the point of absurdity—was that they did so wantonly, brazenly, and in the most arrogant manner possible. They taunted, derided, and spat on the same system that they, ironically, claimed to be fighting for and would eventually seek protection from. And to add further insult, they actually expected people to rally to their side and be a party to the farce.

Their faces suffused with the grim conviction of the morally right, they presented themselves as the long-awaited messiahs of this country, the shining knights in armor that would liberate us from the evils of this administration.

It is difficult to argue with the cause.

But it is even more difficult, almost impossible in fact, to agree with the means.

Since when did taking hostage a five-star hotel, a legitimate private business enterprise, qualify as a valid means of protest? Since when did brandishing guns and threatening people while in full military regalia count as a political act? Since when was rebellion and a coup d-etat by a faction of the military permissible—or in fact, successful—as a means of overthrowing a government? Since when was using media people as human shield considered honorable?
Such audacity has been resorted to many times in the past. All failed. Everyone knows that any rebellion will not succeed unless backed by the people. And the people, as we all know by now, remain deeply distrustful of anyone who fancies himself or herself as a more “moral” alternative. The issue is not morality anymore; we’ve already sunk rock bottom in that department. The issue is competence.

As the events of that fateful day unraveled, it became even more and more difficult to even empathize with Trillanes and company.

Not only because it became evident that the renegade senator had hallucinations of being installed as President of the country. Not only because it became apparent that the whole operation had ineptitude clearly written all over it. Not only because the expected allies turned their backs and deserted them at the crucial hour. And not only because it became clear that the government had the upper hand and was intent on crushing the rebellion quickly.

It became difficult and practically impossible to empathize with Trillanes and company because the events of the day finally enabled us to have a glimpse of the stuff they were made of: desperate people with inflated egos.

In the circle where I move around, reactions to Trillanes and company ranged from the livid (one senior officer of the bank I work for seethed and wished she could strangle the senator with her bare hands), to mockery (someone expressed dismay at the kind of planning or absence thereof), to extreme amusement (that was all renowned scriptwriter Bibeth Orteza could come up with?), to apathy (is it over? Can we do our Christmas shopping already?).

As for me, I can only see in Trillanes the behavior of a spoiled brat whose success has gone to his head, of someone who interprets his victory in the last senatorial election as license to do whatever he pleases. This was pathetically made evident when he sullenly proclaimed that he should have been allowed to perform his duties as senator because millions Filipinos voted for him in the last elections, as if the justice system in this country were a popularity contest.

Like I said, it is difficult to argue with the cause. Unfortunately, what Trillanes and company did last Thursday only fortified this administration’s hold on power. All those sanctimonious speeches and those big lectures about morality fell flat simply because what they were doing hardly qualified as moral. In fact, not only were they indulging in the same immorality; they were doing worse because they were openly flaunting it—with cocked guns and while holding a major hotel hostage.

What Trillanes and company set back the anti-GMA campaign in a major way. It reinforced public perception that people who are against this administration are up to no good as well. It added to the “political fatigue” that people are already feeling. It alienated the business community once again. I doubt if any businessman in Makati feels any affinity with Trillanes, or his supporters, after what he and his group did last Thursday.

And as can be expected, the swaggering continued even after the foolhardy was crushed. Media footages of Trillanes and his cohorts after the Peninsula fiasco reveal the same unrepentant and pretentious posturing. They had the nerve to declare that they did not do anything illegal and immoral. One can only shake heads at the sheer arrogance.

Trillanes and company however were not the only ones present at the Manila Peninsula last Thursday. Easily comprising one-third of the people inside that hotel were media people, some of whom were surprisingly present from the time Trillanes and Lim walked out of the Regional Trial Court at the Makati City Hall up to the time the rebellion was crushed.

A foreigner friend once told me that the Philippines is really a country run by the media. His observation was that affairs in this country are really controlled and directed by media. Many media people act like celebrities and get confused on the reasons behind their popularity, and grossly ignorant about their responsibilities. I tend to agree with him and the events last Thursday highlighted this observation.

I agree that handcuffing media people and herding them to Camp Bagong Diwa was an overkill. If the military authorities simply wanted to “identify” legitimate media people from anyone pretending to be so, that could have been done in a more organized and sensible manner such as setting up a “processing area” within the premises. God knows the Peninsula did not lack for rooms for the purpose. But then again, the oversight is more logically attributed to lack of foresight or just plain unadulterated stupidity.

But given the inflated egos of certain media people and organizations who fancy themselves as ultimate power in this country, it is expected that the whole thing was instead interpreted as part of a larger conspiracy to suppress press freedom.

There is a lot that can be said about this issue. But as usual, I am running out of space so I am going to end this piece by just giving voice to a friend who asked me to convey her reaction to the pronouncements and actions of Trillanes and company, the government, and the media: OA! As in overacting!

2 comments:

domingo said...

Bong

Following is my feedback to PDI'S editorial, "In Harm's Way"; allow me to share it with you.

With room occupancy at the Peninsula reported to be in the range of 80-90%, there was unquestionably a potential for a hostage-taking situation to develop on a massive scale, unduly placing, not only “individual media persons,” but tourists and the moneyed who can well afford to lounge there, “in harm’s way.”

I understand there are RULES, for the SOP during these situations is a POLICE LINE, consisting usually of a wide yellow-colored zone barrier tape, to cordon the area of immediate concern, obviously, to ensure media and bystander safety and to facilitate organization by the responding agencies.

“DO NOT CROSS” is the standard attention-getting message that is repeated continuously in bold, black letters on the barrier tape, beside the words “Police Line,” to clearly identify and define zones that are to be restricted.

Thus, cordoning a recognizable line of security effectively controls access to restricted areas and preserves the integrity of the crime scene, a critical step for investigating agencies.

That POLICE LINE was not there, nor could it be established without risking lives, since high-powered guns were being brandished about.

Media should have been more responsible (ratings notwithstanding) and should have respected the imaginary line that ought to have been there to restrict; for, to repeat, this was clearly a potential hostage-taking situation developing, with hundreds of innocent lives at risk.

Patriot Faeldon and his companions (particularly the patriot wearing an oversized wig) naturally took advantage of the chaos that resulted and escaped rather than do a Greg del Pilar.

Perhaps, aside from the required POLICE LINE, there should be an additional line, the RIGHT TO INFORMATION LINE, so that, and to quote your Editorial, “The media organizations should make their own rules, and individual media persons should make their own decisions, on whether to stay in a potentially dangerous or even fatal place.”

Meanwhile, before media organizations get to decide how to “make their own rules,” in their own selfish way--for their own “self-preservation,” that is, without regard to the “preservation” of the lives of others put “in harm’s way” by “their own rules”--please, next time around, in the manner of our reluctant obedience to traffic signals to avoid the now-familiar Gridlock … DO NOT CROSS!

Anonymous said...

"But given the inflated egos of certain media people and organizations who fancy themselves as ultimate power in this country, it is expected that the whole thing was instead interpreted as part of a larger conspiracy to suppress press freedom."- Bong Austero

The abs-cbn people asked for it. They were told to vacate the place because there's going to be a police operation but they refused to do so.
So, regarding their "victim" story in their subsequent broadcasts: Serves them right.