Monday, January 10, 2011

Scraping the bottom

This was my column on the date indicated above. This post is antedated.

It seems we really are not used to not having controversies in this country because in times such as the present when things are generally quiet in the political front, we tend to stir things up to create fireworks during events that should have been occasions for unity or out of the most mundane issues. A friend offers a different perspective. He says we have this predilection to self-destruct. When things are going so well, we tend to shoot ourselves in the foot.

Take for example President Benigno Aquino III’s indelicate dig at the opposition last week during the annual Vin d’Honneur to honor the diplomatic community. PNoy’s remark struck a raw nerve because of the lack of a suitable context. Taking potshots at one’s perceived enemies at a formal occasion one is hosting smacks of illegitimate political behavior, particularly if the people being targeted comprised majority of those who graciously lent their presence at the occasion and who were there apparently in the spirit of cooperation.

We just celebrated the holiday season and greeted each other “peace on earth and goodwill to men.” PNoy’s very partisan remarks certainly shattered any lingering spirit of love, hope and peace in the air. Most surveys indicated that majority of Filipinos have high hopes for 2011 and to my mind, this included hopes for our leaders to work more collaboratively in the pursuit of the common good. The fighting words were uncalled for. We may have a minority in Congress, but they certainly are not “noisy.” We don’t hear of Representative Lagman and company strongly lambasting the President and his cabinet every day, do we?

What was annoying about the whole thing was that, really, there was no need for the whole thing. It was just simply uncalled for! What was even more jarring was Communication Secretary Ricky Carandang’s attempt at backpedaling. As can be expected in a situation where no logical defense is forthcoming, he tried to obfuscate the issue. He said that the President’s dig was not directed at anyone in particular, which made the President come across as someone just shooting blanks in the air. I would have preferred that Carandang just stood his ground; as we say in Tagalog, sana pinanindigan na lang nya.

Clearly, the tempest in the teacup was not a good start for Carandang and company. This attitude of moral superiority bordering on arrogance is what will get this administration into more trouble. Apparently, some people have not learned from the Mai Mislang incident in Vietnam.

And then there was this very amusing bit about how Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista publicly lauded a traffic aide, giving him a promotion and a cash reward for apprehending him. I understand that it took guts for the traffic aide in question to do what he did although it was clear that he did so because he didn’t recognize the mayor (he sheepishly hinted that he would have ignored Bautista’s traffic violation if he knew it was the mayor behind the wheels).

But there is something very seriously wrong when we do cartwheels because someone was simply doing his job. There is also something seriously wrong when the mayor in question goes into a celebratory mood because he was caught violating traffic rules in his own city. Bautista did not even apologize or offer an explanation as to why he broke traffic rules; in fact, the whole part about why he violated traffic rules was completely glossed over. It was as if there was tacit agreement that mayors or other powerful people in this country have the license to disobey traffic rules.

I am all for rewarding people who turn in exemplary performances in their jobs. But rewarding people for simply doing their jobs and celebrating the occasion as if it was something extraordinary—well, this certainly indicate the extent of our problem.

Our media organizations must be really scraping the bottom for newsworthy stories lately because even isolated issues are played up and blown into major controversies.

Okay, just so there is no misunderstanding -although I am aware that despite this disclaimer certain people in this country will still choose to see this piece from a very myopic perspective—let me be clear about one thing: I do not—as in absolutely do not—condone sex in public particularly in places that allow children. Let me be clearer. I do not think that people should be allowed to have sex in the beaches of Boracay, or in other public places in this country such as parks, churches, streets, malls, etc. If we come to think about it, I don’t think there is anyone in this country that actually thinks it is okay for people to have sex in public places.

Having said that, let me now express my utter bewilderment at the whole attention being heaped on what is now referred to as the Boracay sex scandal presumably involving two pairs of tourists on New Year’s Eve. Why it was referred to as a sex scandal is beyond me. It only showed the extent to which our media networks will go to sensationalize a story.

In case you were blissfully unaware of the controversy, ABS-CBN showed footages in their various newscasts last week of two couples that seemed engaged in sex acts. They said the footages were taken at around 2:00 am on a beach in Boracay after the revelry to meet the New Year. Thereupon, the mayor of the town of Malay which has jurisdiction over Boracay, a senior official of the Department of Tourism, and a number of concerned citizens including actress Ruffa Gutierrez were quoted in various news stories expressing their outrage and spewing quite a mouthful of gibberish.

What was absurd about the whole attention was that all the reports were very clear about one thing: It was an isolated incident. Malay Mayor John Yap said so. Tourism Assistant Secretary for Planning and Promotions Domingo Enerio III said so. Even the ABS-CBN people said so. It’s strange therefore that they almost burst a vein trying to pontificate about the supposed implications of the supposed sex scandal.

The honorable mayor said something about the need to pass an ordinance specifically prohibiting having sex in the beaches of Boracay, because he said there is currently no law that would justify the prohibition. Is this guy for real? There might not be a law that specifically says that having sex in public is prohibited, but I am sure there are more than enough provisions in our various laws that can be trundled to justify the prohibition. I have been working with a non-government organization doing work with sex workers for many years now and I am aware that police authorities continue to regularly patrol areas in urban centers such as parks to apprehend and harass people who are suspected of being in amorous situations. I can imagine it now: Signs being put up in Boracay and policemen patrolling the beaches to enforce the ordinance.

Tourism assistant secretary Enerio’s gibberish was even more absurd. Here’s the guy’s reaction quoted verbatim from a news report that got picked up by the global press: “Enerio said hotel owners and other establishments on the beach should post signs or warnings that say it is okay to be happy and enjoy while on the island but there are things that should be done privately, preferably in their hotel rooms. He said it was a good thing that the sex incident happened at a time when kids are already asleep, and that the act was between a couple that seem to be married and it was not done with a Filipina.” Whether the couple who had sex in public was married or not and the race of the woman was material to the whole discussion?

When nonsensical statements and non-issues such as an isolated event in Boracay are played up like they were matters of life and death on public television, then we must scraping the bottom for newsworthy stories!

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