Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Wake up call

My February 3, 2015 column.

The sight of grown men in uniform crying in public is a difficult thing to watch.  It makes us realize the full extent of the grief, the disappointment, and the helplessness that must be in their hearts.  Watching hundreds of policemen march on a major thoroughfare to show solidarity for fallen comrades is not easy, either, because it is indicative of anger and resurging militance. 
My February 3, 2015
I still don’t think that what happened last week will result in a coup d’ etat as some idle minds have suggested.  A military uprising will require the support of civil society, business, and the Church.   Sure, the President has alienated powerful forces in both the military and the church recently (not to mention Noranians who are still smarting over his refusal to make Nora Aunor a national artist for personal reasons). But let’s get real, people.  There’s barely a year and half left in the President’s term and regardless of the major character flaws that have resurfaced, the he still has his loyal yellow brigade.  Not many of them are like singer Leah Navarro who braved the ire of netizens by staunchly defending the President’s conspicuous absence at the arrival ceremonies for the Fallen 44, but let’s make no mistake about this—they are still there.  As proof, a major broadsheet has continued to downplay its reportage on the anger and the outrage over the President’s latest faux pas.
What happened last week, though, is a major wake-up call for the President and his administration.  In two weeks, Benigno Simeon Aquino III has transformed from being a teflon President to being one of the most ridiculed and reviled persons in social media.  I couldn’t believe the extent of the anger and the venom that flooded social networking sites when, first, it became clear that he skipped the military honors for the 44 soldiers for a social activity and, second, after making a eulogy that once again draw attention to himself and his family’s supposed sacrifice for the sake of the nation.  Many people thought he was being arrogant and insincere, as usual.  Of course these accusations are not new as the legendary lack of empathy and the so-called “haciendero” temperament have hounded him since the 2010 campaign.
The derision, though, has emboldened many people to openly declare how this President is making Joseph Estrada and even Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo look more competent.  I know.  It seems presidents do have a shelf life in this country and it does seem our collective memory on the performance and frailties of our leaderrs is largely influenced by the actuations of the incumbent.  This is both good and bad news.  
But even major tragedies offer powerful lessons that will help us become better and enable us to move forward with greater resolve.   I hope our leaders have been reminded of the role expectations demanded of them during crisis situations.   People do want leaders to manifest  concern and solidarity with them in times of grief; and lest we forget, pakikiramayis among one of our most cherished values.   Former Indonesian President Megawati Sukarno learned this lesson painfully when she was spotted shopping at the height of the mass demonstrations in Jakarta; so did Queen Elizabeth who was forced to shed her usual stoic demeanor in response to clamor for the royal family to show solidarity with the people during the death of Princess Diana. 
This is a time for mourning and for reflection.  It is important at this time for our leaders not to agitate the situation further particularly since what is at stake is the chance to end decades-long of war and strife in Mindanao.  Let us not replicate the irresponsible actions of some of our politicians who propped up the bandwagon effect, forgetting that the war in Mindanao is a very complex problem that is precisely rooted in the very behavior that we are seeing now —a rush to judgment borne out of lack of empathy and understanding of the issues at stake.  Most of us do continue to perpetuate the stereotype that our Muslim brothers are troublemakers and rabble rousers whose claim to Mindanao is without basis.    
At the same time, let us please not cheapen this period of mourning with tawdry antics and reckless statements.  Students from an exclusive school were supposed to have launched a campaign to cut their hair and wear “bangs” to show their support for the peace process and the Bangsamoro Basic Agreement.  The presidential sister who must not be named in this space boldly pronounced in her television show last Sunday that the engagement of celebrity Toni Gonzaga was the kind of inspiring story that the country needed in order to move forward from the tragedy.

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