Editorial: Mayor’s non-apologies

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Friday, April 11, 2014

SOMETIMES, you really have to decipher the meaning of what Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama says. Consider the latest, his issuing apologies for the purchase of iPads and their distribution to City Hall department heads and other officials and for the ongoing road projects in the city that has caused traffic jams during peak hours.

On the first apology, the mayor said that it was not an admission that City Hall made a mistake in buying the gadgets. On the second apology, the mayor apologized for the inconvenience even though the road works are projects of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and not of the city.

In 2008, Zohar Kampf, Hebrew University of Jerusalem assistant professor of communications, wrote the article “Journal of Pragmatics” wherein he tackled the ways Israeli public figures, organizations or institutions offered non-apology apologies.


One type of apology, mentioned in a post by Tom Jacobs titled “We’re Sorry: Not All Apologies are Apologies” (psmag.com), downplays the transgressor’s degree of responsibility.

Variations of this type of apology as sourced from Kampf: apologize while undermining the claim that he offended someone, apologize for the outcome but not for the act, apologize for the style but not for the essence, apologize for the specific component of the offense but not for the entire occurrence, and apologize while using syntactic and lexical means to downgrade his responsibility.

Another approach: apologizing while simultaneously denying you’ve done anything wrong and fuzzing up the issue of who, if anyone, was injured.

Rama’s apology on the iPad purchase was actually a reaction to the flak City Hall received for it. But he apologized not for the purchase, which he didn’t consider as a mistake, but for the issue becoming controversial—a classic case of non-apology.

This also gave the impression that he was offering the apology not to the public but to the beneficiaries of the purchase, assuring them that the act of purchasing the iPads was correct and the critics were wrong for making an issue out of it.

The second apology, meanwhile, is interesting. The one that caused the inconvenience is DPWH; its officials should have been the ones who offered the apology. The mayor’s role there is minor: as mayor, his job was to monitor well how the project was implemented. And city residents are intelligent enough to know to whom the blame should be ascribed.

The mayor’s apology in this case is thus not only a non-apology, it offers to the public a false sense of humility.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on April 12, 2014.


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