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The Point Being
Friday, June 20, 2014
MANY years ago, Kris Aquino had the opportunity to interview entertainer Diether Ocampo in one of the shows she hosted. Ocampo was then a young and rising star and the conversation turned to the matter of Diether's purchase of a brand new car. Kris asked him what spurred the purchase, which was obviously a considerable investment. And Diether explained that it was primarily because of the difficulties of commuting - mahirap sumakay, matrafik at mainit. And he ended with a phrase seeking confirmation, "alam mo 'yun?" Kris's response was classic. She said, "hindi."
It was, of course, an honest response. Kris, after all, traveled in private vehicles all her life and except for waiting in vehicular traffic, probably did not have to deal with the challenges of taking public transport. At that time, it was easy enough to laugh it off. The worst that Kris could be accused of was being clueless and tactless.
Years later, her brother, Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III, became the 15th President of the Philippine Republic.
Back in January 2013, President Aquino tried to put a positive spin to the nightmare that was EDSA by saying: "Maganda na siguro ang problema na binabanggit na ma-trapik sa EDSA, tama po yan, dahil marami ang nasa kalsada, buhay na buhay ang ating ekonomiya kaysa naman walang trapik sa EDSA dahil wala ng makabili ng gasolina na patakbuhin ang kanyang sasakyan."
It might have been a well-intentioned remark. But it certainly caused significant collective jaw dropping. The President said THAT?! Hindi nga?
We understand that the leadership functions include helping constituents make sense of the current situation and rallying them behind a shared vision. But these did not seem to apply to the perennial state of traffic crisis that characterizes EDSA.
It can be surmised that the overly positive spin can only be because the President has not had to endure EDSA's congestion and pollution, and the intramurals of getting a ride. Notwithstanding the ban on wang-wangs, a Presidential entourage still has priority after all. And like his sister, PNoy probably has not had to rely on public transportation for his comings and goings pre-Malacañang.
Two more incidents of the jaw-dropping nature recently happened that earned a disbelieving 'hindi nga?' response.
During the commemoration 2014 of Independence Day in Naga City, a student of the Ateneo de Naga University got arrested for heckling and disrupting the speech of PNoy. Em Mijares, 19 years old and a 4th Psychology student, was subsequently charged with causing "tumults and other disturbances of public order", creating "alarm and public scandal and "assault on agent of authority."
For starters, the law defines 'tumultuous' disturbance as one that is "caused by more than three persons who are armed or provided with means of violence." News coverage would show that all that Mijares had was a cloth banner. For another, Mijares railed about an issue that PNoy himself felt strongly about - the pork barrel. Admittedly, the fact that Mijares called for the ouster of the Pork Barrel King, and criticized the absence of real change in the country did not endear him to the President.
More than those, I argue that context and scale can be invoked and that the President ought to have just brushed aside the heckling. At that time, there was another wave of huge public uproar over graft and corruption involving the cabal of Napoles and her reliable partners in the Senate and other branches of government. While the President has tried to be on top of the campaign against irregularities and excesses in governance, he unfortunately cannot be exempted from public reaction.
Surely, the Presidency is not that vulnerable that it cannot take a small protest action with a grain of salt. Protest actions after all were part of the whole political climate that attended the rise to power of the Aquinos -- from the time of the struggle against the Marcos dictatorship that ushered in the administration of President Corazon Aquino, to the mass actions against President Arroyo which became the backdrop of the election of PNoy himself.
The claim of Malacañang that it was the Philippine National Police in Naga City and not the Presidential Security Group that filed the charges is not an adequate response. PNoy could have demonstrated statespersonship in this case by instructing the PNP to drop the case, affirming free speech and assembly, explaining his disagreement with the charges of Mijares, and calling for greater unity against graft and corruption and corrupt politicians.
In another situation, Presidential Communication Operation Office (PCOO) Secretary Sonny Coloma Jr. was quoted as having allegedly responded to complaints about the high price of rice by saying "Ang hirap naman kasi sa mga kababayan natin, bibili lang ng bigas, yun pang mabango ang hahanapin nila. E di siyempre mahal yun."
Maybe it was one of those half-baked off-the-cuff responses, but it is not assuring to hear a top official issue a statement with the logic that a) poor Filipinos can only aspire for poor quality rice; and b) that we should be resigned to expensive rice if we want it to be of good quality.
Rice is after all not just a staple of the Filipino diet. It is also a very political commodity and has triggered protests in the not-so-distant past. Surely, Malacañang can give a more appropriate response to consumers, certainly not one that borders on being insensitive.
Otherwise, the PNoy administration might find itself in a situation where it would have to defend its record to citizens, saying "hindi totoo na clueless, tactless at insensitive ang pamahalaang Aquino. Iginagalang at sineseryoso namin ang mga sentimyento at hinaing ng mga mamamayan. Alam mo 'yun?"
This administration would not want to run the risk that our collective response would be a firm "hindi"; and it would be pressed to come back with an incredulous "hindi nga?"
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Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on June 21, 2014.