THERE were many reasons to take offense at that Esquire Philippines cover of Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Mar Roxas.
For one thing, it had only as caption: “Hello From Tacloban One Year Later” and showed Roxas sitting on what looked like wooden planks loaded onto a truck, waving and smiling at the camera, his hair disheveled, his eyes tired. He is in a white polo shirt and jeans, and he holds a cellphone in his other hand.
But how Roxas looks, and when this photo was taken, all those things don’t even matter because it was also utterly and totally insensitive, and absolutely unkind to have had this cover at all. Because Esquire should have, would have, known that this cover would offend and anger people. They should have, would have, known that whatever their goals were – be it satire, or irony – that this cover of DILG Secretary Roxas would be taken at face value.
As with all magazine covers, yes?
Judge a magazine by its cover
Because that is why magazines have cover stories, where, who, or what is on the cover corresponds to the biggest, most important story that is within the pages of the magazine. As such, it was right for everyone to presume what they wanted about this Esquire cover. For we all know the mess that was the government response in the post-Haiyan context. Seeing Secretary Roxas in Tacloban, smiling like that, with that caption was feeding precisely that anger and pain.
And everyone had a right to the emotional response to this cover. Yeah, in the end Esquire did not have one article on Roxas within its pages. No, that doesn’t make the cover any more forgivable. Neither does the idea that it was symbolic of national government response “nothing more, nothing less,” as the Editors’ non-apology says.
They also say that the cover was supposed to be taken alongside the stories on Haiyan inside the magazine: a set of interviews done by Lourd de Veyra with the survivors of the storm, an assessment of relief operations or lack of it by Boo Chanco, and an essay on faith and survival by Bob Ong. There’s also an interview with Alfred Romualdez, Mayor of Tacloban.
Esquire editors were “entreating” the public to read these stories – well, first to buy the magazine – because their “goal for this issue is to draw attention, once again, to the ongoing situation in Tacloban.” In its Note From The Editors they talk about the reasons for repeating stories and how “sometimes they are repeated because the situation has not sufficiently changed, because not enough people are listening.”
But it seems they’re the ones who haven’t listened. Because if they were even close to feeling the pulse of the survivors of Haiyan, they would know that this cover would be an utter failure. That it’s insensitive and unkind, and just in bad taste.
And no, their stories don’t fare any better. Sure, there are survivor-interviews, but it would’ve been great had these interviews just been published in the voices of these people who speak, instead of framed by an interviewer, which would’ve been telling survivor stories differently, yes? There was nothing new either about Chanco’s assessment of relief and rebuilding operations, and neither was there anything substantial in that Ong piece that turned out to be a personal essay in the tradition of me! me! me! writing. Even the interview with Romualdez was nothing new; we’ve heard him say those things before.
Abad within the pages
As the Esquire editors entreated readers to read the rest of the issue, one does wonder what else there is to read.
Other than of course a long interview with Department of Budget (DBM) Secretary Butch Abad. And when I say long, I mean five pages devoted to him as part of this issue’s MaHB: Man at His Best – the magazine’s slogan. It also doesn’t help this issue any that this interview is the first major piece in the magazine.
It’s like shooting themselves in the foot really. Make a statement and put on a symbolic cover on the government’s work and neglect in the post-Haiyan context. Swallow every statement you’re making by having the architect of the Disbursement Acceleration Program talk about freedom and revolution, Martial Law and peace.
Oh yes, Abad talked about having fought the Marcos dictatorship, and was given the space to defend his stance against the current crop of student activists, the ones who had welcomed him to the State U on a recent visit. He talked about how in this government, there is “no room for violence” because PNoy’s presidency “represents a restoration of the people power continuum.” Asked about whether he believes the (non-)saying that if you’ve never been a rebel you cannot be an administrator, he responds: “If you’re a revolutionary, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be a good administrator. [Between] waging a revolution and running a government, I think it’s more difficult to run a government.”
Talking about the Supreme Court decision on PDAF, Abad was given the space to once again talk about fairness and justice: “I think in that particular issue the court got influenced by the outcry. But the courts should not do that.” Talking further about the effect of that Supreme Court decision, Abad said: “<…> if it is not presumed that all your acts are regular until proven otherwise, you start thinking about every check you sign. And that slows down governments.”
Speaking on the 2016 elections: “I was just in a meeting with some cabinet secretaries. We said, you know we’ve worked so hard for the past four years, and we’re not about to throw everything out by just simply allowing things to happen. <…> That’s why it’s important for us to influence how the next elections are going to be characterized and defined.”
Asked if he’s ever wanted to run for president, the architect of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) says the presidency happens to people, even as he asserts: “I think I can run this country as well as many of those who have run it.”
A bad idea all around
That cover with Secretary Roxas, failed symbolism and all, was bad enough. This interview with Secretary Abad where he’s allowed to detail all the alleged good they’ve done was like rubbing salt into the wounds of those survivors of Haiyan who continue to demand better from this government. There is also the rest of the populace who can only take offense at the kind of space the Budget Secretary was given here to reinforce nothing but government propaganda.
We were told not to judge Esquire by its Roxas cover, even as all magazines live off that judgment in order to sell. We were told to read the magazine to understand what it sought to do.
If it was so we would see that it has become a government mouthpiece, we got that one loud and clear.