Naga’s Em Mijares has ceased to be the point. His was an act of course that has allowed for this discussion on free speech to take the most interesting of turns, one that has 2016 written all over it, with PNoy’s Yellow Brigade working on overdrive.
They are quick to point out that public opinion is on their side, because this is a beloved President, and he is one who deserves respect from all of us. Certainly he did not deserve to be heckled in the middle of his Independence Day speech. Certainly he did not deserve to be screamed at and tagged: “Pork barrel king!”
Certainly we can all be decent and write the President a letter, you know, mail it to Malacañang. If you’re lucky you’ll get some standard response about your grievances.
Or, you know, if you’re luckier, you can get that letter to his private office, have it marked as read on the same day that it’s delivered.
Just like Janet Napoles.
I digress. As has this discussion about Mijares’s act of protest.
Because that was what this heckling incident was about. It was about a student, a citizen of nation, who, as audience to the President’s speech, freely decided that it was the most opportune time to tell the world what he thought of the man at the podium.
It’s not a decision I would have dared make, but it is a decision that I appreciate from the next person, precisely because it speaks to my sense of freedom.
Because isn’t that the best exercise of our freedom? The right to heckle the most powerful man in the land, to his face, at that one time that you would even be near enough for him to hear? Close enough for it to matter?
After all, this is a President who dismisses critics all the time, and insists that they are but a noisy minority. This is a President whose government has constantly used democracy to speak of our freedoms, as if one always and necessarily follows the other. This is a President who has dared critics to impeach him, his own distinct form of retaliation, one that is borne of some good ol’ Pinoy pikon. It always reminds one of the petty boys in adolescence who would, with barely any prompting, challenge the next person: Suntukan na lang o!
Any critic of this government would know of how this President is not listening.
What better time to make him listen than while he’s on stage, and you are given the freedom to speak as audience?
But of course people will say that in fact Mijares had no freedom to speak as a member of the audience. The Yellow Brigade will say that none of us who are in the presence of the President has the right to scream at him and call him names.
This works with the premise of honor. That is, to be in front of the President is an honor for any of us. As audience, we are also just merely so, bound to conventions of rules and expected behavior. There is a universal way to behave when we are in the presence of the President; we are all bound to it no matter who we are.
This is what operates when Mijares is called rude and disrespectful. But also what the Yellow Brigade invokes is a sense of class, the kind that is more important than our basic right to protest.
Class is in the assertion of rudeness and kawalang modo, where breeding is seen as most important and que horror! why does not everyone have it? It is what we expect the government will invoke without thinking, its members and its Yellow Brigade part of the elite and burgis, the true source of the true good beautiful (sorry couldn’t help that last bit).
They speak of Mijares’s heckling as a form of misbehavior, and refuse to acknowledge the probability that it was merely and nothing but his exercise of his right to protest. Yes, he did it at a venue, in an event, at a moment when it is least expected. That is also why this heckling could only be a success.
Because you expect protest at the President’s Independence Day commemoration, but you expect it far away from that stage, a police perimeter set up to make sure the President does not hear. You expect a protest to come in only one form, dressed in the same clothes, doing the same thing. You do not expect it of one audience member, standing close enough to the President, and screaming what he thinks of him for all the world to hear and see.
And given the truth that not everyone will imagine it an honor to be in the presence of this President, given the fact that so many times this government has proven that it does not listen, one can imagine that Mijares barely had a choice.
Now I wouldn’t have done it, scream the way Mijares had. But that’s not because I think it’s wrong. It’s because I’ve got no balls for it.
Revenge of the weak
And balls is what one needs to actually stand up while the most powerful man in the country is speaking, and scream what one thinks about him and his government.
One needs balls. Because unlike the every-burgis member of the Yellow Brigade that might rub elbows with the President, and have the President’s ear at some shared dinner table, the rest of us are not as lucky. Given how this government’s also predisposed to ignoring critics and dismissing criticism, one knows it takes more than just wielding the pen, or going out to join a rally, to get anything new from this President.
This attitude puts us in the position of the disadvantaged and voiceless. There is no sense of equality at the point when the President delivers an Independence Day speech, when it deems us as mere spectators who will swallow what he says.
We are less than the President in this power play. In fact we are mere subjects.
It was in this moment that Mijares decided he was no subject, and found the balls to heckle. That he was taken away by the President’s security is expected—what if he posed a danger to the President? That he was jailed, and then charged with disturbing public order is nothing but overkill—he is no danger to the President, so what gives?
That the government now insists, along with its trolls and paid hacks all over the internet and social media, that this is just about right and wrong, lawful and legal, vis-a-vis behavior in front of the President, speaks tons about how little we think of this power structure, and how oblivious we are to its repercussions. That Mijares heckled the President is a reminder that the power structure exists, and it is nothing but unstable. It is an instability that the Yellow Brigade would rather we do not see, the better to maintain the illusion (delusion?) that this government is under control.
A long time ago, a mentor asked me about the revenge of the weak, say, servants spitting on the food they serve their señoras. It is petty for sure, yes. But what it speaks of is the inability to straddle this line of difference and cross it with certainty. The servant spitting is a refusal to be bound to notions of decency. It is an act of defiance.
The same goes for heckling the powerful.