THERE are many things shocking and astounding about the aftermath of the Mamasapano tragedy. There are the multiple stories we continue to hear about what went down, what went wrong with Operation Wolverine, an unfolding that must be infinitely more difficult to hear for the families of those who have died in the name of capture.
There are the stories from the survivors of this operation who talk about having carried their fallen comrades, or fulfilled that last wish to view photos of family on a cellphone. There are the family members’ stories about being in touch with the fallen police commandos, at a time when we are being told they were beyond reach.
There are the voices of our police officials, our senators, Malacañang spokespersons. There is the voice of the President addressing the nation, talking at the necrological service for the 44 police commandos, speaking to the members of the Special Action Force (SAF) grieving for their comrades.
There was the silence he received when he asked the SAF if they had any questions or grievances, anything at all they wanted to tell the President.
That silence was deafening. It still is.
It is difficult to keep one’s eye on the ball. It is a measure of social media, yes. But also it is a measure of media (ir)responsibility – especially online media – for which what is important is getting the most number of hits, getting the most shares.
So expectedly it is the presidential sister’s antics on nationwide TV and on social media that is getting attention, and the only thing surprising is how too many have asked: Why must this celebrity unfollowing people on instagram get so much attention? Why must we know about what she said and did? And then they promptly share that new article about the presidential sister.
But that question is so easily answered by celebrity culture and media complicity. It’s celebrity culture impinging upon the issues that matter. And in that sense it behooves us all to ignore it completely, if not engage with it even as we insist on talking about the more urgent issues of the day. It’s called multitasking, if not self-critical online media use.
The better question of course is: Why do we allow media to do this at all? To have the presidential sister’s name trend, instead of any other hashtag that is about finding truth, that is about demanding accountability?
I tend to think it’s because we all could use the distraction, and the presidential sister is always worth a laugh or two, if not the cuss words we save for the more insensitive, more unthinking, more tactless of our celebrities and politicians. But this presidential sister has the media in the palm of her hand and knows that all mileage is good, no matter that it might be negative to us English-speaking, middle to upper class Pinoys.
Because every morning and evening on weekdays, and every Sunday afternoon, she is speaking in the vernacular to Filipinos across the world, crying about someone finding love, laughing with Boy Abunda about something or other, talking about God’s grace.
You know we can’t win. But maybe if we engage with her antics and consistently fight it, we will cease to be surprised when she crosses a line at critical times like this one. Maybe we can figure out a way to cut through the superficiality and self-centeredness.
Speaking of self-centeredness, it seems to be the theme of the many speeches that we have heard the President deliver, from that speech at the necrological service, to that one he delivered in front of the SAF afterwards, to this one that we heard him deliver tonight, talking about General Alan Purisima’s resignation.
It’s too painful to repeat what is wrong with the way this has been handled by this country’s Commander-In-Chief. But it might be important to point out that it is now more than at any other time that I realize he is Kris Aquino’s brother.
Self-centeredness is at the heart of his sister’s body of work—if we might call a career in endorsements and oversharing a body of work at all. She interviews people not by listening to them, but by comparing herself to them; she asks people questions so that she can refer to her own answers.
The President has spent more time talking about his own experience of loss and danger, than he has answering the many questions the nation is asking, than he has acknowledging the grief and sadness of the families of those who lost to Mamasapano. We now know how he felt when his father was assassinated. How he felt as presidential son during one of those coup attempts against his mother’s government. How he feels now that he has had to accept his friend Alan’s resignation.
It is no surprise in fact that he has received deafening silences after those speeches, save for that one delivered tonight, in front of his cabinet. They gave him applause, almost too loudly, for all of us to hear.
It is entirely possible that the Presidential speeches thus far were envisioned as a way to make the President more … personable, in the way that his sister’s every-teary-eyed declaration about her personal life gives her the ratings her TV shows need.
But running a country is different from hosting a TV show, and between brother and sister it is clear that acting is not in their blood. Because even when the President talks about his sadness, even when he is waxing nostalgic about his father or mother or uh, Alan’s friendship, it is difficult to feel for him.
It might also be because what we expect of him at this point is compassion. Is kindness. Is just the most basic of requirements: an apology.
He might apologize for having known about this operation, and not saying no to it, period, full stop, given the ceasefire agreement in light of the BBL. He might apologize for having failed to appear at the Arrival Honors for the SAF 44. He might apologize for having gone to that Mitsubishi plant inauguration instead of Villamor Air Base.
He might apologize for having spoken about the peace process, before talking about finding justice. He might apologize for having waited for Purisima’s resignation, instead of firing him last week.
He might apologize for being the Commander-In-Chief that has no answers, two weeks since that Mamasapano operation turned tragedy.
In a country run by the Aquinos, apologies are apparently never in order.