IT was very sad to read “The Mourning After” (Rogue Magazine, March 2015) by Manolo Quezon, Undersecretary of the Presidential Communications Development Strategic Planning Office, which talks about how the President is “facing the impossibility of extricating his personal history from the national narrative.”
The essay talked about how, when the President invokes his own grief in the face of the grieving families of the fallen 44 SAF policemen, he is commiserating the only way he knows how–reveal how deep his sadness remains over the loss of his own father. It explains how the President is but a product of his upbringing, where being the only son of public figures disallows him from the clichés of displaying public emotion.
It was disheartening to realize that this is the kind of man our President is. It adds a layer of sadness to the fact of having watched him, trying but failing to appease a nation angered and offended, trying but failing to grieve with the families of the SAF44.
Because now USec Quezon has put into words what we have known all along: there is a crisis within this man we have [or the PCOS machines]elected to the highest seat of power. It’s a crisis that is as large as the President’s sister Kris’s need for attention.
But this is the thing: it also reveals the President to be like his youngest sister who, for all declarations about generosity and kindness, about charity and religiosity, seems stuck on an overwhelming self-centeredness. For Kris it is the need to be the star of the show, to declare to the world what it is she is doing, what it is that makes her great. The acts of generosity are bound to the need to put herself in the spotlight.
For the President, it has been about being away from that spotlight, just doing bare minimum and coasting through – as he did during his time in Congress and the Senate. Thrust into the spotlight and made to run for President after his mother’s death, that light could only reveal his inability to go beyond self. In the face of the Mamasapano Tragedy, his inability to go beyond his own sorrows.
The grief of the SAF44 women
In the case of Mamasapano, though, what one cannot understand is how the President has been unable to see these women who have been left behind, to see these children who have lost their fathers to an avoidable tragedy.
Because one would like to think that the President, who had lost a father to nation, would look upon these children and know how they feel, and know the words they need to hear to feel better. One would like to imagine that the President, upon seeing the ways in which his mother and four sisters grieved for his father, would know exactly what to say to the SAF 44 women.
He would know that what they need to hear are the wheels of justice turning, the kind his mother and sisters listened for, too. He would know that what they need are answers to their questions, and in lieu of those answers the assurance that they have someone on their side, searching for the same answers. He would know that these wives and mothers need to be spoken to with sensitivity, and that what they need is compassion and kindness.
They needed to cry with him, as head of state, that day that the bodies of their husbands and sons arrived at Villamor Air Base. I imagine that if we were working with the President’s personal history, all he needs to see is how he functions as the son and brother to the mothers and wives of the SAF44. And he needed to be that son, that brother, who would hold the hands of these women as they cried, embrace them as they grieved, sit and listen and repeat the reassuring words that they need to hear.
All our sorrows
Because the President’s constant use of his personal history to try and appease the SAF44 families, and now USec Quezon’s essay, remind of one thing: that our sorrows are the same.
And certainly we carry these sorrows with us wherever we go, whatever we do. As the President does. But faced with someone who knows of the same sorrows, we know we have sadly found a kindred spirit, and we know that it is the right time to go beyond ourselves and embrace this person whose grief is fresh, whose mourning has just begun.
This is what we expect of the President, even as he carries with him the weight of his father’s death. Because it is what we all do, those of us who carry the weight of death with us wherever we go, no matter how long ago those deaths had happened.
But the President has instead focused on making sure that the families are cared for, that the mothers know their grandchildren will get free education, that the wives know they will be given homes and financial assistance. Yet the President must also know that these are not answers to these families’ questions. He must know that none of these count as a form of justice.
The personal is political, we are reminded by USec Quezon. And in the case of this President, it seems the personal is the downfall of our politics, if not its pitfall.
How sad for the women of SAF44. How sad for nation.