Column: Gringo vs JimPa, and the sense of exceptionalism

A skirmish on Twitter. Published on March 15, 2011

ALMOST THREE weeks ago, Sen. Gringo Honasan and musician Jim Paredes traded taunting tweets. That doesn’t sound like much, but in fact the harsh exchange turned out to be both controversial (it animated online discussion and was reported as news) and consequential (it raised substantial questions, for instance about the nature of historical awareness and public discourse in the Age of Twitter). It also drove home the point that the legacy of Edsa 1986 remains very much a work in progress.

At a time when our attention has turned to the devastation in Japan and the threat of radiation from its earthquake-wrecked nuclear reactors, or to the dynamics of impeachment in the Senate and the puzzling inability of our political system to demand accountability from itself, or to the increasing desperation of Libya’s rebels and the muting of the popular uprisings in the Middle East, tracking a 25-year-old debate seems like a wasted opportunity. I would like to think otherwise, in part because Honasan’s answers during the exchange clue us to why our Edsa-restored democracy remains dysfunctional.

The occasion was a Newsbreak-sponsored “tweetcon”—an online conference conducted through Twitter and the use of its now-iconic 140-character messages—held on Feb. 25, on the 25th anniversary of Edsa. Things got really interesting when Paredes, whose “Handog ng Pilipino sa Mundo” caught the spirit of the Edsa revolution in its five-minute frame, took aim at Honasan, one of the tweetcon’s guests. (I am using TJ Dimacali’s story in GMAnews.tv. as source; punctuation and the occasional misspelling are as found in the log of tweets included in the story.)

In the space of about five minutes, Paredes wrote three tweets in succession:

#tweetconph Major players in EDSA came for various reasons. Gringo, Enrile, RAM had an agenda different from the millions who were there.

#tweetconph They joinde EDSA to save their assess against Marcos..When it was safe again, they launched their coups.

#tweetconph They owe the people an apology. They were plain users without the nation’s good in mind.

Honasan responded first to another tweet, about the alleged opportunism of reformist military rebels like him, then, about eight minutes after Paredes’ owe-an-apology tweet, rounded on Paredes, a member of the famous Apo Hiking Society musical group:

 @jimparedes Until U have faced the business end of a gun as a soldier, for God, country & family HERE, U know nothing. I didn’t go abroad.

The reference to going abroad is of course to Paredes, who emigrated to Australia in 2006 but remains very much a fixture in Philippine art and politics. But the self-righteousness of the Marcos-trained soldier is all Honasan’s.

Paredes’ twin ripostes came about a minute apart.

@gringo_honasan Until you can be honest about yoyr true motives, then I cant believe you.

@gringo_honasan Until yo can tell us why or even admit you launched those coups causing deaths and economic dislocation, wala ka.

Because Honasan had a previous appointment to go to at noon, he only had time to write two more tweets. The last one was to beg leave; the second to the last one was to hit Paredes again: @jimparedes Get elected first, even as brgy. captain. Then let’s talk.

It is unfortunate that Honasan, an extremely articulate man (no lugubrious Trillanes-talk for him), chose to argue from personality—that is to say, from the limits of his own experience. His first putdown was an appeal to his military career. Nothing wrong with that, per se, except that the distorted military mindset of the Marcos years is plain to see. Before Marcos, it was the soldier’s honor to face the business end of a gun in order to protect the ordinary citizen’s right to speak. Honasan’s tweet (admittedly written under deadline, and confined to only 140 characters) upended the entire soldier-citizen relationship. Now the citizen who depends on the soldier to do his duty “knows nothing.”

Honasan’s second putdown was an appeal to his political career. He enjoined Paredes to win elective office first, even using the discredited line used by traditional politicians, about running in the lowly barangay. In other words, he was arguing from the elitism of the political class, which Marcos used to game the system. Honasan’s penultimate tweet did not only upend the entire politician-citizen relationship; it put his sense of exceptionalism front and center.

* * *

As it happens, the Newsbreak tweetcon on Edsa was not the first time the paths of Honasan and Paredes crossed. On Nov. 17, 1985, about six weeks before the Reform the Armed Forces Movement planned to seize Malacañang, at least according to their original timetable, Honasan went to watch the first of the sellout protest concerts of the Apo Hiking Society.

Honasan recalled the moment in the Inquirer TV documentary, “Edsa 20.”

“Minsan, umatend pa ako noon ng concert ng Apo. Siyempre, uso noon … kanta na kanta na sila ng ‘Bayan Ko,’ no. Tumataas yung balahibo ko noon, at nagtataka yung misis ko, dahil … Sabi niya, Ano’ng nangyayari sa iyo? Sabi ko, Walang kamalay-malay itong mga pakanta-kanta rito na malapit na yung lusob sa Malacañang. Alam mo, excited ako. Excited na may pangamba, na punong-puno ng pagasa—dahil meron kaming iaalay.”

(Once, I even attended a concert of the Apo. Of course, it was the in thing then [to sing “Bayan Ko”] … They kept singing “Bayan Ko.” I was getting goose bumps, and my wife was wondering … She said, “What is happening to you?” I said, “These singers have no idea that the time to attack Malacañang is near.” You know, I was excited. Excited and afraid, and so full of hope—because we had something to offer.)

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Filed under Newsstand: Column, Readings in Media, Readings in Politics

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