The fourth edition, as it were, of an annual roundup of anti-Aquino criticism. Published on November 26, 2013.
At least once a year in the last three years, I’ve tried to document the patterns of criticism directed against President Aquino. I got started because of what I thought was unfair criticism; I continued partly because of the vigorous, sometimes orientation-altering feedback, and partly because tracing the patterns can be instructive and useful to understanding politics, Philippine-style.
The documentation is hardly comprehensive; my so-called field notes are only preliminary; indeed, as I wrote at the get-go about the patterns I discerned, “there are others, some of them perhaps better objects of study than the ones I’ve chosen.”
In “Politico, Inglisero, hacendero” (written in August 2010, when he was only six weeks in office), I outlined three variations of what was essentially the same anti-Aquino theme: He was not what his presidential campaign projected him to be. Either he was “merely another politician” (a view that rejected the moral nature of his anticorruption mandate), or he was an English-speaking figure “essentially alienated from his constituency” (a view that discounted his preference for speaking in Filipino), or he was and would always be a “fundamentally class-determined” scion of the landowning class.
In “Lost boy, playboy, bad boy” (July 2011), I proposed that the three basic patterns of criticism I had identified the year before “continue to hold a year after the inauguration.” At the same time, though, they had given rise to new variations: Either President Aquino was lost (“out of his league, in over his head, or sinking under the weight of the presidency”), or he was partial to playtime (whether as a “serial boyfriend” unable to make long-term commitments or because of his “supposed addiction to video or computer games”), or he was “a vengeful man,” out to punish Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her closest supporters.
In “Clueless, couldn’t-care-less, unscrupulous” (written in October 2012), I used the intense blowback against the Cybercrime Prevention Act, which President Aquino had signed into law only a few weeks previously, to trace “three patterns in anti-Aquino criticism… firmly taking hold in the political imagination.” It may be that these patterns had evolved from those I pointed to in 2011 (or that, having covered the same ground before, I was predisposed to see the similarities), but I thought there was a strong resemblance between the two sets. Either President Aquino continued to preside over “amateur hour” in Malacañang, or he was truly “indifferent,” or he was deviously ambitious: “The President, the critique goes, has no qualms or scruples about consolidating power, whether it is in the Supreme Court, the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao or (the issue of the day) the Senate itself.”
The catastrophe that is Supertyphoon “Yolanda” has sharpened public discussion about a once highly popular President’s manifest or revealed shortcomings. Again, there may be other patterns in criticism, but these two are the most frequently used, and the most damaging, I see.
“Incompetent.” As letter-writer Wilbur Dee notes in today’s Letters page, President Aquino and his administration have endured “bitter criticism” in Yolanda’s wake. He makes a valiant defense of the President, but it is a defense based on Dee’s own three-part summary of the accusations thrown at Aquino: “He is not focused, he is unfit to administer the country, he does not have the competence to take command in times of crises and disasters.”
In other words, the President-is-incompetent trope. Of the very many who rushed to both standard and social media to make the case, it was noted film director Peque Gallaga’s epic rant on Facebook which got the widest (indeed, globe-spanning) attention.
He raged against Aquino, for his inability to get to Tacloban City fast enough, for making light of the tragedy, for his “unconscionable” act of “playing politics with people’s lives.” And then he said: “Either you defend this man or you defend the people that this man is ignoring. Don’t believe that the people are his ‘boss.’ This was a piece of advertising sound byte created by showbiz experts to get the unthinking masses out there to swallow this uniquely unqualified man. This man who is totally unprepared for the most difficult job in the country.”
(This is not the place to offer elaborate counter-arguments, but it is good to note, as many people have already done so, that Gallaga offers a false dichotomy; it is not, in fact, an either-or choice. And really, the masses won’t know what’s good for them until someone like Gallaga speaks up? Now that is a sound byte that is hard to swallow.)
“Insensitive.” Gallaga has already adverted to President Aquino’s reported callousness, but perhaps it was columnist Niñez Cacho Olivares’ dissection of “The Real Noynoy” which best exemplifies the case for an insensitive President. Her column pulled out all the stops: the Yolanda aftermath has undone Aquino, she wrote, because he has “unwittingly unveiled himself as his natural self: Selfish, insensitive, uncaring, insincere, petty, divisive and vindictive president [sic], who uses his power to bring down his political foes.” (That, right there, is almost a recapitulation of three years’ worth of anti-Aquino criticism.)
Olivares, like Gallaga, alludes to the incident with the Tacloban businessman whose business had been looted, as proof that Aquino is insensitive. “Noynoy, so insensitive and uncaring, sarcastically replied that ‘well, you didn’t die, did you?’”
A terrible moment, to be sure, but Olivares, like Gallaga, read sarcasm where others saw mere matter-of-factness. Worse, they failed to point out what it was the businessman wanted: He wanted the President to declare martial law. Not exactly the sort of thing Olivares would want in a “divisive and vindictive president.”