Thursday ∗ 29 Jan 2015

the tale of the absent President: the Mamasapano clash (updated)

today, the nation watched and cried and grieved as the 42 slain police commandos of the Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police arrived in Manila in coffins.

the members of the cabinet were present, as were Senators Bongbong Marcos and Nancy Binay, former First Lady Imelda Marcos, former President Fidel Ramos, and Vice President Jejomar Binay.

President Noynoy Aquino was nowhere in sight. there was no member of the Aquino family representing him. there is no valid reason for this absence.

the statement from presidential spokesperson Abigal Valte adds insult to injury.

“The President did not skip the arrival honors today, it presupposes he was originally scheduled to attend it, which was not the case,” she said.

but it is clear that the President “skipped” the ritual at Villamor Air Base today, because well, he isn’t there. because he should have been there. because it is what people expect. it is what the slain soldiers deserve.  

and Valte would be correct that the President was not originally scheduled to attend this Villamor Airbase ritual. but that only point to the fact that no one knew that 44 police commandos would be killed in action in Maguindanao. no one knew that 42 of them would come home to Manila in coffins.

and lest Valte and Malacañang imagine that they are going to get away with spinning this via rhetoric: the President “skipped” the Villamor Air Base ritual because what is expected is for the President and his cabinet and his family, to drop everything and deem the death of 44 police commandos in action more important than any other event that’s on their calendars.

(update) Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma has since come out with another statement from the Palace:

“Sa amin pong monitoring hindi naman yan majority view (Based on our monitoring, that is not the majority view).”

that the Palace even imagines that the task at hand is to see how many people are actually angry and disappointed about the President’s absence in today’s Villamor Air Base ritual is absolutely unthinking and insensitive. it reveals to us how what matters to them are numbers, which will always lie, especially when what they are looking at is “online sentiment.” one wonders how they even measure that. who do they count? how do they count those who have fallen silent? how do they know that the silence is not borne of dismay and disgust? where lies the majority and the minority in social media?

the blame must also be pinned on mainstream and online media, insisting on talking about reactions to this President’s actions by invoking “the netizens,” as if that is even a collective they can measure. isn’t it that the netizens, for all intents and purposes is “the public”? using “the netizens” as a term allows this government to imagine that this is but a noisy minority. it is media that allows them to do that.

in the end — and one wishes the Palace could understand this — it doesn’t matter that the President will lead the necrological services for the police commandos tomorrow. what matters is that today, when nation needed to see him at Villamor Air Base, he decided to go about his day as scheduled, as if 42 police commandos did not just die in action and come home in coffins.

When the bodies of the MH17 crash victims arrived in The Netherlands, the Dutch King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima, and the rest of the Dutch royal family, along with government officials sat and watched and cried and mourned with nation as the coffins were brought from planes to hearses. Nothing was more important than that ritual for the dead.

When the bodies of 42 police commandos killed in action arrived today at the Villamor Air Base, there was no President of the Philippines in sight, and no member of the Aquino family to sit and cry and mourn with nation. The President was at the inauguration of a car plant in Laguna with officials from Japan. I am certain everyone at that inauguration was surprised he decided to forego the ritual for the dead.

There are some things that we cannot forgive. This is one of them.

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