PRESIDENT AQUINO betrayed his intolerance of criticisms of his government and exposed poor presidential form before the whole world during last Friday’s YouTube interview. Asked by the 7-year-old Joshua if he believed in Santa Claus and what his Christmas wish would be, Mr. Aquino surprised everyone with a reply that disclosed his irritation at the press and its criticisms of his administration. “Do I believe in Santa Claus?” he said. “Santa Claus is perhaps the personification of … (the) best in people, the idea of generosity. More than anything, we really have to shift, to those of us still left (in) the criticize-anything-and-everything phase to transforming ourselves into how we can assist our neighbor, our sister, our brother or whoever, somebody we don’t even know.”
Poor Joshua. He must have struggled to comprehend what sort of Santa was being painted by the President. To be sure, those older than Joshua had an idea: Santa Claus as a yes-man. The President’s efforts to remotely connect the traditional Santa with his self-serving version ran into a shoal of platitudes and vacuous phrases, perhaps his way of telling how the press should treat his administration: with syrupy regard, with saccharine sweetness.
But really the President missed out on an opportunity to improve on his international cache in the run-up to the Apec Summit in Hawaii. He likewise failed to capitalize on the fact that he was the first leader to be featured on YouTube’s Southeast Asian World View series, which, incidentally, was moderated by Ross LaJeunesse of Google.
For an administration that takes pride in being tech savvy, Mr. Aquino seemed impervious to the possibilities presented to him by two of the biggest and most influential Internet sites in the world to highlight the Philippines’ vibrant democracy. Suddenly forgetting how social networks and the information superhighway have contributed to the democratic wave sweeping the world, a movement that might have started in the Philippines during the Edsa Revolution of 1986, in which the mosquito press like this paper played a part, and in which his late mother became a symbol of People Power, the President suddenly took to task his critics for, well, not being Santa Claus.
Although he didn’t mention the mass media, the President’s remarks clearly revealed his pique at criticisms of his administration being made in the press. In any case, he has been making similar remarks before in public forums. For example, last Oct. 1, Mr. Aquino told a conference of Southeast Asian business leaders in Manila that he was not ready to include the freedom of information bill on his list of priority measures, saying too much transparency could prove a drawback for democracy. “You know, having a Freedom of Information Act sounds so good and noble (but) there’s a tendency of getting information and not really utilizing it for proper purposes,” he said. “There are so many people who will always look at the bottle half-empty, or sometimes the half-empty even becomes the quarter, quarter-full bottle.”
Evident in the President’s remarks is not only his distrust of the press, but also his ignorance of the proper workings of democracy, in which the media and their reports and commentaries contribute to public discourse on issues that affect the people. Mr. Aquino does not entertain observations that his government is underperforming; he wants praise releases, particularly those coming from his spokespersons. He wants to rule over a nation of sheep, not thinking individuals.
The last to pose a question, Joshua had obviously been picked out by LaJeunesse in order to provide a cute and photogenic and lighthearted close to the public forum, which had been tackling such serious, heavyweight topics as security and economy. And without guile or deception, without the usual minefield laid out by cynical journalists, Joshua asked a perfectly innocent question. But out of the mouth of a babe apparently sprang the question that has unleashed a torrent of ugly truths. Now the press knows what the President expects as gift this Christmas. Will the press oblige, to the lasting discredit of Philippine democracy?
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