Boy Scouts and the ‘Digong salute’
Reader Isabel Escoda writes that a photo on the front page of this newspaper, which came out a few days ago, “looks for all the world like the induction of the Hitler Youth before and during the last World War.”
She wasn’t the only one to notice the uncanny coincidence. Shortly after the photo came out, I spotted a Facebook post with two photos. One is the cited photo of the Boy Scouts doing the “Digong salute” of a raised fist in what is called these days as a “fist bump,” with a beaming President Duterte and adult Scout officials. The other is of Adolf Hitler in front of a crowd of boys giving the Fuhrer the Nazi salute of a stiffly raised arm with open palm.
Indeed, viewing the juxtaposed photos made me shudder in dread and distaste.
But Ms Escoda took note of “one little boy … wearing white shoes” who stood a little separately from the other Scouts, “with his fingers on his face and a skeptical expression.” And she imagined a naughty thought bubble over the boy’s head.
Ms Escoda issued the reminder that “everyone during the Nazi era had to raise their arms and say ‘Heil Hitler’ to their higher-ups and especially to the dreaded Adolf.”
I remember stories from my parents and their contemporaries of how much they resented the demands of Japanese sentries during the Occupation, often enforced with kicks and rifle butts, that every passing Filipino bow from the waist to acknowledge their presence. Years of watching Japanese and Korean shows have taught me that bowing is a practice still in wide use today in Confucian societies.
Refusing to bow in greeting and acknowledgement, especially of someone older or holding a superior position, is taken as an insult and an offense. But to Filipinos, bowing is seen as deeply humiliating, a servile pose, undertaken only under duress. Call this then, and the painful memories they evoke, as the result of a clash of cultures.
The “angelic little boy” who refused to raise his fist in Malacañang, said Ms Escoda, should be seen as a harbinger of hope and courage. She hopes, she said, that he “will grow up good and wise enough to uphold the elusive democracy that seems to keep slipping out of our fingers in this unfortunate RPI (“Republic of P*tang Ina.”)
Is Ms Escoda, along with everybody else who agrees with her, reading too much into this front-page photo? Could it have been the result not so much of coercion and brain-washing as of simple courtesy on the part of the Boy Scouts and the adults with them? After all, we do tend to fall along with whatever is asked of us at a public event, be it raising our hands in the “L” symbol of the Aquinos or the “V” sign much favored by then President FVR.
But then again, the “fist bump” of Mr. Duterte and his supporters also says a lot more than its being just a trendy sign. It strikes me as being particularly aggressive, offensive even. And to see a passel of Boy Scouts displaying the gesture in the august halls of Malacañang is truly disturbing.
So it has come to this: a war of symbols. And you couldn’t get any more ironic or iconic than have Boy Scouts (or Girl Scouts), the embodiment of decency and earnest citizenship, displaying the Digong Fist on the front pages of newspapers.
Where are we headed, indeed? Do the Scout masters, in naming the President the new Chief Scout of the land, a practice they routinely undertake with each new administration, mean to impose on the youth, the hope of our motherland, a role model who uses expletives generously in his speeches (he acknowledged this in front of the Scouts), boasts of the killing of “thousands” in his war on drugs, and openly admits to being a womanizer, even defending colleagues who likewise engage in macho tomfoolery?
I just hope the Boy Scouts in Malacañang forget this episode soon and wipe away the memory of their encounter with our current leader. If not, then indeed, God help our poor “RPI.”
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