Sisyphus’ Lament

Why is it so easy to hate Sen. Tito Sotto?

Singapore—Sen. Tito Sotto was lambasted for four days, by critics—from Vice President Leni Robredo to Mocha Uson’s “troll influencers,” over his “na-ano” joke about single mothers. But Twitter mob justice is selective.

National Artist F. Sionil José never trended. He told Chinese-Filipinos: “If you say you are with us… Then go shout it
from the rooftops…. Otherwise, leave this country…” (Philippine Star, 6/21/2015). He expounded in the Inquirer’s July 26, 2015, front page, citing “the truth that lies under the veneer of hypocrisy” and “self-evident reality.”


Around that time, Tiffy Uy set the University of the Philippines’ grade record with a 1.004 average. A youth issue emerged after every feature on her was trolled by quips that she was not Filipino enough.

When she graduated with a 4.9/5.0 grade average from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that year, Carmela Lao described in the Inquirer how she won an international math competition when she was 12. She was traumatized by reactions that she was not “tunay (real) na Pilipino.” She linked racism toward Uy to “shortsighted and insensitive people… masquerading as patriotic Filipinos… sufficiently prominent to attack an entire ethnic population.”


Young Chinese-Filipinos still wonder why all this bigotry was invisible.

“Muslim na mananakop (invaders)” never trended. Candidate Mar Roxas said this in the 2016 presidential debates. There was no reaction to the honest mistake outside Mindanao.

“TV Patrol Chavacano” posted a police sketch of a Zamboanga bombing suspect on Sept. 18, 2015. It had a note: “Muslim type.” Muslim Filipinos up to Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Gov. Mujiv Hataman posted their pictures on Facebook with the caption, “I am a ‘Muslim type’ and I am not a bomber.”

There was no national outcry. Manila media only carried the story 3-4 days later, shortly before Eid al-Adha.

“Mas masahol pa sa hayop (worse than animals)” never sparked the same fury. Sen. Manny Pacquiao described homosexuals so in a viral February 2016 interview. Philippine LGBT groups and international media crucified him. Sponsors such as Nike dropped him. Yet a Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines spokesman defended that he was merely citing the Bible. Fans burned Nikes at the Cebu Coliseum.

Returning to women, there was no comparable anger when an alleged sex tape of Sen. Leila de Lima was almost played on Congress’ floor in September 2016. Or when fake news sites claimed Robredo was pregnant in November 2016. Or when President-elect Rodrigo Duterte catcalled a GMA7 reporter in June 2016.

Sotto hardly compares to congressmen asking De Lima’s paramour, “When did you climax?” and whether it was Storm Signal No. 1 or No. 5.


Is our outrage inconsistent? Why punish Sotto for “na-ano” but not after Hataman asked for a public apology when he wore a thobe (Arab robe) as a Halloween costume on “Eat Bulaga”?

Khizr Khan’s son was a Muslim-American army captain killed in Iraq. Decrying anti-Muslim rhetoric, he raised a copy of the US Constitution at the 2016 Democratic convention and asked if then candidate Donald Trump had read it.

This would never resonate in the Philippines. Our human rights mindset is based on personalities, not principles. The rhetoric of anti-Sotto protests cites friends who are single mothers, never a deeper sense of the nation’s defining values.

And it is so much easier for a liberal, educated, middle-class Inquirer reader to curse Sotto (that graduate of Wanbol University who represents the so-called stupid vote) than those who clothe prejudice in patriotism and religion.

José is still praised when he pontificates. Legislation for Muslim regions stalled, and opinion polls showed higher hostility among voters with less knowledge of it.

Pacquiao won in the 2016 elections and debated Sen. Risa Hontiveros against the Anti-Discrimination Bill. Congressmen
opposing the death penalty paid a far higher political price than those who asked lurid questions about De Lima’s “init ng katawan (body heat).”

Perhaps the joke was never Sotto.

React: [email protected], Twitter @oscarfbtan, facebook.com/OscarFranklinTan.

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