Furor over protocol
Living in Mindanao can be an existential way of knowing Manila. We know events pass, but we are not there physically to live the reality.
Some historical moments taking place in Manila are not just existential to those in Mindanao. The 1986 People Power Revolution, for instance, had spilled out to my Mindanao city. The night the Marcoses escaped, I had waded through a rambunctious crowd in noisy revelry, dancing in the streets in jubilation. These are extracts of life outside Manila that sometimes Manila people need to know, especially when they write history only from the capital’s lens. The Philippine revolution against both Spain and the United States, for example, was not limited to Manila and its suburbs.
Some Manila events, however, remain existential out of state protocol. Such was the case a few days ago during the 120th anniversary of Philippine Independence.
The procedure went as predictably as such a state ritual could get, under the direction of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines. Indeed, the sight of NHCP Executive Director Vic Badoy, the former mayor of Cotabato City, was enough to assuage us that elements of state protocol were in place.
But because we live in divisive times under a false dichotomy of DDS vs. “Dilawan,” even those rites became another battleground. The guest of honor at the Luneta rites (the President was at the Aguinaldo Shrine in Kawit) was Vice President Leni Robredo, so DDS guns were trained unjustly on her.
Below a photo of the VP saluting the flag came this remark that triggered fierce debate among netizens: “A civilian does NOT salute. A civilian places his or her right hand on the chest. Only the Commander-in-Chief (the President) salutes. We do not have a Deputy Commander-in-Chief. Does she think of herself as someone else?”
The implication was usurpation of the role of the president.
But friends with expertise in protocol history are not existentially distant; if I may refer to one of them, my Inquirer neighbor Ambeth Ocampo, who was NHCP chair from 2002-2011, and chair of our de facto ministry of culture, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts from 2005-2007. Was the VP wrong in saluting? Was protocol breached? Ambeth advised context.
To determine context, it was necessary to establish the precise moment of the salute. The rites usually begin with the raising of the flag when the guest of honor traditionally holds the halyard line, the rope used to hoist the flag. The national anthem is played at that point.
It was, therefore, impossible for the VP to salute at that moment when her hands were holding the halyard line. A colleague in academe, Robert dela Serna (MA Multicultural Education, University of Adelaide; PhD Mathematics Education, University of Melbourne), and I resorted to photo forensics to establish the time frame of the events from media photos.
We were able to pinpoint the exact moment of her salute. After the flag-raising, the guest of honor turned away from the main flagpole that faces Roxas Boulevard, to walk the ceremonial pace toward the Rizal Monument. There she placed the honor wreath, flanked by honor guards. At that point, taps is solemnly played. That was the time VP Robredo saluted. Video footage confirmed our time frame.
Photos were compared of Sen. Dick Gordon who was guest of honor at the June 12 rites at the Barasoain Church in Bulacan. He saluted before the monument of Emilio Aguinaldo. And so did the Bulacan officials in his honor party.
Indeed, protocol dictates that only the president salutes the flag, but that protocol is good only when the national anthem is played. Robredo did not salute when the anthem was played. Photos showed that, as she saluted at the foot of Rizal’s tomb, the flag behind her was already flying.
Pandering to insignificant biases is petty. It divides us not on the basis of essential issues affecting our polity, but through the loss of values that can build us. It is an unsettling irony that no hell was raised by partisans when the President undignified his office with a prurient kiss, and with policies that emanate from impulse, such as the recent “anti-tambay” directive that appears to have led to the death of Genesis “Tisoy” Argoncillo.