The ouster of Puerto Rico’s governor, Ricardo Rossello, may seem distant and irrelevant for the Philippines, but from the first protest demonstrations that erupted against him, leading finally to his ouster less than a month later, I could see the uncanny parallels with the Philippines.
We have a shared past, political and cultural, both Puerto Rico and the Philippines having been part of the Spanish empire. In 1898, the Treaty of Paris ceded to the United States Guam, the Philippines and Puerto Rico, to end the Spanish-American war.
I sometimes wonder what would have happened if we didn’t fight to regain our independence from the United States. We would have remained a commonwealth, which is what happened to Puerto Rico. The people of Puerto Rico are US citizens, but cannot vote for an American president or vice president. They do vote for their local officials, headed by a governor.
There are parallels with the politics of the Philippines and Puerto Rico: a tendency toward caudillos or authoritarian leaders, patronage politics, corruption and, when patience wears out, massive and noisy parliaments of the street.
In 2017, Puerto Rico was devastated by a huge hurricane. Recovery has been slow, and people blame the delays on corruption. A safety valve on people’s restlessness has been the relative ease with which people could just flee to the United States when the going got tough, but the discontent continued to simmer.
Then last month, a group called the Center for Investigative Journalism published social media files that had been hacked. The files involved electronic chats involving the governor and 11 of his aides. Referred to as the “Rickyleaks,” the files were laced with profanities and had misogynistic (antiwomen) and homophobic comments, plus threats of harm against politicians and journalists who had criticized the government. Also attacked was singer Ricky Martin, who is openly gay.
The resulting protests were huge and kept going for several days, finally forcing the governor to announce, last week, that he was resigning. A new governor takes over on Aug. 2.
Who would have imagined that private “bro talk” would lead to the downfall of a governor?
I couldn’t help but think of a parallel real-world telenovela in the Philippines. Last November, shortly after violence broke out between UP fraternities Upsilon Sigma Phi and Alpha Phi Beta, someone or some group was able to hack social media exchanges that were supposed to have been among Upsilon brods. More than a thousand pages were posted, and these went viral.
The exchanges make Rickyleaks look mild. In what was now called the “Lonsi” (after Upsilon) leaks, we find page after page of materials where the brods used profanities like prepositions. The materials were filled with vitriol, and an article that appeared in Esquire magazine, “An Almost Complete List of Everyone Insulted in the #Lonsileaks Scandal,” named the sectors that were verbally massacred: women, activists, LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer), victims of martial law, Cory Aquino, “lumad,” Muslims, people of color, other fraternities. The Esquire piece missed out on other assaulted groups: people living with HIV, millennials, the poor, UP faculty and officials, even an African men’s basketball team player.
The reactions were livid, from the groups assaulted, as well as from Upsilon brods themselves. Former Cavite governor Jonvic Remulla resigned from the fraternity. To this day, the fraternity itself has not issued a statement on the leaks.
I thought the Lonsileaks just involved immature local boys, but now, with the Rickyleaks, we can see a real global problem of boys who never grow up, even if they become governors. When the Lonsileaks first appeared, I sighed while talking to other faculty members, noting that some of these little boys are law students and just might end up in high positions some day, maybe even the presidency. But then, they would not be the first.
I am sure these little boys in Puerto Rico and the Philippines and elsewhere will continue with their toxic chats, and will just be a bit more careful about getting hacked.
So, do we just allow all this to die down?
If you have a son, a nephew, a grandchild who speaks that way, you have to ask where they’re picking that up from. And if you truly care for their future, as well as that of the groups they tend to target, then you better begin to talk tough. Times are changing, and people will not be as quick to dismiss toxic masculinity, and its toxic leaks.
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