Look who’s talking—or reacting
When does a satirical performance go from a “joke” to an insult or a threat? Apparently, it depends—on who’s talking. When it’s President Duterte who “orders” a police provincial commander to “kill everybody” in his new place of assignment, the President is merely kidding, engaging in hyperbole, or pulling the public’s leg. We are not supposed to take offense.
But when a group of students, specifically the members of Skimmers, a student organization at the University of the Philippines Visayas, puts on a “cheer” performance that skewers, among others, the media, government policies and the President himself, they are “crossing the line” and insulting the government, if not the country.
It doesn’t seem to matter to pro-Duterte bashers that when the cheer routine contained the words “let’s kill this President,” this was followed by “charot!” which originated as gayspeak to mean a joke.
Indeed, the entire routine was a satirical, semicomic if rather pointed commentary on social and political issues. If anything, the main target of the performance seemed to be the media, represented by the cheer dancers clad in pink uniforms and holding outsize microphones, especially the lead “commentator” who brandished a microphone almost as big (and heavy?) as a barbell.
But the routine covered other matters as well, ranging from, as a statement of the National Union of Students of the Philippines mentioned: ending the culture of impunity, putting a stop to the commercialization of education, upholding the public character of state universities, and the need for legislators to focus on propeople laws. The student organization noted that “UP Visayas’ Cheering Competition has been a venue to tackle social issues being faced by each and every Filipino youth. Through the years, it has made itself not just a show of entertainment but also a venue to fearlessly feature social realities—realities that speak of the struggles of youth for education, of farmers’ rights to their own lands, of women’s rights to equality and of everyone’s struggle (for) just and lasting peace among others.”
Amid this slew of controversial issues certainly deserving of public attention, supporters of the Duterte administration could only focus on what they deemed were grave threats and even inciting to sedition.
“Inciting to sedition” is especially alarming, since the charge has been repeatedly used against critics of the Duterte regime, including Vice President Leni Robredo, former senator Antonio Trillanes, civil society leaders and even some priests and bishops.
A firestorm of angry tweets, posts and blogs, much of it coming from the social media troops of Duterte followers, followed close on the heels of the video of the Skimmers’ routine, which quickly became viral upon its posting. In a particularly chilling move, the identities of the leaders and members of the Skimmers were posted on some pro-Duterte Facebook pages, which, given the “culture of impunity” that the cheerers decried, certainly put them in danger. Thankfully, the posts have since been taken down after being reported.
The student council of UP Visayas pointed out, though, that the attacks against the Skimmers “intensified” when Overseas Workers Welfare Administration deputy executive director Mocha Uson posted a clip of the routine on her personal blog. This, said the students, “inspired Duterte supporters to send video threats to several Skimmers cheerers, post their photos without consent… and red-tag the University along with its University Student Council.”
In reaction, UP Visayas students and other netizens began using the hashtag #HandsOffSkimmers through Twitter.
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo has shrugged at the troll army’s campaign of harassment directed at the Skimmers, arguing that it was “only natural” for the President’s supporters to react that way. Malacañang would not intervene to caution them, he added, because “it’s a free country.”
The President’s rabid partisans ought to be reminded of that, and also of a Filipino saying: “Ang pikon talo”—the thin-skinned is always the loser. Given their leader’s proclivity for insults, crude language, crass manners and downright dangerous rhetoric, it’s the height of hypocrisy for them to now foam at the mouth in reaction to what is clearly a satirical performance. If expressing the wish to kill somebody is reprehensible, even if plainly said as a joke, why should this moral injunction apply to students and everybody else—but not to this President, whose words happen to be the most powerful in the land?
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