Not Funny


“The Scream” by Edvard Munch

THEY ARE NO longer amusing, these presidential jokes that are the new serious.

What we expect is sobriety from our chief executive; in fact, we deserve it. Instead we get these copouts-cum-loopholes in the guise of “jokes” that are served as course du jour because, the president states, “Ang paborito ko sa Davao magbiro ng kung ano-ano.” Let me quote Donald Trump and say, “Very unfunny.”

The presidency is not a remote parochial posting from which bawdy innuendoes can regularly be made, or from which sarcastic ripostes and misdirection should emanate. It must be the modulated voice of the people expressing their aspirations in policies securing the national welfare. As a diplomatic platform, the presidency is nonpareil and uniquely enables its occupant to finesse optimal benefits for his country. It is not a hotline for invective and insult. When the president speaks, he does not speak for himself; the presidency is not his personal enclave. In an intimately real sense, the presidency belongs to us all.

For the sake of objectivity and because I sincerely desire the best for this country, I have been trying very hard to give the president the benefit of the doubt. This national divide grieves me; it gives me no pleasure to see the nastiness Pinoys spew at each other, particularly because we have such a capacity for it. I would have wished all that energy directed elsewhere, toward constructive goals that unite us despite our obvious differences.

This is where leadership is required. I can throw my support behind a president I did not elect if he commands my trust by his demeanor and spirit. He must prove his mettle. He must demonstrate that he has the fortitude to rise above politics and breathe in the rarefied atmosphere of values and virtue. I know I am asking much, but the president I will support is a president who inspires. Instead of pandering to his adoring masses to consolidate his support, he chooses to empower even his critics and protect their rights because as the elected president, he more than anyone else in government can do so. The president I will support elevates the national consciousness and does not cater to the dregs of society because it is in our common interest for the sake of posterity to become better individuals now.

Sadly, this president does not do that. He is reactive, defensive, erratic, and impulsive. I am glad we have no nuclear armaments because his finger would be the last I’d want on that button. He raises it often enough and ungallantly, I should add. I wonder that he wags it so often against his pet peeves. For the reasons he objects to them, he can very well point that finger at himself, for he has likewise been rude and a bully and dismissive of painful history. I have wrestled against my impulses to perceive the good in him that his adoring 16.6M see, and while I can understand what they love I cannot love it myself. It simply isn’t enough for the presidency.

He breaks his promises; he ridicules God, the clergy, the people, foreigners, well-nigh everyone who doesn’t see things his way; he makes policy statements his cabinet and staff can’t confirm; he cites statistics that aren’t supported by fact; he reduces issues to the starkest black-and-white terms imaginable (“Pro-human rights ka? ‘T___ina, pro-drugs ka pala!”) and dumbs down the discussion to maudlin sentiment (“You don’t agree with me, you pro-US military? Don’t bother with a coup…come to Malacañang and I’ll swear you in…” “I don’t think I will last 6 years…”) ; he endorses violence and subtly encourages vigilantism; he makes momentous fantastic pronouncements that fall through, after which he routinely classifies them as a joke. Inter alia, as they say, and I’m not laughing.

What profoundly worries me is that the world might think all Filipinos find this acceptable. That because he is a president who is consistently described by the international media as “widely popular,” the global community might think this is who we are as a people. It makes me want to scream, “No, we are not!”

I know people who supported him during the campaign who now regret their choice. If not, they are at least giving pause. One of them is glad she was disenfranchised and (as she puts it) didn’t waste her vote on him. His die-hard supporters would probably think this makes the rest of us very happy (this is how things look in their black-and-white world). I admit I am glad there is a creeping “buyer’s remorse” because this tells me objectivity and rational thinking still exist in the Philippines.

But to be happy that we are in this rut…that the president is intelligible even to his cabinet and staff…that he is unable to grasp crucial treaties such as the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and blusters his way through foreign and domestic policy, freeing rebels of all stripes and pushing federalism and the war on drugs above every issue? No I cannot be happy about this. And I find his daily stand-up routine decidedly, lamentably, not funny.

Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
    or you yourself will be just like him.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
    or he will be wise in his own eyes.
Proverbs 26:4-5
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