It's Not About You, Sir

(published 01 February 2014, MST)

Many people have suggested the President fire his speechwriter for the series of bungled addresses in the past few weeks.
It started when he welcomed Pope Francis in Malacanang on January 16. In what was later described as an “interesting” speech, Mr. Aquino talked about how the clergy in the Philippines was not on his side in undoing the effects of bad governance of his predecessors. Trying perhaps to sound witty, he told the pope that the Catholic religious in the country did not even spare his thinning hairline from their criticism.
Just this Wednesday, as he addressed a nation still in shock over the brutal killing of the 44 members of the Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police, President Aquino made no mention of holding the Moro Islamic Liberation Front accountable for the deaths of the elite policemen. They died because they were pursuing terrorists holed up in the “territory” of the MILF in Mamasapano town.
The MILF later said the operation had not been sufficiently coordinated, hence the deaths.
As if devoid of sensitivity, Mr. Aquino also made a categorical pitch for the swift passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, notwithstanding the fact that the other party was the same MILF on whose “territory” the 44 men were killed.
Peace in Mindanao needs to still be pursued, of course, but what happened last weekend should be reason enough to go slow and to evaluate the many ways the peace process could still be threatened and compromised. There are things that are non-negotiable.
Most recently, and most glaringly during the necrological services for the slain policemen on Friday morning, President Aquino was again off-tangent when he spent an inordinate amount of time talking about himself and how he dealt with the loss of his own father who also died for the country.
He had been  watching television, he narrated, when he learned that his father, the former Senator Ninoy Aquino Jr., had been shot at the Manila tarmac in 1983. He had wanted to be angry but he restrained himself.  
Perhaps it was President Aquino’s way of telling the policemen’s grieving kin and comrades that he knew and understood how they felt.
Unfortunately, Mr. Aquino likely only succeeded in alienating the families even more.
In the first place, he had not been forthcoming about the extent of his -- and suspended PNP Director General Alan Purisima’s --participation in the failed mission. The thinking is that by seeking to redeem Purisima’s reputation and gunning for some recognition for the capture of the two terrorists, the policemen were sent to their deaths.
Second, the late Senator Aquino’s circumstances were starkly different from the fallen men’s. Nobody disputes that the loss of a father is painful. But the comparison just does not hold, and the absence of somber tone in President Aquino’s speech made him sound like he could not wait to finish speaking.
No, he did not really understand them. If he did, he would have dropped everything in his appointment book to be present at Villamor Air Base on Thursday morning as the bodies arrived.
If he really felt for them, he would have offered sincere condolences instead of inserting his own family’s all-too-familiar story in the speech. This is their moment, and the President need not act like some photobomber shifting the focus away from them and into how “kawawa” he is.
If he were serious about pronouncing them heroes, he would have stated in his speech, categorically and firmly, that he would make those responsible for their slaughter accountable. Instead, Mr. Aquino promised that the hunt for the remaining terrorist would continue. So what now, more men would be sent to their deaths?
Sometimes one wonders whether the speechwriter, whoever he or she is, was sabotaging the President by putting what seem to be all the wrong words in the President’s mouth.
Then again, if somebody gave you words which did not convey what you, as chief executive, really wanted to say, would you still utter it like an automaton? Certainly not! The moment the President utters the words, lending his own voice to the strung-together letters, those are not anymore the speechwriter’s words. They’re his, 100 percent.
This is not so much a criticism of Mr. Aquino who in recent days seems to have done and said all the wrong things. It’s a desperate plea for a leader to stop being so self-absorbed and making everything about himself.
This is a crucial juncture in our nation’s life. It’s make or break. We don’t wish him to fail, because his failure is ours, as well. We just wish he would...step up.