Clowning Around

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     LAST Monday, I was watching the livestream of the House of Representatives deliberations on the proposed bill granting Duterte “emergency powers” to supposedly handle the COVID-19 pandemic. I tuned in, fully expecting that it would be hours upon hours of non-stop non-deliberations, full of meandering speeches, pompous statements, and gratuitous glad-handing towards Natutulog-in-Chief/President Duterte.

    Not to mention suspensions of the deliberations. So, so many suspensions.

    But during one of the suspensions, something odd happened. The Speaker of the House and modern floor lamp Alan Peter Cayetano started gathering other legislators in attendance. They formed what can only be described as a grid of House representatives along with Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, and then held up what looked like a sign made of Manila paper. As the livestream camera could not zoom in, the actual content of the sign wasn’t visible in the feed. After this, the House continued its session.

    I would find out later on that Cayetano and Medialdea held up a grade-school quality sign (with sincere apologies to actual grade school students who do much, much better work), containing the following text:

    “Together with doctors and frontliners, we went to work for you, so please stay home for us!”

    I would be face-palming excessively had we not been advised by doctors to avoid touching our faces.

    Now under normal circumstances, there would have been perhaps only a smattering of offense expressed, with the usual Duterte Death Squad trolls spinning the sign as some sort of message of hope and inspiration or other such nonsense.

    But Luzon is under quarantine, and most people are at home, on their Internet connections, watching. And so the indignation was loud, the backlash was swift, and the memes were merciless.

    Here’s the thing about the Internet: Once you release something into the wild, it gains a life of its own. And so the photo of Cayetano and Medialdea holding up the message on Manila paper quickly became the same image but with a blank sheet. A blank canvass, if you will, for the kind of savagery that only the Internet can deliver. A few choice ones were collected by Scout Magazine on their Twitter timeline, which you can find at https://twitter.com/scoutmagph.

    In fact, the backlash was so bad that Cayetano addressed it the very next day, claiming he would “do it again” if it got people to read it and stay home. I’m fairly certain many people felt like doing the opposite of staying at home and maintaining social distancing with Cayetano after that.

    It is precisely that level of clownery that gives people reason to doubt the sincerity of this administration and its enablers. When legislators are too busy either patting their own backs or scratching Duterte’s, it inspires contempt rather than confidence that the jobs they’re doing aren’t just for Duterte’s benefit.

    As luck would have it, the Senate, despite its own roster of sycophants and clowns, let restraint prevail, and modified the proposed bill to limit Duterte’s power to realign funding and removed the proposed power to take over businesses, except for refusal or inability to comply with directives. A deserved, if not rare, hat-tip to the Senate.

    All that is left is for Duterte to sign the bill once it reaches his office, and get to work. Given Duterte’s recent, if not frequent, absences from the public eye since the quarantine was put into effect, perhaps we should manage our expectations and prepare for the “urgent” bill to lapse into law instead?