Doing nothing about doing nothing

Vantage Point | BusinessWorld

You know what they say about protesting too much, but that’s what the Aquino government has been doing since student activists coined the term “Noynoying” to mean “not doing anything despite the need to do something.”

Malacañang has mobilized its huge stable of photo- and videographers to disprove the suspicion that’s rapidly morphing into a conclusion, and already widespread long before the youth group Anakbayan coined the term, that Benigno Aquino III is more preoccupied with dating rather than assessing typhoon damage, or with sampling Manila night life rather than defusing a hostage crisis — and very recently, with sleeping till 11 a.m. after a night of carousing rather than looking into how his government can relieve Filipinos from the inflationary impact of the oil companies’ jacking up pump prices.

The photos and the videos show Aquino scanning important-looking documents, holding meetings, inspecting project sites, and in one instance, lugging around a big pile of documents, despite his having aides to do that for him. Aquino has also been photographed with his most-favored constituencies — some say his real bosses — the police and the military, whose affairs he always attends, and on whom he has showered such benefits as low-cost housing and additional allowances, with which perks such other public servants as teachers, for example, have not been blessed.

In the effort to halt and repair the damage the spread of the term has done both to him and his government, Aquino and his spokespersons have also criticized those who coined the term, with Aquino himself declaring that “some people,” meaning student activists, just won’t recognize his alleged achievements during the 19 months he’s been in office, which supposedly includes, among others, the strong performance of the Philippine Stock Exchange.

But the Palace reaction shows that it’s been hurting, despite Budget Secretary Florencio Abad’s prophecy that the enthusiasm with which not only activists but also bloggers, civil society advocates and otherwise blasè citizens have taken to the term would soon pass. Contrary to Abad’s hopes, however, “Noynoying” has gone viral over the Internet and is threatening to join the company of such other durables as “Imeldific.”

But you have to at least grant that Aquino still cares enough about his image and what the public thinks to protest his name’s being associated with the arts of doing nothing while everything goes to hell, in which Juan Tamad (Juan the Lazy) of Filipino folklore was especially adept.

Part of it could be because he himself suspects that the protesters may be right, if not about his not doing everything, at least about his not doing anything about some things. After all, haven’t he and his officials made it their mantra to declare that about the increases in the prices of petroleum products the only thing they can do is nothing?

That laid-back attitude towards escalating gas prices is enough to recall to Filipinos that image they grew up with of Juan Tamad lying under a guava tree waiting for the ripe fruit to fall into his mouth. Except that gas prices aren’t likely to fall no matter how long Aquino and company wait and hope for the best — not while declaring for all the world and the oil companies to hear that no, they can’t do anything about it.

Never mind. Aquino and company can always claim that protesting the coining of “Noynoying” to describe his work ethic would be to do something. But another Juan, namely Juan Ponce Enrile, objects.

For those who can still remember, Enrile’s signal achievement in life has been to reinvent himself as a democrat despite his years of dedicated service to the Marcos klepto-tyranny. Enrile now says Aquino III shouldn’t be taking the term seriously and suggests that he just laugh it off.

Enrile — on whom the title “honorable” is now attached as a senator and as Senate President in one more demonstration of the truth that there’s no justice in this world — says he himself was called all sorts of names, among them “matador,” “diktador,” and “martial law administrator,” but that he simply ignored the name-calling and the name-callers.

Enrile was obviously recalling his martial law days, when the most preferred term when referring to him was “fascist,” a term he doesn’t seem to remember — although, in one interview in 1971, he referred to himself, while executing the Nazi salute and clicking his heels, as “the Number Two fascist in the land,” Marcos being Number One.

In fact he was never referred to as “matador” either. That’s a tag that more closely means bullfighter rather than butcher. Neither was Enrile referred to as “diktador,” that term being reserved for his boss Marcos, who was, after all everyone’s dictator including Enrile’s. As for “martial law administrator,” that wasn’t a label but a description — because, as Secretary and later Minister of National Defense, that was what he was.

Interesting that Enrile can’t even accurately recall the names he was being called during the martial law period, and didn’t mention how he was referred to after, for example during the presidency of Corazon Aquino, who, at one point, called him an annoying mosquito for his (allegedly) perennial masterminding of the many failed coup attempts his henchman Gregorio Honasan kept launching to restore authoritarian rule.

But what’s even more interesting is Enrile’s trying to tutor Aquino III in the arts of ignoring his constituencies’ complaints, as those are currently embodied in the term “Noynoying.” Enrile was actually saying that what some of those constituencies are complaining about doesn’t matter. Indeed it didn’t matter during the martial law period, when no one in the Marcos dictatorship, least of all Marcos and Enrile, cared about what the people living in their archipelago of fear were thinking, feeling, or saying. But shouldn’t it matter now, when a democracy’s supposedly in place in these isles of fun?

Enrile’s thoughts on the subject should remind us all that for all the lip-service this country’s so-called leaders habitually pay to democracy, authoritarianism is still a living malignancy in the brains and instincts of Philippine officialdom. Among the primary symptoms of the infection are the continuing violations of human rights in both city and countryside, and the persistence of warlordism and military rule in furtherance of counter-insurgency that, despite protests, Aquino III hasn’t done anything about except to let them happen.

As for Enrile’s advising Aquino III to do nothing about “Noynoying,” wouldn’t that itself be a form of the “Noynoying” Aquino III has been demonstrating on the matter of human rights and such other issues as rising gas prices?

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Published in Business World
March 22, 2012

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