Again another outrage fad is erupting and this time it centres around a student of the University of the Philippines Los Banos campus (UPLB) confronting presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte with some pointed questions recently. The media drama which climaxed with a spate of online bullying this student copped from furious Duterte supporters and the spectacular apology for mis-reporting the incident issued by “social news network” Rappler.com is now the stuff of legend and one for the “online journalism” textbooks.
To be fair, the propriety (or impropriety) in the manner with which the UPLB student fielded his questions to Duterte is open to debate with Duterte’s supporters claiming it was bastos (rude) and showed little respect for a presidential candidate. Observers are, rightly so, left to render their own judgment over how rude or proper this student conducted himself.
In terms of the actual content of the student’s address to Duterte, the phrase that attracted the most outrage and sparked the most debate was this snippet:
[Translated by Rappler.com: “Sir, I hope you will answer my question directly. I am asking it in a straightforward manner so you may be able to go already.”]
Sir, sana pakisagot lang po ng diretso kasi nagtatanong po kami ng diretso dito para po makauwi na kayo.
Understandably, to some extent, some have empathised with possible offense Duterte could have taken to being addressed this way by a young person. In the Philippines, after all, there remains a deeply-ingrained culture of deference to the elderly. Needless to say, the sight of a young person addressing a significantly older person in a confronting manner still rubs most Filipinos the wrong way.
Just the same, this does not excuse the orgy of online bullying allegedly perpetrated by Duterte’s supporters since. Some have decried the “biased” reporting Rappler reporter Pia Ranada was perceived to have applied to her original report. Duterte’s supporters insist that Ranada purposely painted Duterte in a bad light by highlighting the awkwardness of the situation and did not take into account the fuller context of what had transpired.
Neither does it help that UPLB students (being part of an elite university) are perceived to be arrogant and elitist by the wider community of Filipino youth activists and campaign volunteers. Indeed, observers were quick to point out that the manner with which the student delivered his questions revealed a less-than-proficient command of the English language thanks to the evidently flawed grammar and sentence construction observed.This quickness to judge people on the basis of their school and English twang (or lack of it) is a broader and deeper malaise that plagues Philippine society and is a social monster that has a habit of rearing its ugly head in incidents like this. Perhaps what makes Duterte’s camp particularly sensitive when it comes to the reality of the Philippines’ profound cancer of social stratification and the elitism of Luzon’s Tagalog-speaking residents is that Duterte is a product and stalwart of the Philippines’ south which, historically, has long been derrided as provincianos by Filipinos hailing from the Philippines’ northern parts where its capital and commercial and business centre, Manila, is situated.
Indeed, it is hardly surprising that Duterte’s Bisaya accent is a source of amusement for an influential circle of Filipinos who sustain a deliberate effort to see the deep cultural divide between north and south continue to fester in the national consciousness.
Considering that at the epicentre of this circus is a UPLB student who, by most accounts, failed to behave to a standard an elite university like the UPLB is held to (fairly or unfairly) by the Philippine public at large, it may be worth Filipinos’ time to reflect on why eloquence, good manners, and proper breeding seem to be in increasingly short supply nowadays. Suffice to say, this bad breeding on the part of the UPLB student was, itself, met with even more appalling demonstrations of the savage and balasubas behaviour that Duterte supporters have come to be associated with.
We could therefore conclude that the protagonists and antagonists in this latest spectacle are merely engaged in a tit for tat backdropped by a society not exactly renowned for a citizenry blessed with social grace.
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