Current Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo’s public relations team or, shall we say, propaganda machine is working overtime. They found an opportunity to try and put her image in a good light after President Rodrigo Duterte decided to skip the 119th commemoration of Philippine Independence Day. Photos of her in salute pose during the recent ceremony have been circulating the Net with her supporters gushing and so impressed by her appearance. Even if Robredo is just standing and taking part in a ceremonial duty, her supporters are simply the kind of people who get taken by appearances no matter how shallow.
Robredo’s supporters seem to have taken the cue from the President’s staunch critic Senator Antonio Trillanes who lambasted Duterte for not attending the rites and who even went as far as saying that Duterte lacks discipline. That’s rich coming from a convicted mutineer. The senator’s own lack of discipline was evident when he mounted a coup d’état against former President Gloria Arroyo in 2003. He certainly knows how to break the rules.
Duterte’s critics – most of whom are actually Robredo’s supporters — are scraping the bottom of the barrel. Now they are saying Duterte couldn’t even be bothered to wake up early to commemorate the country’s Independence Day. As if Duterte not attending the ceremony is going to cause the Philippine economy to collapse or foment something more catastrophic.
It was in the news that he was consoling the relatives of the fallen soldiers whose bodies arrived from Marawi City the night before the Independence Day commemoration. Photos of the President being emotional and hugging the relatives were shown on various news outlets. Immediately afterwards, it was also reported that he proceeded to the Philippine Marines headquarters at Fort Bonifacio to visit the wake of two of the slain Marines whose remains were flown earlier. Duterte obviously had a very rough and emotional night consoling grieving families. It is not surprising that he decided to skip the early morning ceremony the next day.
Duterte’s critics are hoping that highlighting the President’s absence would work towards knocking down his popularity. Unfortunately, Duterte’s supporters know and understand why he was away. They are actually glad that he rested instead of attending the Independence Day rites. In other words, criticising Duterte for skipping the yearly event was a futile attempt to bring him down.
Lately, Duterte’s critics have taken up this habit of highlighting the times he is absent from important events. They have become very desperate, nitpicking just about anything he does. This is part of the reason why they do not have credibility. They have taken a leaf from what happened to former President BS Aquino in 2015 when he was severely-criticised after he decided to skip the welcome honours for the bodies of the fallen Special Action Force (SAF) officers of the Philippine National Police at Villamor Airbase and chose instead to attend a Mitsubishi plant inauguration held on the same day. Because BS Aquino’s popularity suffered after that event, Duterte’s critics are trying hard to copy that phenomenon and now anticipate that it could work to bring Duterte down too.
Despite knowing where Duterte was the night before, his critics still speculate on why he was absent from the Independence Day rites. It’s as if his critics have lost all sense of reality and prefer to believe their own fabricated stories. One critic speculated that he’s just too lazy and couldn’t be bothered getting up early. Another one said Duterte is just not patriotic enough. They are mistaking attending ceremonial duties to actual work. Besides, Filipinos can’t even agree on what date the Philippines actually became independent. Some say it should be commemorated on the 4th July because it was on that date in 1946 when the Americans actually granted the country its independence. In other words, this new date – the 12th of June – is an artificial construct. Some Filipinos just decided that it should be the country’s Independence Day since it was the date we supposedly won our independence from the Spaniards in 1898. But this date doesn’t acknowledge the fact that the country was colonised by the Americans afterwards. Meaning, Filipinos were not truly “independent” until the 4th of July 1946.
As a matter of fact, the Philippines is not yet independent in the true sense of the word. Filipinos still rely on other countries to help when the country is in trouble especially when the country is hit by devastating typhoons. A lot of Filipinos also expect that the Americans will come to their rescue if ever a foreign invasion happens. There are even Filipinos who were disappointed that the United States did not help scare China away from occupying the disputed islands in the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. Recently, the news that members of the US military have been helping the Philippine military with “technical” aspects in the battle against the Maute terrorist group in Marawi City does not even surprise most Filipinos. It’s generally accepted that the US is always around to help out. This arrangement is something most “independent” nations don’t have. In the Philippines, it’s normal.
Indeed, the concept of “independence” or being independent is something most Filipinos do not seem to understand. The Philippines is far from being independent. The fact that thousands of Filipinos are forced to go overseas for work and livelihood is already proof of this. The fact that we have to rely on the generosity of other countries for aid to sustain the country’s needs means the annual Independence Day commemorations ranks right up there with having Robredo as Vice President – all for show, but lacking in substance. Perhaps Duterte was right in skipping it all along.