Much ado about a video?

Much ado about a video?

FOR a rather longer than the usual time period the Assistant Secretary to the Presidential Communications Office once more made the headlines on the heels of another controversy. She and a colleague produced a video meant to promote federalism using colloquial references to female body parts. I think I need not mention her name. What is more important is what this whole issue says about us as a people and as a purportedly Christian nation.

For one, if the video was meant to get people’s attention drawn towards federalism, to my mind the results were a mixed bag. It truly generated more than plenty of attention but not really for federalism as a better alternative form of government for this our benighted republic. The attention unfortunately shifted to the seemingly growing body of evidence showing the Assistant Secretary’s penchant for testing the limits of free speech and for an unapologetic resistance to admitting incompetence. I am saying this as objectively and as respectfully as the growing number of such instances on record allow me. That she continues to enjoy the trust of the highest powers of the archipelago may, in turn, test many people’s patience; and yet this is also another instance of those regrettable consequences people can ultimately only attribute to themselves and their own past election choices. They picked up the cake; now they must eat it too, together with its improperly cooked ingredients.

A friend of mine, reacting to this controversy unfolding on national television, remarked that by now Filipinos should know better things to do than protesting too much. “After all,” he added, “politics and pornography have very thin demarcation lines.” He may have a point there. For instance, both politics and pornography often “use” people, sometimes trampling their dignity and humanity underfoot, for often unacknowledged selfish and power-driven ends and purposes. For politicians therefore to complain about the video’s crassness and vulgarity sounds like the kettle calling the pot black.

This is not to say that the video and all the efforts that went with producing and airing it nationwide are worthy of the nation’s backing or adulation, as the Assistant Secretary’s supporters extend her. On the contrary, we need to join the voices of true protest. But far from seeing only its vulgarity, tastelessness and incompetence, its real harm lies in the implied legitimizing of the degradation of human dignity, particularly of women. In this we share the view of the director general of the Philippine Information Agency Harold Clavite. Ignoring his own security of tenure, he strongly declared that “a public apology from the PCOO official (i.e., the said Assistant Secretary) is paramount”. He also suggested that she take “a leave of absence to reflect on these matters” without stating whether or not such a leave be made permanent.

I believe that by taking such a risk of exposure to a possible job dismissal in standing up against a high government official so close to the chief executive, PIA director general shows the better side of the Filipino. He expressed, in fact, a criticism of the video presentation in a way rooted in a Christian mindset: “This is not only a seeming insult to our profession in communication and public office but also degrading to the women and mothers in our communities.” He further elaborated himself: “My stand on this issue defends the integrity and intelligence of all government information officers, volunteers and partners—many of whom are women and mothers—across the nation.”

Integrity and intelligence are qualities that can only point to every person’s dignity. Perhaps it is about time we acknowledged, and not be ashamed of, the real source of this sense of rightful indignation. For how many times do we prefer to ignore the Scripture’s words: “So God created the human being in his image; in the image of God he created him. Male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27). Reducing the human person, God’s image and likeness, whether female or male, to his or her body parts and making fun at their expense betrays gross disrespect.

No love exists without the element of respect. No Christian exists without love of God and neighbor. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. This is the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mk 12:30-31).

This administration, from the outset, always has had a problem with recognizing the human dignity of all Filipinos, real or alleged lawbreakers included. In refusing to change its course, it casts aspersion on no one but itself.