THE Roman emperor Nero was supposed to have fiddled while ancient Rome burned for nine days. But if he did play any instrument at all while much of the city was destroyed, he would have picked at a lute or a lyre, the fiddle, or violin, not having been invented until some 1,500 years after his reign. In any case, it’s a story every schoolboy knows (or is supposed to know, but nowadays probably doesn’t), and “fiddling while Rome burned” has come to mean irresponsible or uncaring behavior during a crisis.
Some of the stories being told about President Benigno Aquino III paint him as worse than a fiddler while Rome burns—as a playboy more focused on women and the other joys of bachelorhood than on, say, abolishing the land tenancy system; as too laid back to even visit his countrymen in the flooded provinces of Central Luzon; and worst of all, as a Play Station gamer during crises—while implying at the same time that his predecessors were better leaders.
PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III has “vowed,” say media reports, to get the killers of Fr. Fausto Tentorio even if they should turn out to be members of the paramilitary groups he, Aquino, has refused to dismantle.
The call has been made often for the dismantling of paramilitary groups, among them the Civilian Volunteer Organizations (CVOs) and Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Units (CAFGU) armed and trained by the Armed Forces and that have figured prominently in the assassinations and massacres, illegal arrest and detention, and abduction and torture that in many areas of the Philippine countryside occur with impunity. But that call assumed particular urgency in the aftermath of the Ampatuan Massacre of November 23, 2009, in which the CVOs that were functioning as part of the private armies of the Maguindanao warlords figured prominently.
THE DESTRUCTION of the country’s institutions is proceeding apace. But it’s not the “enemies of the state” who’re subverting them; it’s the very institutions themselves, including those mandated to protect the state, that are doing it.
“A bulwark of liberty.” “The protector of Philippine patrimony.” “ The guardian of civil rights and the rule of law.”
IN a remark that has since been condemned not only by the protesting students but also by engaged academics, thinking journalists and even half- asleep politicians, Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte ventured the opinion that students should “concentrate on their studies rather than [walk] out of their classrooms to protest supposed budget cuts for their institutions”.
Valte’s a lawyer and a graduate of that Katipunan Avenue school that fancies itself as the breeding ground of “men (it doesn’t mention women) for others,” both of which facts, I suppose, make her statements no matter how repellent more excusable than most, in the same way that we used to forgive those of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s version of her, Lorelei Fajardo. Like Fajardo, Valte’s utterances have so far not been distinguished for either their civility, gravitas or even sense, although her telling protesting students to stay in their classrooms was a new low even for her.