There’s more than a hint of wishful thinking whenever this country’s so-called leaders are forced to comment on such events as the shoe-throwing incident in Baghdad last December 14 (December 15th in Manila). Usually they say it can’t happen here. But if you listened harder, you could practically hear them muttering that they hope it doesn’t happen here.

Iraqi journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi of the Al-Baghdadia television network based in Cairo, Egypt, threw his size 10s at George W. Bush during a Baghdad press conference al-Zaidi thought would have only Iraqi leaders as guests. He was wrestled to the ground by Iraqi security forces, was subsequently tortured, and could get a two-year jail sentence.

If something similar had happened in the country being run into the ground by the most incompetent and most corrupt political class in Southeast Asia, the name of one more journalist would have been added to the eight so far killed in the line of duty this year. As in 1972 when someone pulled a knife on Imelda Marcos, presidential security wouldn’t have even given him or her the benefit of being tortured; they would have shot him or her dead.

But, say the usual Palace honchos, it can’t happen here, and they explain that statement by comparing Filipinos with other people, whom they inevitably end up insulting.

When thousands of Thais occupied Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi and Don Muang airports in the first week of December, Deputy Presidential Spokesman Anthony Golez said it can’t happen here because Filipinos “have reached a high level of political maturity” and “respect due process and the rule of law.”

When the Thai ambassador protested what amounted to a statement that Thais were less politically mature and respected neither due process nor the rule of law, Golez and company seemed surprised.

One would have thought that they had learned their lesson from that episode. But when asked if a journalist as disgusted with the Arroyo regime as al-Zaidi was with George W. Bush might get it into his or her head to throw a shoe — or some even weightier missile like a microphone or TV camera– at the putative president of the Philippines, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, who can give Bush a run for his money in pretending that all’s well, said “We Filipinos are different, we are more decent.”

On the other hand, Trade Secretary Peter Favila said “Filipinos have a high respect for women — and a president. I don’t think that’s going to happen. If it does, the perpetrator must be nuts.”

Was al-Zaidi less decent, as Ermita implied? Was he crazy, as Favila — who probably should get out more — suggested?

Like millions of people all over the world appalled by the destruction and death that’s the prime achievement of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, both as a human being and as an Iraqi al-Zaidi can’t be blamed for feeling for the suffering and anguish of his fellow Iraqis. Bush’s appearance at the press conference called by Iraqi leaders surprised al-Zaidi only momentarily. He threw both shoes at the smirking, still totally clueless Bush, while shouting in Arabic, “Here’s your farewell kiss, you dog!” He missed, “Mission Accomplished” Bush being as expert in dodging missiles as he is in ducking military service.

My only beef against al-Zaidi is his needlessly insulting dogs, the most vicious of which has never been known to destroy entire countries and to kill hundreds of thousands in its greed for oil and world domination.

I also felt that his aim should have been better, but one can’t have everything. What al-Zaidi didn’t miss making was a point that continues to elude Bush and his gang of war-mongers: that by invading Iraq on the false pretext that the Saddam Hussein regime was coddling terrorists and had weapons of mass destruction, he plunged Iraq into a spiral of violence that has widowed and orphaned hundreds of thousands. Over 4,000 of his troops, some of whom have been known to bravely shoot at women and children, have also died in the process, thus adding a bit of American anguish to Iraqi agony.

It’s thus been argued that Bush is a war criminal in violation of international law who unilaterally attacked and invaded Iraq, and killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and destroyed much of that country in the process, but who would take credit for reducing the violence that his own decisions created.

He was doing precisely that — taking credit for the reduction of the violence US occupation had brought, referring to it as his “gift to the Iraqi people” — when al-Zaidi threw him his shoes, demonstrating not only how unpopular Bush is, but also loudly proclaiming why when he said it was “for the widows and orphans.”
Our own mini-version of Bush — and the assumption that she’s precisely that is a subtext in most journalists’ questions when they ask if a similar shoe-throwing incident could happen here — is on the other hand much more unpopular, although for different reasons, her ratings having held in the low negatives for over five years.

No shoes or other missiles have so far been thrown at her, perhaps because they’re more likely to miss her since she’s a much smaller target than Bush. But she’s been heckled and screamed at, demonstrated against and called names so unprintable no newspaper has dared print them.

Like Bush, however, she seems as clueless as to the depths of her unpopularity, or perhaps affects cluelessness because she doesn’t really care what Filipinos think. One thing is certain, however. Everyone else knows how universally despised she is — and why.

Listen again to the statements of her own subalterns when they say that the forms of protest and dissent that have occurred in Thailand and recently in Baghdad can’t happen here. None of them say they can’t happen because they would have no basis. The most they can say is that Filipinos won’t do it either because they’re decent, or politically mature, or respect women, or whatever. Even they aren’t as clueless.


Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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