PNoy’s party and Pinoy sympathy

Posted on December 19, 2011


My story today on the President’s partying in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Sendong generated a particularly interesting comment related to the Filipino concept of sympathy.

In the comment thread that this story generated, critics said President Benigno Aquino III should have spent time instead with the Cagayan de Oro and Iligan flood victims, not with members of his Presidential Security Group during their Christmas party.

Netizen MNLFCritic said, “His presence in the disaster zones would have helped immensely in the morale of the exhausted and weary rescuers and relief workers. His presence would have also given hope to the thousands who have all but lost hope.”

“We call it pakikiramay,” MNLFCritic explained.

University of the Philippines College of Law assistant professor Theodore Te, in a Facebook post, meanwhile referred to “the ministry of presence and the ministry of encouragement and the ministry of the moment.”

“Can you imagine what a president’s visit can do [to] life sagging spirits, tired limbs, and sleepless bodies? An encouraging word, a ‘well done,’ a ‘kaya natin ‘yan,’ goes a long, long way,” Te said.

“If you’re someone who has lost a loved one, or a friend, or a house, property, or hope because of the flood, you would want to see your President – whether you agree with him nor not, voted for him or not – right there, in the flesh, getting his feet muddied and wet, even for just an hour,” the lawyer added.

Aquino will visit the affected areas in Mindanao on Tuesday – or four days after a flash flood claimed the lives of at least 600 Filipinos so far.

Pinoy cultural trait

Pakikiramay is central to Philippine culture, writes De La Salle University assistant professor Natividad Dominique Manauat in her paper “Contextualizing the Values of Pagkalinga, Pag-aaruga, Pakialam, and the Feminist Ethics of Care.”

Manauat quotes from anthropologist Felipe Landa Jocano who says pakikiramay is one of three elements of the relational standard called kapwa. “In terms of crisis, pakikiramay is to sympathize and share sufferings,” Jocano says.

Like the two other elements of kapwapakikitungo and pakikisamapakikiramay shows “sensitivity, empathy, and compassion to the other (kapwa),” the anthropologist adds.

Jocano explains, “Emotionalism is given higher premium than rationalism in handling situations or in coping with conditions. Our rationalism often involves deep emotionalism particularly in interactions having to do with personal honor, dignity, and moral principles.”

Given this, I think the negative reaction to Aquino’s partying in the midst of tragedy is cultural in nature. It is also symbolic.

The President, after all, is the father of the country. When an immediate relative meets a tragedy, do we want to see our father in a party?

“Mr. President,” Te also said, “it’s about inspiration. It’s about motivation.”

The lawyer said the point is not “to inspect or to make speeches or to lecture” – as he thinks the President will do, “citing some scientific study on the environment.” “The point is to encourage, to support, to witness, to lead.”