Blasting away at his unpopular predecessor has been a surefire way of playing up to the gallery, but did a wisecracking President Aquino cross the line this time?
At a gathering of the Filipino community in New Zealand last Monday, Mr. Aquino took the opportunity to assail yet again former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
The joke—Palace mouthpiece Abigail Valte couldn’t quite decide whether it was a joke or not—whipped up a storm of criticism on social media, especially among “persons with disabilities” (PWD) and those who sympathized with them.
Angry netizens took the President to task for cracking a joke that he supposedly picked up from a text message: “There are corrupt people back home who drive fancy and expensive cars. And yet when they want to escape, they choose to use a wheelchair.”
From the tone of the reactions on Facebook and Twitter, it did not look like netizens were buying the Palace’s explanation that Mr. Aquino was only repeating a joke and that it was not part of his prepared speech.
A PWD meme now circulating on Facebook shows the image of a woman assisting a man on a wheelchair.
“Dear Mr. President, we are really offended. Who wants to be wheelchair-bound anyway? Leave the wisecracks and jokes to Vice Ganda. Start acting and being President for once,” it said.
Many of the reactions described Mr. Aquino’s joke, if it was one, as “insensitive, uncalled for, inappropriate, unpresidential, childish.”
Ferdinand Topacio, Arroyo’s lawyer, said the joke gave the impression that in the Philippines, “we ridicule the sick.”
“If he were at Bahay Pangarap and drinking with his KKK (Kaibigan, Kaklase, Kabarilan), that joke would have been OK,” he told a radio interview. “But there’s a right time and place for everything.”
Topacio, whose wheelchair-bound father was also reportedly offended by the remark, reminded the President that his late mother, former President Corazon Aquino, also had to use a wheelchair at one point.
Another Internet meme showed a picture of Mr. Aquino dozing off while sitting with other presidential candidates during the campaign for the presidency in 2010. The picture was placed side by side with one showing Arroyo wearing a neck brace and seated on a wheelchair.
“Of these pictures, which one is really funny and embarrassing?” said the accompanying caption in Filipino.
Some of the reactions returned the insult, in spades.
A certain Lito Belarmino suggested that the President take a “psychological exam,” while another described him as “inutile.”
One woman hoped that Mr. Aquino would contract lung cancer so he would find himself subjected to ridicule.
“You will end up in wheelchair, too, P-Noy! Remember that!” wrote another.
House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez said the President’s wisecracks as being “ungentlemanly and unbecoming” a person in his position.
“It is insensitive to an ailing grandmother and disrespectful of a former head of state,” he told a press briefing.
According to Suarez, the House minority has taken offense at the jokes that Mr. Aquino cracked during a speech before the Filipino community in Auckland. He mentioned two: Those about massive corruption being similar to sucking a sheep’s bone marrow after milking it, and of supposedly corrupt Filipinos using the wheelchair to escape accountability.
The President frequently takes a swipe at his predecessor in his public statements, criticizing Arroyo for her allegedly corrupt administration.
Suarez said the President was resorting to jokes about his predecessor to mask the “missteps” of his administration.
He said Mr. Aquino’s joking references to Arroyo were helping to take attention away from unsavory truths in the country.
“All of this comedy also helps to cover up the latest missteps in the administration’s economic and political governance,” he said.
One of these is the impending increase in Metro Rail Transit (MRT) fares, which would be an added burden to commuters.
“This defeats the very purpose of the both the MRT and LRT (Light Rail Transit), which is to provide affordable transportation for the masses, especially students and the elderly,” he said.
Originally posted at 09:40 pm | Wednesday, October 24, 2012