THE HECKLING of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo last week at the graduation ceremony of Cavite State University by a Mass Communication graduate was not inappropriate like some observers have said, but rather a continuation of a long democratic tradition of holding our leaders accountable to the sentiments of the people.I must commend the president for not reacting verbally to the heckling, showing indeed that she could withstand such a mild form of public reprimand.The student in question was Maria Theresa Pangilinan who shouted “Patalsikin si (Oust) Gloria!” while holding up a banner that said “No to Chacha.” The banner was then confiscated by a Presidential Security Guard and two university security guards.What is amazing about this story is that instead of carting off Pangilinan to the nearest police station, she was allowed to go onstage, shake hands with the president (although each seemed to be looking over each other’s shoulder) and receive her diploma. This despite the fact that four PSG and policemen tried to stop her from getting her diploma. _(Photo above reproduced with permission from INQ7.net.)_It turns out that Pangilinan was the president of the Central Student Government of the university and a staff writer of Gazette, the official school newspaper. No wonder this obviously intelligent and determined young woman was not going to be deterred by security personnel, who were trying to avoid a possibly ugly incident involving the president.Pangilinan was not alone in heckling the president. Another student was about to unfurl another protest banner, but had it confiscated by the police, while a group from Bayan and the Solidarity of Cavite Workers were able to unfurl their banners before being escorted off the premises.Cavite Gov. Ireneo Maliksi was appalled by these actions, saying, “She was our guest of honor, we should have treated her properly. I really feel bad for the student for doing that in a graduation ceremony.” (Click here to read the Philippine Daily Inquirer account of the incident.)Instead of feeling bad, Maliksi should have asked himself why some Filipinos feel that the only way they can be heard is to heckle the president at a public event. Is it perhaps that with the violent police crackdown on street protests, and the intimidation of the press by Malacanang Palace, those who oppose Arroyo are finding it increasingly hard to voice their sentiments through more traditional channels?Heckling, as long as it is kept polite, is a very effective way of getting your message across while at the same time shocking your intended audience into listening to you.Witness the Chinese Falun Gong protester last week at the White House ceremony welcoming Chinese President Hu Jintao to the US. She screamed out, unexpectedly, at President George W. Bush and Hu, calling for the end to the repression of the Falun Gong movement in China. Bush looked annoyed, Hu seemed shocked. The message was certainly delivered in an unconventional manner, but rest assured that neither Hu nor Bush will soon forget that moment.Heckling may make some people uncomfortable, but it is the mark of a truly free society that hecklers can heckle those in power and live to tell the tale. That Pangilinan was able to do so must be commended, because the day when those in power are able to cow an entire country into scared silence will be a sad day indeed.
Is GMA Doing a Bush?
WITH the approaching state visit of President Arroyo to Saudi Arabia in early May many community members here are wondering if the president’s handlers have been getting tips from the advisors of President Bush.According to initial reports, Arroyo will make a five hour side-trip to Jeddah after meeting King Abdullah in Riyadh and asking for a preferential oil deal with the Kingdom.Filipino community leaders have been briefed by the consulate that she will be meeting with only 15 registered groups for a photo session, and will not be doing a Question and Answer session with the community here.Seems to me that perhaps her handlers are afraid she might be heckled or asked some tough questions about her administration’s policies and the possible rigging of the 2004 elections.But given the fact that she won the majority of the OFW votes in Saudi Arabia, I don’t think the president should be too afraid of a hostile reception. In any event, she’s plainly capable of defending herself and her administration, so allowing a Q&A session, if only for an hour, would surely be possible?****FINALLY, I would like to bid farewell to outgoing Ambassador Bahnarim Guinomla who left Riyadh on Thursday for his new posting in Ankara, Turkey, after serving here for three and half years.I attended a farewell dinner in his honor at the Al-Harithy Hotel in Jeddah last week and listened to his heartfelt and emotional speech. Later sitting with him he admitted to me that he had cried aplenty the previous night at his “despedida” dinner at the embassy in Riyadh. His puffy eyes were a testament to that.I will miss a man who was one of the most accessible Philippine ambassadors ever in Riyadh. He always answered our questions and was available to talk about anything under the sun. If he didn’t know the information we needed, he always promised to get back to us with what we needed. And he did.I first meet Guinomla when he was posted in Jeddah as the Consul General in the early 1990s and was happy to see him come back to the Kingdom in 2002.His whole family was nothing but friendly, especially his wife who could always put anyone at ease with her kind and warm manner. I will miss them.Although there is no official news yet about who will replace Guinomla in Riyadh, sources at the embassy say a veteran diplomat, who was part of President Arroyo's advance party to Riyadh last week, is being considered for the job. Our sources asked us not to mention the name yet in keeping with protocol.Retired Gen. Roy Cimatu, Arroyo's special envoy to the Middle East, was reportedly on top of the list of those being considered for the post, but he allegedly declined. Until such time the next ambassador is named, Consul Germinia Usudan will head the embassy as chargé d'affaires.