POSTSCRIPT / March 26 2017 / Sunday


Opinion Columnist

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The forgotten art of conversation

SOMETHING is wrong with us, it seems. We struggle to exalt the nation, but sink it with our disjointed discourse. Our leaders preach unity, yet their rhetoric foments hate and divides the nation. We reach out to the world, and end up antagonizing friends and allies.

We Filipinos — as family members, neighbors, citizens, and partners of government — find it difficult to meld and rise together, because we have not been talking properly with one another.

Many of us still have to learn the art of respectful conversation and discover the value of dialogue.

Some of those who once related well with family and neighbors, and supported government, may have started to neglect their responsibilities under pressure of making a living. Many working urban parents hardly find quality time for their growing children.

Some priests and pastors are unable to mingle enough with the flock to listen to their problems, to offer counsel and comfort – and give of themselves as Christ would.

We now text instead of talk. We are surrounded by modern devices of communication, but fail to hear or refuse to listen to what the other side is saying. Pride and greed render us deaf and blind to the needs — as well as the rights — of others.

National conversation can pass through the mass media. But we in media have grown so infatuated with ourselves, preferring to hear and broadcast our own voices rather than listen to the public.

How can there be honest dialogue when media moguls find it easier and more profitable to ladle out to their captive audiences more of what they want rather than what they and the nation need?

Social media have multiplied the reach and influence of broadcast and print outlets, but to maintain their credibility they now have to screen out false facts and malicious messages. Trolls are strewn around to distort and falsify public opinion.

Politicians resort to diatribe more than to dialogue, striking at rivals instead of striving for consensus. Accountability among government officials has been replaced with counting amassed wealth and basking in the luxury of power.

Some officials lie and mislead in their public statements. When caught, rather than apologize and correct the disinformation, they just gloss over their betrayal of the public trust or dismiss the falsehood as a joke.

Most of our myriad problems are traceable to ineffective communication and outright disinformation. These are a sad consequence of our having forgotten how to converse properly with one another.

• Duterte peddling hearsay on Panatag

IN REPORTING on his personalized conduct of bilateral relations with China, President Rodrigo Duterte wants us his constituents to just take his word for it.

On Chinese intentions on Panatag (Scarborough) shoal, for instance, Mr. Duterte assured all and sundry that Beijing would not grab and control that traditional fishing ground of Filipinos nor build anything on it.

Why was he so sure about this? He said Thursday that Chinese officials committed no-buildup “out of respect for the friendship and relations between the two countries.” But he did not show a signed agreement or joint statement to that effect.

With due respect, we point out that without a formal document affirming the Chinese assurance, President Duterte is asking us to accept hearsay. He is just passing on what he claimed to have been told to him.

What China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chun-ying said in her recent media briefing was that they were not building an environmental monitoring station on Panatag, which was and is still true. She could have said “Not yet!”

Hua did not say that China will never build anything on the shoal. She was just talking of the present situation of there being no buildup, not of future activities.

Plans for the buildup were announced last week by the mayor of Sansha City, capital of Hainan island-province which administers Panatag for the Chinese government that calls it Huangyan Dao.

With China’s record of often breaking its formal commitments – such as its signing but later refusing to honor the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea — President Duterte should drop his naïveté and ask for formal signed documents on Panatag.

Another example of Chinese perfidy was its reneging on a US-brokered agreement in 2012 for Chinese and Philippine vessels to simultaneously pull out of Panatag to end a standoff. Philippine vessels left, but China kept some of its boats and barred Filipino fishermen.

• Where will Rody’s flirting with Leni lead?

BEING watched keenly is President Duterte’s open flirting with Vice President Leni Robredo. The Top Two officials of the land are both eligible, so there is no legal impediment to a relationship.

Robredo, 52 years old on April 23, is a widow. The last marriage of Duterte, 72 years old on March 28, had been annulled. He has a common-law wife in Davao City with whom he has a daughter.

Duterte told his followers days ago to drop the impeachment complaint against Robredo, who has been accused of plotting to supplant the President, who also faces impeachment. Duterte once joked that she should just marry him if she wants to become president.

In a few public gatherings, he would note in jest that Robredo, always with a winsome smile, has pretty legs — remarks that celebrity-crazy Filipino crowds love.

Duterte reportedly has a standing invitation for them to have dinner with their respective family members, impeachment or no impeachment.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 26, 2017)

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