IT IS A CURIOUS point that politic actions may have absolutely nothing in common with politics and politicians.
An action may be deemed politic if it is sensible and judicious under the circumstances. It may be as simple as keeping one’s mouth shut in a bad situation where opening it may make things worse. It can also be a call for calm and sobriety between two opposing factions, where the one who makes the call has no investment on either side. It can also mean putting one’s actions under a personal microscope, and looking through the eyepiece with the intent of finding out the true nature of these actions.
In politics, however, there seems to be no room for politic actions, because politicians are so busy insisting that what they believe in is right, and that everyone else is wrong. Politicians do not submit themselves to criticism, and in fact, try their best to deflect any such criticism back to the ones who made them. An elected politician is righteous, because he has the mandate of the people. An elected politician, who also happens to be a host of a TV show that is watched by millions of households in the country, is infallible.
Take the case of Regional Governor Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), who has demanded an apology from Eat Bulaga, a noontime TV show, which happens to have no less than a Senator of the Republic of the Philippines as its host, for wearing what is commonly identified as Muslim attire during its Halloween episode. While hailed as the man who turned the ARMM towards a better future, the people that Hataman represents has for decades been beleaguered by discrimination, stereotyping, racial profiling, and even downright demonizing. Who has not heard old folks trying to scare children into obedience by telling them “kukunin sila ng Moros” (the Moros will get them) if they do not behave?
The average Pinoy who has not had the experience of living alongside Muslims have a very limited view of what they are. Kidnappers, killers, drug traffickers at the very worst, and a source of pirated DVD’s at the very least. While the average Muslim may not have taken umbrage at such a narrow view before, events in the country are forcing them to do so now. The Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is as misunderstood as the people it was made to serve, the Mamasapano incident is almost equated with the Ampatuan Massacre, and now even suspects in crimes can be tagged by the NBI as “muslim-type,” as if one’s religion is a determinant of one’s physical appearance.
These misconceptions about Muslims in the Philippines are what Hataman is battling in his demand for an apology from Senator Vicente Sotto III, for wearing what Filipino Muslims usually wear during prayers as a Halloween costume. The esteemed Senator, of course, is unapologetic, saying he has done nothing wrong, that it was not Muslim garb he was wearing but an Arab costume given to him as a gift by an Arab friend, a costume that he has, albeit with very little imagination, been wearing to the show’s Halloween episodes for more than a decade. This is the Senator trying to weasel out of a situation he is too proud to admit being at fault: that he lacks the cultural sensitivity to understand Governor Hataman’s stand.
In various parts of the world, a number of Halloween costumes have come into question for being racist and culture-mocking. Eskimo costumes, American Indian costumes, Mexican Mariachi costumes, Japanese Geisha costumes and the like have come under fire for perpetuating cultural stereotypes that have actually nothing at all to do with the actual cultures they purport to represent.
While the reason for this may elude Senator Sotto, and everyone else who have called Governor Hataman’s demand as “OA,” this explanation may be offered: Halloween, with its roots in ancient Celtic, and bastardized by the commercialized version that American-influenced malls in the Philippines promote, is not practiced by Muslims, and therefore the wearing of any garb that is commonly identified as Muslim in this country as a Halloween costume is offensive to the Muslims of this country.
Governor Hataman has chosen to defend the pride and honor of his fellow Muslims, whether or not they themselves recognize this need. People who think otherwise intentionally refuse to see the context by which he has demaded the apology, and will take the side of cultural indifference, and say that the costume Sotto wore is Arab and not necessarily Muslim. But show that costume to any Filipino child and that child will tell you “Muslim yan.” (“That is Muslim.”)
People can no longer claim ignorance at this late hour. Cultural sensitivity is the issue, and it is about time that someone took the cudgels for the oft-maligned Muslims in this country.
Governor Hataman did so, because who else will?