hillary, heckled in manila*

A lot has been said about how a student leader disrupted Hillary Clinton’s forum at the National Museum on Wednesday. Most reactions were angry, largely condescending, and obsessed on the claim that “there are other, more civilized ways to exercise freedom of expression.”

Why did he have to be so rude, when it was an open forum, and anyone can ask questions? Surely, Hillary, so smart and so contained, could address his strong feelings against the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT)?

Well. Of course, she can. As what GMA News has so amiably touted her, she is a “savvy diplomat.” She is used to events like that thing they decided to call “A Conversation in Manila.” She can deftly answer any question–however cleverly crafted, or however unimaginative. She is her country’s top ambassador to the rest of the world. It’s, like, her fifth sense, or something.

Also, the forum was organized and “packaged” by the US Embassy exactly as a venue for pleasant “conversations” with a celebrity. It was a controlled environment where, as Glenn Diaz puts it in his recent blog post, the burden of civility is yours–in exchange for the privilege to participate.

These are enough reasons why a polite question asked over the microphone was not enough to protest against the Visiting Forces Agreement and the MDT. It would be like requesting an audience with Noynoy Aquino just so you could tell him off about Hacienda Luisita.

A protest is a protest because it’s an expression of indignation, of opposition. A protest gains potency, whenever and especially if it disregards the rules which ban dissent. A protest does not demand an answer or an explanation, it asserts its right to be heard and never apologizes.

Otherwise, a candid question about music preferences would do, and Hillary can leave Manila with the happy, content feeling that Filipinos are such a nice, welcoming bunch, and that here, she can forget about growing all that rhinoceros skin. ▣

* first published as “Bien Venido” at “Chairport

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