The hashtag #NasaanAngPangulo, which means “where is the president” in Tagalog, became the top trending topic on Twitter worldwide as Filipinos expressed their outrage at President Noynoy Aquino for skipping the arrival honors for elite policemen killed in a special operation.
Aquino graced the opening of Mitsubishi Motor Corporation’s new car factory in Laguna (province south of Manila) rather than attend the police ceremony. The coffins carrying the remains of the dead policemen arrived at Villamor Airbase after being flown all the way from the southern Philippine town of Mamasapano, Maguindanao.
Forty-four members of the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) were killed in a botched-up counter-terror operation which became an 11th-hour pitched battle between state forces and Moro secessionist rebels operating in the Mamasapano area.
They were part of a 400-member police operation sent to capture the alleged mastermind of the 2002 Bali bombings who was said to be hiding in the area. The US government has placed a $5-million bounty on suspect Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan.
A series of memes ridiculing President Aquino’s absence from the arrival ceremony were widely circulated on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Filipino netizens recalled how President Aquino was quick to looking after big corporations and attending celebrity events while being absent in many of the big tragedies that befell the nation.
— PAPA JACK ® (@PapaJackQuote) January 29, 2015
— Ariane (@arinormously) February 4, 2015
Many also pointed out how the president said “I don’t attend wakes of people I don’t know” when asked why he didn’t visit the wake of transgender woman Jennifer Laude, who was allegedly murdered by a US serviceman last year.
Writer Katrina Stuart-Santiago contrasted the importance given by other heads of state to the honoring of the dead to President Aquino’s no-show at the honor ceremony for the slain elite forces in a Facebook status:
When the bodies of the MH17 crash victims arrived in The Netherlands, the Dutch King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima, and the rest of the Dutch royal family, along with government officials sat and watched and cried and mourned with nation as the coffins were brought from planes to hearses. Nothing was more important than that ritual for the dead.
President Aquino gave a speech during the necrological services for the slain policemen a day after their coffins arrived. But the president was again put on the spot for being late and thus putting the rites on hold to wait for his arrival.
Aquino’s speech during the service also became the butt of online jokes for being more about himself than the fallen cops. A meme pointed out how Aquino always begins his speech in the vein of George Lucas’ Star Wars.
The president’s spokesman has defended his absence from the arrival honors for the dead policemen, saying this was not part of his schedule. He also belittled criticisms by netizens in a Palace briefing, pointing out that this was not the majority view.