Tuesday, July 6, 2010

On Wangwangs and Symbolism

Lately, the Philippine political milieu has been deluged by discussions about the so-called “wangwangs”.  For those who are not familiar with the term, wangwang is a local slang which denotes a siren.  It is the ever conspicuous sound that one would hear when a police car or an ambulance pass by carrying a victim of a shooting incident or running after the perp, in the case of the former. 

So, going back to my first impression; one of the first political acts of Benigno Aquino III, the newly installed President of the Philippines, is to ban the use of wangwangs -- even for his presidential convoy. 

It should be noted that the law provides that vehicle sirens can only be used by the president, emergency crew (e.g. ambulances), and law enforcers (when in pursuit of a criminal or during emergencies).  Unfortunately, such law has been violated for countless times that even the use of a wangwang by a mere village chief goes unpunished. 

In the context of the current culture of impunity happening in the Philippines, the new president obviously wants to make a strong statement against official abuses by barring the use of wangwang.  Consequently, praises have been heaped upon Noynoy Aquino for this so called “conscientious’ move.  Almost everyday since Day 2 of the presidency, ‘experts’ and media commentators are all agog about the campaign against wangwang and they find it gleeful and commendable that the president is also suffering from the daily traffic mess of Metro Manila. 

The move of the president is, no doubt, highly calculated.  Among so many problems hounding the Filipino people, banning the wangwang is the easiest and the most harmless political maneuver that could generate a huge impact.  And the ploy worked.  It was an instant PR boost for the new president; even a street vendor is applauding him. 

But the anti-wangwang policy seems to be an indicator of things to come.  It seems that the present government is so adept in using symbolism to put across its agenda.  The presidential campaign of Mr. Aquino has been full of symbolism -- Ninoy, Cory, Good vs Evil, Daang Matuwid, Baluktot na Daan, and many more. 

There is a danger though in this kind of political machination.  It can lull the people, specifically the Filipino masses, into believing that everything in the Philippines is alright already.  The noise and hoopla about wangwangs obviously drowned out some of the most pressing issues that should have been addressed on the first day of the presidency. 

For one thing, President Noynoy Aquino should have banged his fist and categorically stated that extra-judicial killings should and must stop or else… Unfortunately, this was not done and the result was the murder of a former journalist 3 days into his presidency and the deadly shooting of one activist two days after.  The “wangwangs” of MalacaƱang also remained silent after the violent dispersal of picketing farmers outside the palace’s gates and subsequent arrest of at least 40 protesters. 

Meanwhile, the anti-wangwang hysteria is still resonating while the real “wangwang” and the wails of the people remain unheard. 

So much about symbolism; so much about wangwangs. Can it be said that President Aquino III is just making “wangwang”?