MARY GRACE COSTA WRITES – Filipino citizens turned to social media to voice their frustration with President Benigno Aquino III, who was a no-show at Villamor Airbase when the bodies of fallen members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and Special Action Force (SAF) arrived on Thursday, January 29.
Aquino sent the SAF into Mamasapano the previous Sunday to eliminate terrorism suspect Zulkifli bin Hir and confront two Islamic extremist groups, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The confrontation resulted in the deaths of Zulkifli and 44 members of the PNP.
While the rest of his country observed a national day of mourning, Aquino missed the homecoming honors and attended the inauguration of a Mitsubishi factory in Laguna instead. His absence incited the people’s anger, embodied by the creation of the Twitter hashtag #NasaanAngPangulo (Where is the president?).
This hashtag trended in the Philippines for days after the arrival of the 44 slain officers’ bodies in Manila. One blogger tweeted: “Our cops and troops have realized they have been serving under a leader totally undeserving of even a drop of their blood. #NasaanAngPangulo.”
The presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte explained that the president did not attend the arrival ceremony because it was not on his official schedule. Aquino did, however, lead the services at Camp Bagong Diwa the following morning.
Benigno Aquino III has generally been a popular president in the Philippines. With his mother’s legacy supporting him, he achieved a 74% approval rating one month after Typhoon Haiyan despite allegations of failing to send humanitarian support to those affected by the storm. However, this time around, Filipino citizens do not seem so forgiving.