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Of birthdays and armageddons: That Panelo paean to the President

MANILA, Philippines — So what’s wrong with wishing one’s boss good health and long life when he celebrates his birthday?

Nothing, except when the greeting is a fawning and overwrought declaration of the subaltern’s devotion that’s posted publicly, probably embarrassing the recipient more than the reader.

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In a press statement on Friday, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo risked putting netizens’ sobriety “on the precipice of annihilation” as they skewered his lengthy paean to President Duterte on his 75th birthday Saturday.

Panelo wrote that the President was burdened with the “dilemma of celebrating his natal day savoring the simple joy of playing with his grandchildren in Davao or spending it dangerously in Manila amongst his people to lead them in the war of survival against the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) which has placed (Filipinos) on the brink of disaster and death.”

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Fish and rice

Such a conflict, he said, “is consistent with (Mr. Duterte’s) daredevil character and deep filial ties”… on “whose hands lie the heavy burden of steering the ship of state in these perilous times.”

Perilous times, however, compelled President Duterte to stay home Saturday at Bahay Pagbabago in Malacañang, and dine on fish and rice for his birthday, his close aide, Sen. Bong Go said, posting photos of the chief executive on Facebook.

The Luzon-wide community quarantine had prevented Mr. Duterte from flying home to Davao, Go added.

The senator said he would remain on self-quarantine even after ACT-CIS Rep. Eric Yap—who recently attended a meeting in Malacañang—turned out to be negative for the virus, after being mistakenly listed by the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) as among the infected. Citing an “encoding error,” the RITM has apologized to Yap.

A leader put to test

In his press statement, Panelo cited Mr. Duterte’s “mettle as a leader tested by powerful typhoons, rampaging floods, thundering earthquakes and terrifying volcanic eruptions that wreak havoc … to the edges of the archipelago.”

As if those challenges were not enough, the Palace official also warned that “the country is now in the precipice of annihilation” due to the “Armageddon of an unseen lethal invader,” apparently referring to COVID-19.

On Facebook, book author and Ateneo professor Danton Remoto said: “I will use this (letter) in my Creative Writing class as an example of how NOT to write. Now you have a use, you piece of purple prose.”

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Quipped novelist Ninotchka Rosca, also on Facebook: “That’s not purple. It’s black.”

Commented Edwin Lacierda, former spokesperson of President Benigno Aquino III: “Gaudy. Kulang ba sa affirmation?”

Lacierda said he does not recall issuing a public birthday greeting during the Aquino presidency.

“We greeted him quietly,” he said. “I do not believe (Aquino) is comfortable with language that exceeds his self-awareness,” he added.

Activist Renato Reyes, Jr. was more direct.

“The essay-writing contest for Duterte’s birthday begins. Here, Sal Panelo portrays the President as a swashbuckling leader of the Avengers, exploring new depths of the superhero genre, even (branding) him a savior, despite the latter’s disastrous response to COVID-19,” Reyes huffed.

—With a report by Leila B. Salaverria

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TAGS: Rodrigo Duterte, Salvador Panelo
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