The Amazing Azkals – the Philippines’ national football team – have made history by beating Tajikistan last Wednesday and securing a place in the semi-finals of the 2012 Asian Football Confederation (AAFP) Challenge Cup. It is a “Cinderella run” for the perennially underdog team (the term “askal” means “asong kalye” or street dog, unloved and inferior) from a country that heretofore had not even cared about the game; treating it as a minor sport compared to basketball. The Azkals’ success and subsequent fame are either a fluke or the fruit of hard work – or both. At any rate, the football team is making the Philippines proud and is helping the country see that this is a sport in which we can excel internationally. All over the country, young boys and girls are getting into the sport and can actually see a good future for themselves, unlike basketball where height is a requirement. In this sense, the Azkals are a very good role model.
Unfortunately, sports heroes are judged not just by their athletic prowess but also perhaps, more importantly, by the way they conduct themselves outside the arena. In many ways the team has done well and many of its members are darlings of the media because of their movie star good looks. But that, apparently, is just the surface: two members of the team are currently facing sexual harassment raps from former Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) president Cristina Ramos, who accused them of inappropriate behaviour during a recent pre-game inspection. Ramos also slammed the team captain for not doing anything about the alleged sexist remarks and actuations, a sin of omission that is as reprehensible as the acts themselves. To make matters worse for the team, Ramos is an entirely believable accuser, being an important sporting figure herself who also happens to be the daughter of a former President.
This is not to say that the accused Azkals are already judged guilty, or that they are being tried by publicity. They are, after all, presumed innocent until proven guilty. But their public explanation – that it was all just a “misunderstanding” – is hardly reassuring. Many people who commit acts of sexual harassment do not know that there are laws against such behaviour. Nevertheless, the laws are clear on the matter, and, to cite another legal precept, ignorance of the law excuses no one. It remains to be seen how this will play out, but we hope it serves a lesson not just to the Azkals but also to all heroes out there: athletic fame is not a license to act like boors; it is a call to live virtuously.
Social media have of late been invaded by a unique campaign to have Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony arrested for crimes against humanity. Murders, rapes and abductions are just some of the abuses committed by Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) over a period of more than two decades, making him a wanted man by the International Criminal Court (ICC). The group, Invisible Children, wary that Kony could very well get away with murder, created a slick video about him and his crimes, posted it online, and challenged everyone to “make Kony famous” – with the intent of having him arrested. Within hours the video went viral as no video has ever done before and Kony has been famous ever since.
Even in the Philippines, groups have been formed to make a big buzz about Kony, and there is nothing wrong with that. A murderer is a murderer, and he must be stopped at all cost. What’s wrong is when we get caught up in an artful social media campaign to capture one man while elsewhere in the world – and indeed, right on our own doorstep – people are getting killed left and right with nary a whimper from the populace. In the Philippines, activists, journalists and other workers are being mowed down on a regular basis, but there is no Facebook or Twitter campaign to hunt the perpetrators.
Questions are now arising about the way Invisible Children is conducting not just the anti-Kony campaign but its entire operations, and anyone who has an Internet connection can simply Google the reasons the group is slowly getting into trouble. But that is beside the point; what is more important is that many people – Filipinos among them – are showing themselves to be suckers for slick production numbers at the expense of substance. It is disturbing that people can be so easily swayed to support distant causes when more important ones are staring them in the face.
Jon Joaquin is the managing editor of the largest circulation newspaper in Mindanao, the Mindanao Daily Mirror in Davao City.
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