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Foot-in-mouth disease

editorial cartoonA MALADY that has afflicted the Aquino administration since its early days has embroiled the country in yet another crisis. The disorder, which can best be described as “foot-in-mouth disease,” stems from President Aquino’s predilection to shoot from the hip and to let his mouth get ahead of his brain. The latest manifestation of this can be seen in the manner by which he mishandled the crisis over Sabah, which was triggered by the Sultanate of Sulu’s bid to reassert its claim over a territory that Malaysia has claimed as its own. For several weeks, a group of the sultan’s followers, some of them armed, remained holed up in the town of Lahad Datu, taking no offensive action but insisting on their right to live on their own land. In those fateful weeks, the President could have defused a serious situation by quiet diplomacy before the shooting started. Instead, he went public and threatened, then belittled the man at the center of the crisis, the sultan of Sulu. With no regard for logic, he also urged the sultan’s followers in Sabah to return to the Philippines – then threatened in the same breath to file charges against them if they did. To make matters worse, after the shooting started and Malaysian security forces began killing and rounding up Filipinos in Sabah, the President spoke up in defense of the Malaysians, further inflaming the situation in Mindanao. His latest call for a negotiated settlement with Malaysia rings hollow, and strikes us as being too little, too late. We have seen this kind of behavior before. In the Luneta hostage crisis of 2010, the President defended the police after a bungled rescue attempt resulted in the deaths of eight Chinese tourists from Hong Kong. The President’s press conference—and his subsequent move to shield his top associates from punishment—angered Hong Kong residents and ultimately soured relations between Beijing and Manila. The tendency to blurt out sound bytes with little forethought of their consequences has filtered down to Mr. Aquino’s underlings, clearly driven by hubris, and a swaggering, misguided belief that they are somehow superior and know better, and that anyone who believes otherwise is simply wrong or worse, a part of some evil conspiracy against the President. Three years from now, when we survey the damage done and the opportunities lost by this kind of mindless behavior, we will come to realize that everyone, not just the President and his minions, will pay the price for Mr. Aquino’s foot-in-mouth disease.
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