TRUE to form, President Aquino said over the weekend there was no need for him to apologize for the lewd performance that followed a Liberal Party oathtaking ceremony in Laguna Thursday last week. The statement was an indictment of the poor leadership that Mr. Aquino has displayed over the last five years, during which he has steadfastly refused to accept responsibility for the misdeeds of his allies and subordinates.
The gyrating “dancers,” who simulated sex acts on stage, were supposed to be “a gift” from Metro Manila Development Authority chairman Francis Tolentino to Laguna Rep. Benjamin Agarao, who celebrated his 58th birthday at the same venue that day. Both Tolentino and Agarao are members of the Liberal Party, which the President heads.
A video of the performance posted online provoked widespread disgust and anger from women’s groups and ordinary citizens.
Tolentino, who is running for senator under the Liberal Party banner, denied the emcee’s announcements that he had brought the girls as a gift to Agarao. Agarao was quick to back Tolentino’s story, but refused to say who had invited the dancers, then defiantly added that “as a real man,” he saw nothing wrong with the lewd dance.
Agarao has since issued a half-hearted apology; Tolentino has maintained his innocence.
The Palace said Friday the President did not condone the lewd dance.
“Women are not objects to be given away as gifts during celebrations. The President has always stood firm against the exploitation of women and will not condone such displays of disrespect,” said deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte, in a text message to the press.
But Valte insisted over the weekend that there was no need for the President, as head of the Liberal Party, to apologize for the incident.
“The President had nothing to do with it. The President had no idea that it was happening,” she said.
The statement had a familiar ring to it, because an intransigent refusal to accept responsibility and to apologize for wrongdoing—by himself or his subordinates—has been the hallmark of Mr. Aquino’s five years as President.
We saw this even in his early months on the job, when he triggered a diplomatic crisis with China by refusing to apologize for the death of eight Chinese tourists in a hostage crisis in August 2010 as a result of police incompetence.
Mr. Aquino exhibited the same refusal to admit fault and apologize, even when it became apparent that his administration had been woefully inadequate in responding to the devastation wrought by Typhoon ‘‘Yolanda’’ in 2013. In fact, Mr. Aquino still points to his “achievements” in this regard, while neglecting to acknowledge how more than 130,000 storm survivors still lived in tents two years after the disaster, or that funds contributed for their rehabilitation sit idle in government bank accounts.
We saw the same pattern of behavior in the aftermath of the Mamasapano massacre early this year, in which 44 police commandos were killed in a covert operation that Mr. Aquino had authorized and had assigned to his friend, the police chief, who had already been suspended on corruption charges.
Despite his boasts about good governance, the President has consistently set the wrong leadership example, suggesting to his allies and subordinates that they can simply brazen their way out of problems of their own making simply by refusing to accept responsibility.
Perhaps Mr. Aquino is responding to some macho notion that one must never admit fault. But if he were a real man, he would have accepted ultimate responsibility for putting his trust in people who proved unworthy of it. Then he could make amends by publicly castigating, then firing Tolentino and expelling him—and the errant Laguna congressman—from the ruling Liberal Party.
That he has not done so is not a sign of strength but of weak leadership. While the lewd dance last week may have offended many sensibilities, it is the President’s refusal to take responsibility and apologize for this and many other mistakes that truly represents a disgraceful performance.