Malilong: Fault-finding and the freedom of expression

Frank Malilong

SOMEONE recently shared on Facebook an old cartoon of a man and his wife, a donkey and two “wise” men who couldn’t seem to find anything right with whatever the couple does.

In the first frame, the couple is shown riding the animal. “Poor donkey,” the detractor grumbled, “two people on its back.” The next picture had the man alone on the donkey’s back and the critics hit him still, this time for being cruel to his wife who was walking alongside the donkey.

The couple switched positions in the next frame and the critics blasted the man as stupid for making his wife ride alone. In the last picture, both man and wife are shown walking alongside the donkey. The critics sneered, calling the couple fools for not even knowing how to utilize the donkey.

“People will always have something to say,” the cartoon’s caption read. “That’s our society.”

I have seen the cartoon before as I am sure many of you have but this time it merited more than a passing glance because never has fault-finding been so prevalent than in this time of Covid. In fact, it is fair to say that in terms of virulence and rate of spread, fault-finding is not too far behind the coronavirus.

In some cases, criticism is probably driven by fear and the feeling of helplessness. When you learn about friends dying from, or neighbors testing positive for, the dreaded disease and suddenly you feel so vulnerable there is a tendency to become irrational and you rant on social media against the officials and their supposed incompetence. If the Facebook scream helps the mental health by providing an avenue to release one’s fears, then the practice can be encouraged.

It is different when someone knowingly twists the facts just to have an excuse to criticize. When you say for example that one of the reasons the coronavirus has spread rapidly is that the people do not practice preventive measures such as the wearing of masks, you are on the right path. But when you blame City Hall for not doing enough to make the people understand the urgent need to wear masks, you are distorting the facts.

One can offer excuses for not wearing a mask such as that our people cannot afford to buy one because they have been out of work for more than two months. That would have been believable and the government would have been prodded, as they should now, to distribute free masks to the people. But that these people were not made to understand why they should wear a mask is just ridiculous.

Ours, of course, is a free country. Or at least that was what I last heard. As the caricature said, we have always something to say; that’s who we are. It can be exasperating to those in government to continuously receive brickbats instead of appreciation, no matter how little, for the things that they have done right. If they’re hurting, former Sen. Rene Saguisag had sage advice for them thirty or so years ago: Welcome to public service.

Criticism, even fault-finding, is part of the freedom of expression, which ranks highest in the hierarchy of freedoms in enlightened democracies. As Mayor Edgar Labella recently said in his comment on the arrest of the UP 8, this freedom should not just be protected but promoted. To quote an oft-repeated but still wise advice, officials who can’t stand the heat can get out of the kitchen.