Notes & Essays

Donnalyn Bartolome and the Anatomy of a Proper Apology

She demonstrated humility, grace, and, most importantly, character.
ILLUSTRATOR WARREN ESPEJO
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Vlogger and singer Donnalyn Bartolome's baby-themed birthday photoshoot caused quite a stir online this past weekend. The photos and concept for the shoot were, um, questionable at best. It presented babies and toddlers in a sexualized fashion, and with predators lurking in the shadows of bots and dummy accounts (some even use their real names, actually), the idea seemed dangerous in the first place. Plus, it didn't help that lewd remarks validated these concerns, with perverts practically salivating over these photos in the comments section.

Her fans were quick to push back on the criticism of the social media star. Most had even dismissed the notion that she needed to say sorry. It's the wokes' fault again, some said. Others claimed that it was her birthday, and that we should've just let her be (the "kapag inggit, pikit!" narrative).

But to Bartolome's credit, she accepted the feedback head on. She wrote an apology addressed to 15 million followers on her Facebook page after the uproar. The post reads:

"It was an honest mistake, it was never my intention to enable one of the most horrifying acts here on Earth.

I couldn’t remove my post right away because I needed it to copyright the photos to prevent the spread of it furthermore until I got a go signal from Facebook and other socmed managers, an assurance that they know I am the owner of the photo and they’ll help me correct this by taking down all of the posts involving this photoshoot. You may help us by sending the links of the post of anyone who reposted this for any reason at all. (via message)

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Almost a million people across socmed platforms thought of it light and funny because they know my personality and didn’t look at it that way hence our initial reaction to the idea was the same.. but upon reading other people’s perspective, I completely agree. I feel terrible, sick to my stomach and had disturbing flashbacks I’d rather not say.

I was called crazy for being overprotective to all of my siblings, ones I took care of since they were babies. It has come to the point where I had to go to a psych to understand my actions because the level of protectiveness was quite extreme, all I’m saying is I’ve taken care of children since I was 11 years old, this was the last thing I would ever intend to do.

Thank you to everyone who let me know, especially those who did it so kindly, you’re the type of people who help me become a better person everyday as I hold the responsibility of influencing millions. It’s not easy.. but I’ll do my best.

While you’re here. I’d like to use this attention for those who want to help abused children.. There is a care-facility I was admitted in when I was a minor: Nayon ng Kabataan.

The children admitted there carry so much pain, you can donate or send them little gifts to make them feel better.

Thanks everyone and I’m sorry."

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Now that's how you write a sincere apology. It's remorseful, gracious, and thoughtful, exhibiting sound judgment upon reflection.

Bartolome, taking into consideration her platform and reach, proved that she listens and understands the plight of victims of pedophilia and sexual abuse. The star had even hinted on her own experiences growing up, which was pretty brave on her part.

She removed the post once she realized its effect, and took accountability for her actions. The entertainer even added a link to Nayon ng Kabataan, a residential facility founded by the Department of Social Welfare and Development that takes care of abused, orphaned, and exploited children. That's how you use your platform for good.

Real apologies, unfortunately, are rare these days, especially coming from celebrities and politicians (the bar has gotten so low, really). Most of them, when criticized, with inflated egos hurt, retreat to fans for firepower and double down without any acknowledgement of any faults they may have had.

They hide behind the guise of victimhood. Their apologists and defenders cry defamation at the slightest hint of criticism, equating it to an attack rather than taking it as an opportunity to do better moving forward. It has gotten to a point where we cannot question anything or anyone anymore, even if there are valid reasons. This is quite sad in the grand scheme of things.

There's something to be said about character in times like these; when we commit a blunder of epic proportions and take responsibility for our actions, we take the first step in making amends. And Bartolome just showed us she has a strong sense of her own character. We have to commend her for that. Character is self-respect and self-respect is doing things with honor and dignity, even when we stumble and err. In a post-truth world, honesty still matters.

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Mistakes, for the most part, is inherent to the human condition. We are all flawed beings, after all, and it's something we reckon with on a daily basis. The important thing is to acknowledge them and the people we've hurt, as well as to grow and learn from them the best we can. More often than not, we always hear people pull the "sorry if I offended you" or "the wokes are at it again" cards in these instances, which, most of the time, is a gross oversimplification of the problem at hand. Some never say sorry at all.

Of course, it's another story when a person exhibits a consistent pattern of problematic behavior. Bartolome, however, hasn't.

Is it such a crime to be better? It's not supposed to be. Is it a crime to demand accountability? Again, no. In cases like Bartolome's, the best we can do is to have an open heart and mind, as well as to demonstrate a willingness and capacity for regret and improvement. We are never entitled to forgiveness, but we should always exhibit character regardless. This is all we can ask for. For that alone, Bartolome should take a bow.

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Bryle B. Suralta
Assistant Section Editor
Bryle B. Suralta is the assistant section editor of Esquire Philippines.
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