Mocha Uson, We (Still) Can't Quit You


Everything Mocha does is magic. She accepts an alumni award, and her fellow alumni return their own awards amidst public clamor, until finally the president of the alumni association resigns. She did return the award, but not without managing to launch another thousand memes in her attempt to castigate her detractors. It was all we were occupied with for a few days.

But, she replied, what about (and here, a favorite phrase of hers and of her followers) the Dengvaxia scandal, the allegations of Janet Napoles money going to Sen. Frank Drilon, the "pagaalburuto" of Mayon? And when the Internet went haywire over her subsequent mistake—we'll call this her Na-gaffe—she took out her book of Bible quotes to imply that the Lord was on her side. 

(God immediately sent his Catholic spokesman to issue a denial.)

That said, on this point—and on this point alone, I hope—I agree with Ms. Uson. That had been was a busy week in the fields of both politics and outrage, and there were many pressing matters that demanded our attention. There are profoundly important matters, both in foreign policy (Benham Rise, EU relations) and domestic (Dengvaxia, yes; but also the matter of press freedom, taxes, charter change, along with questionable government connections and appointments).

And yet we remained bafflingly obsessed with the Na-gaffe. A few would point out that the mistake from a government official tasked with presidential communications “isn’t trivial,” and of course that’s right. But it seemed this week that we were concerned with Mocha Uson and Mocha Uson alone—first the award, and then the mistake, was all we could talk about, crowding out so much else that was worthier of national discussion.




And here we are again, deep into the year, as the Asec declares her intention to campaign on behalf of the government's proposed shift to federalism—and releases an, ahem, "fun" video ostensibly about the topic and using vulgar terms. This isn't Nagaffe all over again, as clearly the topic is far more serious, and Uson shows that she is terribly, dangerously out of her depth. But again Mocha Uson has taken over the entirety of the national discussion, taking the spotlight away from federalism itself.

This isn’t to say that Ms. Uson, being among the most public of our public officials, should be ignored. This is to say that there should be enough bandwidth to accommodate all sorts of discussion, on many different topics, and with many different perspectives. There should be—but of course there isn’t. We can only obsess about one thing at a time.

Perhaps it’s that Mocha Uson presents a new take on that old slogan from the 1960s: “the personal is political.” That meant, back then, that personal experience can be connected to larger political themes, that personal problems can have systemic causes, and therefore have political solutions. That’s still true today, but in the Philippine context the phrase has also taken on a new meaning. The personal is political; here, however, very often only the personal is political.

Our current situation asks so much of us, and there are mountains of information that must be understood before one could become truly informed and involved. The Dengvaxia issue requires one to read through scientific explanations and weigh difficult ethical questions; but easier to boil it down to personalities instead: an incompetent president signing off on the death of innocent children is an easier proposition to swallow. The loss of aid from the European Union isn’t only a matter of national pride—it requires some acknowledgment of the interconnectedness of global development. Benham Rise requires wading into the muddy waters of diplomacy and international law. Federalism demands understanding of a complex form of government, and its proposed application on a complex Philippine reality. Who has time enough for any of that?

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There is so much to care about, but it's also fundamentally true of human beings that we will respond first and foremost to anything with a human face, and so we respond to Mocha Uson. She's easy enough to care about, and easy enough to hate. She's a proxy for everything else that we want to engage, but don't have time to. She's shorthand for everything that's wrong with the current situation, and a stand-in for everything that we don't want to think about.

(We in the media aren't blameless. We're just as quick as anyone else to snap at the lowest hanging fruit in any issue, and Mocha hangs very heavy on the branches of government.)

In this matter, her office gets its money's worth out of the Asec. She provides a convenient, glossy distraction. And how we love to go after our distractions, even if it is to hate the object of our distraction. Easier to engage with a real person, rather than imagine the consequences of our politics. We really should quit Mocha Uson, but we can't, to our own detriment.




UPDATES: This piece was originally published on January 29, 2018. It was updated on August 6, 2018.

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Kristine Fonacier
Former editor-in-chief of Esquire Philippines
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