From gratuitous applause to genuine inspiration.
That was how Monday felt, when a president’s rambling state of the nation address was followed by the news of the gold medal victory of weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz in the Tokyo Olympics.
I had attempted to listen to the SONA earlier in the afternoon but after a few minutes switched off after being unable to bear listening to an old man rambling about his preferred distractions while the rest of the country was suffering from the ill effects of approximately 500 days of lockdowns and various states of quarantine restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Unfortunately for me, when I tuned into the SONA, our dear leader was discussing his favorite topic: his flagship drug war that was promised to be done in 3-6 months but is fast approaching its sixth year. Listening to him talk in an agonizing tone and cadence about an ancient and still-unresolved issue he had promised to solve with his supposedly iron will, was too much to bear and after around 10 minutes of rambling about drugs, I deemed it better for my mental health and well-being to find better things to do.
It was around dinner time when my wife and I were scanning through clips of the SONA. At that point, I was quite glad with my decision not to waste time listening to the rest of it. We were entertaining ourselves with the gratuitous applause coming from the gallery every time the great leader paused. It didn’t matter if he was made a joke, a non-joke, was catching his breath, or was pausing for effect. The audience there were clapping every time an opportunity to applaud their patron presented itself during his “talk” that lasted more than three hours.
I remember the clip we were watching then was the president talking about the teleprompter like a true lolo. It was either going too fast or too slow for him, giving him great difficulty with the simple task of reading a prepared speech and he was, as usual, going off script and trying to be either cute or funny. And, as usual, his captured audience was gleefully applauding every pause, whether it was funny, relevant, inspiring or not. I would later discover that when the President was about to end his SONA, he gave too much information and said that he was already about to pee and for that he got another round of applause from the so-called representatives of the Filipino people who were present at the venue.
Anyway, I remember thinking to myself that the overly gratuitous SONA applause that could only come from sycophants was worth writing about when news broke that Hidilyn had won the country’s first-ever Olympic gold medal.
The mood at our home changed instantly from the usual frustration and disappointment to giddy celebration. It has been a while since a Filipino striving for excellence gave our countrymen something to cheer about and pull off an achievement that can inspire us to be a better people.
That fateful Monday, Hidilyn Diaz did in three minutes what Rody Duterte failed to do in more than three hours. Her unexpected and improbable win against a reigning world champion didn’t only bring pride and joy to the country, but also inspired an entire nation. The first Olympic gold in our history reminded Filipinos that if we put our hearts and minds into something we really care about, we can emerge victorious.
While our leader’s modus operandi has been to over-promise and under-deliver, our Olympians like Hidilyn did the exact opposite. Although we have become so used to failure and low expectations that we no longer expected anything from our Olympic contingent, they never settled for mediocrity. Because they had no troll farms to hype up their achievements or lack thereof, they’ve had no choice but to push themselves to their limits as they prepare to pit themselves against the world’s best of the best in the world stage. When time came to perform, they give it their all, win or lose. No excuses.
During these difficult and frustrating times, it has been a challenge to find positive role models and sources of inspiration. That is probably why Hidilyn’s gold medal is so valuable to us. She has proven that Filipinos are still capable of excellence and the challenges she faced and surpassed along the way gives us reason to hope that we can still emerge victorious, even when things look bleak.
The State of the Nation Address for 2021 may have been so-so, but the Olympic gold medal that was won that day will be memorable for Filipinos. As we hope, pray, work and support each other for more gold medals, let us also work as hard to ensure that the State of our Nation will be better in 2022.*