Aquino’s fumbled message on artists and drug abuse
What began as a puzzling decision to snub one of the country’s greatest actresses turned into an unfortunate, fumbled message on drug abuse and rehabilitation.
So now we know: President Aquino doesn’t think much of people who have tried drugs.
“I don’t want to send a message that using illegal drugs is OK occasionally or it’s acceptable,” he said in explaining his decision to not to name Nora Aunor a national artist.
“The message must be: ‘It is always bad, and illegal drugs do nobody any good. I cannot emphasize that message enough and at the same time raise Ms. Nora Aunor to be a national artist.”
To be sure, rejecting illegal drugs is a message worth emphasizing. But what about the message of rehabilitation and redemption, of the stories of people who got caught but eventually broke free from the clutches of drugs.
Besides, PNoy himself just recently rubbed elbows with a one-time drug user.
In fact, Malacanang even honored Aquino’s new friend, throwing a big bash for the visiting leader who once tried marijuana and cocaine in his youth, before rejecting illegal drugs to build an impressive political career.
The visitor’s name: Barack Obama.
In his memoir Dreams from My Father, the U.S. president admits that he had experimented with drugs in his youth, a fact that was never effectively used against him in his political career because he disclosed it early in his public life.
(Then there’s Bill Clinton, who was forced to admit trying marijuana though he claimed to have never inhaled.)
Again, to be clear, it’s right for Aquino and other leaders to make strong public statements against illegal drugs.
But in a country where drug abuse, especially among young people is a pressing problem, his position on Nora Aunor sends a disturbing message to those who are struggling or have succeeded in breaking free from addiction.
I wouldn’t consider myself a Nora Aunor fan, but there is no doubt that she is an exceptionally talented actress and artist.
Yes, she got into legal trouble for alleged drug use. But she bounced back from that setback with more critically acclaimed performances.
She redeemed herself in the same way many other Filipinos who got hooked on illegal substances embraced new paths to become productive members of society.
I was with my wife’s relatives in Cebu when Aquino finally revealed his reason for rejecting Nora. Aunt Cory and Uncle Danny have had painful encounters with the problem of drug abuse.
Aunt Cory’s half brother, Benedict, became an addict. To help him out, his family, including Aunt Cory, sent him a strong message: Clean up or we will continue to reject you.
After hitting rock bottom, in which he ended up eating garbage in the streets, Benedict finally agreed to join a rehab program with his family’s help.
He eventually became a valued member of the program’s staff and later returned to his career as a seaman. It was an inspiring story of fall and redemption.
But it was not Aunt Cory and Uncle Danny’s last skirmish with drug addiction.
In his 20s, their adopted son, Martin, became a shabu addict. Aunt Cory and Uncle Danny turned to Benedict for advice. And he told them, “Do what you did with me.”
That is, be supportive but be strong and decisive. And so they took a similarly strong stance against Martin’s addiction. It worked. He’s now in a rehab program, making steady progress. Another inspiring story of redemption.
In rejecting Nora, Aquino has essentially told the Martins and the Benedicts of the country, “You did drugs, and because of that, despite your struggles to redeem yourselves, you will never be worthy of the country’s respect and admiration.”
It’s a troubling message. And it’s wrong.
Besides, how many other brilliant artists, who made mistakes with drug use or other negative habits that to Aquino are unacceptable or even immoral, would now be deemed unworthy of recognition and respect?
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