[Episodes] On the ‘helicopter parent’: Bedtime rituals, working mothers, and other obligatory things

Adelle Chua

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[Episodes] On the ‘helicopter parent’: Bedtime rituals, working mothers, and other obligatory things
'She just had to flex it, didn’t she?'

On the occasion of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s birthday, his vice president, Sara Duterte, paid a tribute to him on social media.

“I told PBB, we need a selfie because the social media team needs an obligatory birthday selfie, hence the smileys.

“Thank you, PBB, and your 250th PAW for ensuring that wherever I may be found in the country during the day, I am home in time to tuck my children to bed. Thank you for putting a premium on the desire of a working mother to be present in her children’s lives. I wish God’s favor upon you as you celebrate your birthday and pray that you are given the strength and wisdom for the difficult road ahead.

“Happy birthday! I wish you good health and happiness.”

PBB is President Bongbong. PAW is Presidential Airlift Wing.

There were two photos in the post. First is of the two top officials of our land, seemingly enjoying a close working relationship as can be gleaned from the smile on the President’s face (the VP was wearing a face mask). The second photo is Duterte with the helicopter that we surmise was used to bring her home to her children, in time to tuck them to bed.

To be able to react properly and commensurately to the said social media post, we have to be clear about at least two things.

First, we have to assume that the Facebook account – Inday Sara Duterte – which was used to post the greeting is legitimate. It is. It is her official page. It has 2.1 million followers. Duterte herself has acknowledged the post as her own. On the same page, one of the more recent posts was a message of gratitude to the appropriations committee of the House of Representatives. She had been given, with much courtesy, P150 million in confidential funds for the Department of Education of which she is Secretary, and another P500 million for the Office of the Vice President. Confidential!

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Second, nowhere in the post did Duterte disclose the whereabouts of her children. Thus, assumptions that the government helicopter flew her down to Davao City on that particular day would indeed be a stretch. The public does not know, really, where her children are living – frankly, we don’t need to.

But this was the part of the post that elicited a slew of reactions on social media. Imagine a government helicopter being used to ferry someone home to Mindanao. What entitlement!

The reactions were so adverse that the OVP was compelled to characterize the whole thing as “fake news.” Her children are no longer in Davao, said the OVP’s spokesman, lawyer Reynold Munsayac. They are now in Manila.

What they called “fake news” originated from a single source – the VP herself.

What was not said, however, was that Duterte’s post implied she could be anywhere in the country and still could be brought back home to her kids in Manila (now that we are told that they are here). Suppose the day’s activities were in Visayas or Mindanao?

Then again, even if her activities were limited to Manila, does it mean she has also been enjoying the airlifting services for the short distance just so she could rush to her children’s bedside at night? Wouldn’t it still be scandalous even if this were not an everyday occurrence?

Remember: this is the official who was just given hundreds of millions in confidential funds – and none for children with special needs, by the way – in taxpayers’ money.

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I take strong exception to the invocation of the plight of “working mothers.”

We acknowledge that the Vice President is a mother and that her job as a public servant, compensated for by taxpayers’ money, qualifies her as “working.”

We surmise too that, like any other parent, she has the best interests of her children in mind and that includes being present in their lives, not necessarily all the time, but in all the times that matter. In this case, it appears important for their family that the parents personally say good night to their children, perhaps after asking how their day went, ensuring they have completed their homework and brushed their teeth, and kissing them good night.

Where it starts going wrong is when Duterte flaunts her fancy ride – disguised poorly as what she calls an “appreciation post” – as she generalizes the situation of working mothers.

Not all working mothers choose to be apart from their children for long periods of time. Too many mothers have to work hard to make ends meet, to supplement the meager income of their husbands, or to provide for their families’ needs all on their own. Life is tough and is getting even tougher given the higher prices of goods – a problem which, by the way, this administration has promised to address. There are mothers who do not see their children for days, months, or even years on end because their place of work is too far or too expensive to reach.

Not all working mothers can rush home at the end of a busy day. There are mothers who endure hours of commuting to and from their workplaces because our public transportation system is in shambles. There are those who have to wait on the road or stand in line for hours, under the heat of the sun or in the middle of a downpour. Certainly, we can only think of one person who can be brought home by a helicopter so that she can be home by her children’s bedtime.

Sara all, indeed.

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None of this would have happened if the Vice President simply stuck to the first photo or wrote “Happy birthday, Mr. President!” But she just had to flex it, didn’t she? And now she has released a statement castigating those who dare criticize her for her crass display of privilege at a most difficult time.

But the ensuing criticism is neither bitterness nor spite. It’s calling out our leaders from whom we expect a semblance of sensitivity. It’s our duty as citizens in a democracy.

Birthday selfies may be popular, but they are in no way obligatory. The only obligatory things in this issue are for our leaders to use the people’s money judiciously, to live simply, to welcome criticism instead of gaslighting critics, and to be humble enough to own up to their misdeeds. –

Adelle Chua is an Assistant Professor of Journalism at the College of Mass Communication – University of the Philippines Diliman. She has been an opinion writer and editor for 16 years. Her past and current work are on

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