Teen gymnast Carlos Yulo made a political gesture some Filipinos hoped he didn’t

October 18, 2019 - 11:17 AM
Athletes with Duterte
President Rodrigo Roa Duterte strikes his signature pose with the Filipino athletes who have brought home medals from various international competitions during their meeting at the Malago Clubhouse in Malacañang on October 16, 2019. (Presidential Photo/King Rodriguez)

Some people who saw politics in a simple hand gesture were not too happy with the photos of gold medalist gymnast Carlos Yulo doing President Rodrigo Duterte’s fist bump.

The teenager, who won the country’s first gold medal in the FIG Artistic Gymnastics World Championships, met with the chief executive on October 16 at the Malago Clubhouse of Malacañan.

Yulo was accompanied by other Filipino athletes who brought home medals from various international competitions, namely Ernest Obiena, Nesthy Petecio, Eumir Marcial and Hidilyn Diaz.

Yulo received P1 million from the Philippine Sports Commission through the cash incentive law for athletes.

RELATED: Carlos Yulo, Nesthy Petecio victories a call for financial support, breaking stereotypes

Prior to his meeting with Duterte, some Filipinos hoped he would not pose with the fist bump commonly associated with the administration, including its controversial policies.

However, when a picture of Yulo sporting the hand gesture surfaced on social media, some Filipinos called him out and claimed he has “no principles.”

“In Carlos Yulo’s case, he just did the Duterte fist-bump—the ultimate symbol of right-wing populism and demented political idolatry of a neurotic and murderous thug living in Malacañang. What do you make of an excellent athlete who has no principles?” a Twitter user commented.

Filipino historian Kristoffer Pasion explained that “power dynamics” must be considered in Yulo’s pictures with the president.

Retweeting a post by a parody page who criticized Yulo’s picture, he wrote, “Consider the power dynamics here. You’re the first (gold) Olympian in the country, from a humble background, very young, naive but good-hearted, stepping on the Palace for the first time.”

“People of influence pressure you to do a ‘harmless’ fist sign. Power in such a setup isn’t equal,” Pasion added.

He went on to say that Yulo must not be bullied and alienated by the critics just because of a fist bump pose.

“Now how to achieve the delicate balance of letting him know the meaning of the fist sign and at the same time, not bullying him and subsequently alienating him to what we have to say. Would we be patient enough? Persuasion always, never coercion. That is all,” Pasion continued.

Another Twitter user said that Yulo must be spared from the online hate altogether, pointing out that he is still a fellow Filipino despite displaying the gesture.

“Does it automatically make Carlos Yulo a DDS (die-hard Duterte supporter)? Did he have a choice? What are we going to do if he is a DDS? Bash him to bits? Kaaway ba siya sa uri? Hindi? Okay. So huwag natin siyang pulbusin ng batikos ng walang suri,” he wrote.

This was reiterated by another Filipino who claimed that Pinoys should have focused on Yulo’s achievement “that brought us all national pride” in the international arena.

Another Twitter user claiming to have worked in the government said he “wouldn’t blame” Yulo for doing the pose in the first place, pointing to possible power dynamics involved in the photo op.

A Filipino also reminded the online community that they should instead shift their “blame” to the administration for supposedly politicizing sports.

“You should be attacking this government, not Carlos Yulo, for politicizing even sports. Considering the Olympic spirit, which is apolitical and nonpartisan, Duterte’s handlers should have avoided that ugly brutalist salute and excluded Yulo from their flashy macho politics,” she wrote.

Former solicitor general Florin Hilbay echoed the same sentiments, pointing out that a government-owned news outlet was to blame for making the situation “about Duterte.”

“‘Wag sisihin si Carlos Yulo at balewalain ang kanyang pinaghirapang medalya. Imbes, batikusin ang mga pulitiko at institusyon ng gobyernong pinupulita ang ating mga atleta,” he said.

Yulo is the first Filipino to attain a gold medal in the world gymnastics event at the age of 19. He will compete in the highly anticipated Tokyo 2020 Olympics together with pole vaulter Obiena.

The ubiquitous fist bump

The fist bump gained prominence when Duterte initially used it during the 2016 presidential campaign. Since then, it has become a staple in various photo ops at government functions and events, where it is used by his supporters and allies.

Some foreign personalities have been criticized for sporting the fist bump such as actor Jackie Chan and Australian intelligence chief Nick Warner.

Chan was previously accused of using the hand gesture that a Twitter user claimed to symbolize “human rights violations, abuse of power, damage to democratic institutions” and the supposed corruption of the administration.

Warner, meanwhile, was called out by some Australian officials for having an “inappropriate” picture with Duterte which they perceived meant that he supports the Philippine president’s “brutal policies.”

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It became a concern after Amnesty International Australia said that the country should condemn the Philippines’ extrajudicial killings.

For Elaine Person, the Human Rights Watch director in Australia, it was “sickening to see [the] head of Australia’s spy agency fist-pumping a man who has instigated the killing of thousands.”

It was later on reported that Duterte had personally requested for Warner to pose with the clenched fist.

The chief executive might have popularized the hand gesture but according to him, it was originally “owned” by former President Fidel V. Ramos.

“Former President Fidel V. Ramos, he owns the brand fist actually, it’s not mine. During his time, it was his logo actually. Kaya ba natin ‘to? Kaya! That was his punch line. And indeed, (he) succeeded very well during his time,” Duterte said before.