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15 June 2014

How to Respond to Hecklers or the Difference between Obama and Aquino III. (Editorial)

Or “the Way a Leader Responses to a Heckler Reveals What Kind of Administration the Leader Has”

When President Barack Obama was delivering a speech at the Democratic National Committee, he was heckled by a man from the audience, the heckler shouted, “Mr. Obama, tell us about your plan for nuclear war with Russia!” Obama sarcastically responded, “I’m sorry. Who is that back there? What the heck are you talking about?”(1) The heckler just sat down and was never arrested.

In another incident, a heckler interrupted Obama’s speech on immigration. The heckler shouted, “Our families are separated. Mr. President, please use your executive authority to halt [deportations]. We agree that we need to pass comprehensive immigration reform, but at the same time, you have the power to stop deportations." Other people shouted, "Stop deportations. Yes, we can." Instead of having the man removed and arrested, Obama asked the heckler and other people to sit down and he responded by saying, “Actually, I don't, and that's why we're here." Obama added, “What you need to know, when I'm speaking as president of the United States and I come to this community, is that if in fact I could solve all of these problems without passing laws in Congress, then I would do so. But we're also a nation of laws. That's part of our tradition."(2)

In contrast, when President Benigno Aquino III was heckled by a student during his speech in Naga City last June 12, the student was removed from the venue, arrested and now facing criminal charges. 

Heckling, especially done during a public speech by a democratically elected official, is protected by free speech. It is a different matter if you heckle a groom making a speech during his private wedding ceremony. If you are a public official, even more if you are the elected Head of State/Government, you should reply to hecklers more appropriately and you do not watch as your security agents remove the heckler and later quietly allow the heckler to be arrested, and then defend the arrest and calling it not a violation of free speech. Sometimes, it makes you wonder if President Aquino III is really the son of Cory, widely known around the world as an icon of democracy. I think his sister Kris Aquino is more equipped in handling hecklers properly, and even better, turning the incident to her own benefit. Say what you will about Kris, she is more media savvy.

Perhaps President Benigno Aquino III should follow Obama’s example. When another heckler interrupted Obama by shouting , Obama replied, "Sir, I'm here to speak to these folks. You can hold your own rally. You're being rude." Obama also said, “Don't interrupt my conversation with these folks. Alright? Show me some courtesy, alright? (3)

In my opinion, if journalists are really concerned that the Aquino administration is curtailing freedom of speech, the next time the President speaks at a Malacañan press conference defending his policies, all journalists should unanimously shout, “That’s not entirely true!” Let us see if everyone will be arrested.


(1) Jason Howerton; “‘What the Heck Are You Talking About?’: See How Obama Responds to Heckler at DNC Event,”, accessed 06/15/2014

(2) Elise Foley; “Obama Confronts Hecklers at Immigration Speech,”, accessed 06/15/2014

(3) Mollie Reilly; “Obama Responds To Heckler During Energy Speech: 'You're Being Rude',”, accessed 06/15/2014

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