A Facebook post expressing anger and frustration against President Surangel Whipps Jr. when the first positive COVID cases were reported, went viral on social media when the tone and the words used had many up in arms against the poster Richard Brooks.
The reactions have ranged from mild upset to downright threats causing Mr. Brooks to report some of the threats to the police. Meanwhile, the reactions continue to escalate as previous posts of Mr. Brooks are dug out and shared on Facebook and Messenger chat groups.
Many of the responses take offense to the choice of words and expressions used against President which they say are “disrespectful” and out of line with Palauan culture of “respect” and “tact”.
The backlash against Brooks’s post has been relentless. Despite him taking down the post after few minutes of posting, it was copied and reposted many times in individual and group accounts on Facebook.
The reactions are such that a group of mostly older men that congregate at Did ra Ngmatel Gas Station for coffee regularly have written a letter to Mr. Brooks saying that it would be best if he leaves the country.
The letter said that they “apologize” on behalf of those that have made negative comments as result of his post but they feel that he had gone “overboard”, “being disrespectful in our own house”.
There were also posts supporting Mr. Brooks freedom of expression, saying that Mr. Brooks didn’t say anything new, that he said what was on people’s minds at the time but were not as free to express them. Others are more forgiving, saying they understand that fear can cause people to say things without thinking but overwhelming number of posts express anger for what some say is lack of respect of Palauan values.
The reactions have prompted leaders of national congress (Olbiil Era Kelulau) to write a letter to Mr. Brooks assuring protection for him and his family from harm but at the same time threatening him with a congressional resolution to declare him persona non grata for opinions he had expressed before.
In the letter, OEK leaders alleged that this incident where he posted incendiary language on Facebook, accusing President for “condemning the entire country to a pandemic and for risking the safety of the children population for profit” is not an isolated incident and that he was at risk of being declared “persona non grata” for his choice of words. He was told to “remedy your words and actions before we are forced to address this.”
“Please be reminded that you are a guest of Palau and with that status, be mindful of the existing cultural practices that has transcended generations….and adjust your cultural beliefs, characteristics and actions to match the country you are currently living in. Our culture is firmly rooted in omengull (respect) and going forward, we request that you tone down your daredevil words and action.”
In other words, freedom of expression has a limit here and there can be real repercussions from individuals and government if you chose “offensive” or “disrespectful” words or tones to express yourself.