Four Indonesian military aircraft have crashed in just over two months. The presidential election is around the corner. Swine flu has reached pandemic level six. North Korea has tested a nuclear bomb and vowed to restore its nuclear capability. But who cares about any of this? It seems the only thing Indonesians want to know these days is the continuing saga of 17-year-old Manohara Odelia Pinot. Whether it is a hard news or an infotainment program, a serious newspaper or tabloid publication, all we hear about is Mano, Mano, Mano.
There was a time when I honestly sympathized with Mano’s cause. She was allegedly raped, forced into marriage and tortured by Tengku Fakhry, a prince from Malaysia’s Kelanatan state, then abducted after she had returned to the bosom of her family. And then there was her “Mission Impossible” escape in Singapore. If one gives her the benefit of the doubt, her story is heart-rending and definitely attention-grabbing.
Yes, there are times when the words of Mano and her mother, Daisy Fajarina, sound nonsensical, exaggerated or even fabricated. But it is not for me to denounce their allegations. If Tengku is proven guilty, then he needs to be brought to justice. What interests me most is how society seems to have invested more time and attention into Mano’s story than arguably more pertinent news, particularly other issues that include Malaysia.
Take Siti Hajar’s story. Siti flew from Indonesia to Malaysia in 2006 to work as a domestic helper. During the next 34 months, she claims, her employer repeatedly poured boiling water over her, battered her with a cane and did not pay her promised $140 monthly salary. Siti’s story is a classic example of human rights violations of Indonesian workers in Malaysia.
What troubles me is that the media is not giving equal treatment to Siti’s and Mano’s stories — they are both alleged victims of abuse, both Indonesian and the alleged abusers are both Malaysian. So why is Siti’s face not constantly seen in newspapers and on television?
Is it because she “only” comes from a poor family in Garut, West Java, while Mano and family have spent their weekends partying at lavish nightclubs and traveled around the world?
Is it because Siti is “merely” the former wife of an ice cream seller, while Mano is a teen model who posed for glamorous lifestyle magazines and featured repeatedly on Indonesia’s social scene?
Is it because Siti went to Malaysia “just” to earn a better life by working as a maid, but Mano went to marry a prince and live in a palace?
Regardless of what happens in Mano’s legal battle, she will regain her luxurious life. She has reportedly already done photo-shoots with lifestyle magazines and has lucrative sinetron (soap opera) offers. She’s actually milking cash from the publicity cow.
But what about Siti? She will probably go back to her hometown, try to recover from the abuse inflicted on her and seek some other way to better her life.
Also concurrent with Mano’s story was the Ambalat row, the most recent naval standoff between Indonesia and Malaysia after Malaysian vessels encroached into Indonesian territory off the coast of East Kalimantan. It was reported that the Indonesian Navy almost fired on a Malaysian vessel.
But the coverage of Ambalat pales beside that of Mano. I bet that many, if not most, people on the streets of Jakarta know nothing of the Ambalat rift, yet, had shots been fired, the situation could have escalated into war. Hypothetically, considering the condition of our military and its recent aircraft crashes, going to war against Malaysia would be unwise and could have a devastating impact on our country.
I am truly entertained that more Indonesians are interested in a minor celebrity’s brouhaha, while ignoring that the country may be on the brink of war with Malaysia.
Let’s face it, Indonesia and Malaysia have never been exemplary neighbors. Territorial disputes, abusive and exploitative treatment of Indonesian workers in Malaysia, and Malaysia’s appropriation of Indonesian cultural items collectively combine to ensure continuous bilateral tension.
All that is needed is a spark to ignite a war. Judging by the magnitude of media coverage, Mano would seem to be the perfect flint. While waiting to see what will happen, I’ll just sit back, relax and see what’s new on TV about Mano.