Politics
Mambo Duterte or Huling El Bimbo?
The political divide is not a battle of good versus evil, a fact that many of us seem to have forgotten. Charles Englund makes a case for supporting the president’s reforms and continuing discourse.
ILLUSTRATOR Frantz Arno Salvador
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It does not help that you think I’m a blind follower, an apologist, a rude and crude supporter of a bloodthirsty maniac. You think I am a troll. Worse, you suspect I am a paid troll, or even a bot. For how can anyone in their right mind support such a foul-mouthed monster?

On the other hand, WE think you’re hopelessly naive, a bleeding heart easily manipulated by clickbait articles, an unconscious elitist who, similar to the past administration, is out of touch with the pulse of the rest of the country outside of the narrow Manila mindset that you inhabit. You are a conspirator to the perpetuation of oligarchy in the country.

The ammunition we use is easily inventoried by now. Yours are: Dutertard, Dutertite, Duterter, Hitler, psychopath, bastos, troll etc. Ours are: Yellowtard (we know you were not necessarily a P-Noy supporter, but we know it’s damn annoying to be called one anyway), dilaw, ivory-tower, biased, bobo, etc. So every day we open Facebook, we mark our territory, so to speak, and then just resort to these labels, labeling comments and each other.

It is pathetic and toxic. But also strangely exhilarating and hypnotic. For why else do we keep on coming back? There is adrenalin in the discussion. We need to vent and be heard. “What the hell is this guy saying? I have to get in there and teach him a thing or two.”

Such is the state of our online existence now.

There have been many explanations offered on how we ended up this way. One that I found particularly insightful was that we never stopped campaigning. Even after the elections were over, everyone stayed in campaign mode. Criticism of the current administration started pretty much on Day One. Forget the 100-day press honeymoon. One of the biggest, if not the biggest issue out there, is this huge question mark: How much of this criticism is coming from genuinely concerned Filipinos, speaking about issues important to them, and how much of it is politically motivated? Nobody except those in the highest rungs of money and power can say for sure.

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The other insightful explanation, most popularly attributed to F. Sionil Jose, is that we should recognize what the Duterte win in the election means. It is no less than a revolution, a movement for reform and drastic change in the country. In a way, Duterte is our (Indonesian President) Widodo. All over the world, people are repudiating governments that have marginalized them. Voters are rejecting traditional politics and politicians. No matter that the quibbles about Duterte also coming from a political family, there is no denying he is the first president from Mindanao, and is not part of the traditional Manila power elite. It was his strong record as a sympathetic and effective local executive that brought him to the national limelight, more than his family name.

This revolution politicized huge swathes of the population, even segments that have previously been apathetic or excluded from the national discussion. People who used to say “Pare-pareho lang naman sila” (They are all the same), and “Kahit sino ang iboto ko wala namang magbabago sa Pilipinas” (Whoever I vote for, nothing will change in the Philippines, anyway) suddenly could not be held back from the polling centers. I spoke to a Filipina OFW in Dubai who worked in the hotel convenience store. She has been abroad for 28 years, starting out as a maid in Singapore and Hong Kong, before eventually breaking into the hotel industry. She says 2016 was the first time she voted since she was in her early 20s. She voted for Duterte.

This story can be multiplied millions of times. The simple fact is many Filipinos came to realize that the status quo does not work; that the system was failing them. We hit the proverbial iceberg with the OFWs, the growth “strategy” that was no strategy at all, rather, the result of the failure of other strategies to grow jobs at home. The unintended consequence of this labor export and diaspora was that millions of Filipinos saw first-hand that life did not have to be so hard. In other countries, they saw it is possible to have a functional government and all that it entailed—clean, well-lit streets, low crime, adequate public services, public transportation, etc.

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Budget airfares and the Internet gave even more Filipinos a glimpse of “the good life.” They saw gleaming Asian cities where millions have been brought up from poverty in the span of a generation. The great thorn on the side is Singapore, a country that would have been euphemistically referred to as “shabby” compared to Manila in the 1970s. But there are many thorns in this crown of shame. We now see how Kuala Lumpur surpassed us, and then Bangkok and then Jakarta. Now it looks like even Ho Chi Minh is about to edge us out. The saddest thing to hear is Filipinos saying, “Naiwanan na talaga tayo.” (We have been truly left behind).

Apart from this mirror being held up to our faces, we saw how the world saw us: a country of maids, of natural disasters, a people that could never get their house in order, an object of pity. Sure, we have Manny Pacquiao and the occasional opiates to our mortally wounded national pride. It still doesn’t help if you’re cleaning your master’s toilet.

Now imagine all these newly aware, newly politicized, fed-up Filipinos. On Facebook.

To fail to understand that what happened was a revolution, the birth of a reform movement (and an overdue one), is one of the reasons you are puzzled by the vehemence and passion of Duterte supporters. Facebook has only amplified that existing rancor.

Now I have never threatened anybody on social media, or told anyone they should try being raped or killed by a drug addict. No matter how strongly I disagreed with someone, no matter how insulting, how arrogant, or how much they tried to pick a fight. Then again, I do have a wide enough vocabulary and can argue back. You pick a fight with me and I can fight back and vent in many a way.

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But what about the millions of Filipinos now on Facebook who have a problem forming a sentence in either English or Filipino? Or those who are so insecure about their language skills that they start a fake account and use memes? Is social media solely for the Ateneo, UP, La Salle, UST, San Beda, etc. crowd? Is everyone else a troll? It amazes me how that pejorative term has been used so freely and indiscriminately by the anti-administration people, basically to mean anyone who disagrees with them.

Do trolls’ opinions matter less because they cannot articulate them well, or within socially accepted norms? (Whose norms?) How frustrating that must be.

I am not excusing bad behavior, but we can’t forget the underpinning dynamic of the freshly-baptized, newly-politicized people. As said before, the Duterte phenomenon has done that. Anger against the past administration and the collective failure of the post-EDSA era has done that. I just find it very strange that the same people who can sympathize with drug pushers and addicts pushed to drugs and violence due to poverty, cannot seem to sympathize with the expanded demographic on social media, or with the inarticulate, overzealous troll.

You know the other thing that bugs me to no end? That some of you have characterized our political divide into a battle of good vs. evil. Whether intentionally or simple-mindedly, some of the anti-Dutertes have resorted to demonizing him and all of us, the pro-administration people, as “evil people” with no concept of human rights or due process. The trick here is to try and gain a moral ascendancy in the argument, which gives them carte blanche license to hurl all the abuse they can muster. It even gives them, in their minds, the rationale, to disregard what other (Evil! Misguided! Troll!) Filipinos think and believe in, and move to oust a duly elected government.

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Nobody seems to recognize that the root of the divide is more due to different political priorities. Why are we always talking at cross purposes? Because at the top of your list are EJKs and the burial of Marcos at Libingan. At the top of my list is a move toward efficient and effective government, one that is sincere in its service to the people. I am for tax reform, higher fiscal spending and opening up to Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). I believe what Lee Kuan Yew said about the Philippines is true: that the US-style setup of government has failed us even before Marcos tried to change it, and I believe we should move to a parliamentary and federalist system. We need to break up our huge archipelagic country into more manageable and governable federal states. I am concerned that the corruption we have always seen in Philippine politics may have links to drugs—narcopolitics, in other words. I am for peace in Mindanao and a tough stance on terrorists and outlaws. I feel all these things are closer to happening with this administration. Duterte gets all of this and is the best chance we have had since...forever.

Then there are the other issues where we just outright clash. I am for a realist, multipolar approach to foreign relations. You want to confront China and take a harder stance; I believe the best solution to the China problem is diplomacy and compromise. You believe in media freedom; I believe in media responsibility. Your model for the country to go forward is the US system with all its bells and whistles, and you believe the status quo is working. My model is Singapore and I believe we need to make drastic systemic changes or continue to be overtaken by our Asian neighbors.

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You insist on decency and statesmanlike behavior; I’m willing to give the man a break. Yes he is a crude, loud mouth with no filters. His comments make me cringe sometimes. He is imperfect and a product of his milieu, as a recent write-up of Manolo Quezon III (belatedly) made clear. I have gotten used to it and am not shocked by Du30’s politically incorrect speech anymore. And the fact that many still are makes me just want to sigh and ask, so what now? You can’t change him. He won’t listen to your eloquent pleadings for more statesman like statements. If anything, the more you call him Hitler, the more he will retort and say something you don’t like. Remember he had to be begged to take this job, and at his age he does not give a fuck.

So whenever you accuse us of trolling and killing the discourse, let me just remind you: Discourse breaks down when nobody recognizes the ironies anymore. It’s when the likes of Princeton-educated Walden Bello, an ex-Senator, starts writing Facebook posts calling Duterte supporters short-penised dinosaurs; when academics and intellectuals like Randy David and Vince Rafael totally miss the point and say we are all just looking for a father figure or a messiah; and when a media outfit like Rappler starts a “stop the hate” campaign and then effectively blocks and censors its own readers who are disagreeing with their articles and demanding better media (like a pikon child, Rappler then goes on to insinuate that Duterte supporters are really bots and fake accounts i.e. falling back on the paid troll accusation. I have now resorted to posting pictures of my lunch just to show I am a real person).

Discourse suffers when the same people who turn the De Lima investigation into a gender issue, then turn around and abuse strong, influential pro-administration women who are speaking their minds, like Mocha Uson and Sass Sasot, with below the belt, slut-shaming and anti-LGBT attacks.

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Discourse is better served when we stick to the issues and seek balance. It is served better when we stop being so onion-skinned and whiney. After all, it’s not like one side threw a rose and the other a rock. Social media is a strange animal with assholes on both ends. Balance is best achieved by not blocking everybody who disagrees with you, and by not living in an echo chamber. Perhaps there is a self-correcting element to our fights. Perhaps like newlyweds, we are slowly whittling down each other’s rough sides and rough arguments. Give an allowance for vehemence because people are defending their political priorities and interest.

Social media is a strange animal with assholes on both ends. Balance is best achieved by not blocking everybody who disagrees with you, and by not living in an echo chamber.

Discourse breaks down when you persist in talking about only what is important to you. Worse you use it as an overriding reason for criticism and even ouster. Because, let’s face it, what is really the end goal here? Will you be happy with apologies and promises to change? Even if a survey shows popular backing for the war on drugs, would you still insist you know better? Would you insist on “speaking for the poor,” when the poor themselves have already spoken? If we had a referendum on the Marcos burial and it showed the majority support it, or else don’t care, would you still insist and say, no, the vote was rigged? How does that reconcile with your belief in democracy and majority rule?

Will you ever be satisfied short of “regime change”? People are already suggesting it in broad daylight. Clinton Palanca, in a recent piece in this magazine, wonders how long before the antis can unseat Duterte. There lies the problem. I have the sneaking suspicion that your side has already given up on discourse. So what happens to my desire for a sincere and effective leader? For peace in Mindanao and terrorists eradicated? For a multipolar approach to foreign relations? For structural change in our form of government and to amend the constitution? What happens to my wanting the Filipino to have some pride and say yes, the son of a bitch who stood up to the U.S.? My president. For my desire to see poverty reduced in the quickest possible way? For my desire to break from the old order that obviously does not work?

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Only in the Philippines. Our so-called democracy is so “vibrant” that we always get mired down. We forget that political will is anchored to political stability, and that stability rests on the robustness of our institutions, and on us. And what have we done for our political stability lately? Precious little. You want typhoons to throw the country into disarray. You cheer and politicize the Davao bombing. You petition foreigners and feed them your biases, because really you know you don’t have the numbers at home.

As a people, we like to think with our hearts; and so we will always be prey to clickbait headlines and spin—because as rich in natural resources as the Philippines is, we lack in one very important resource: critical thinking. Even some of our elite do not question the status quo. They share their Western liberal biases with the international media, who rely on the local press and the local elite as their eyes and ears on the ground.

I have always marveled at this country’s tradition of shooting itself in the foot, of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. We are seeing it again. People are missing the big picture of a reformist movement by focusing on their narrow, single-issue agendas. If democracy and rule of law gets supplanted again by the whims and vested interests of the Manila powers-that-be, then all hope is lost.

So what we have now is like two kids in a schoolyard fight. Shoving and testing each other. Gathering courage before somebody makes a move and throws the first punch. Somebody should just start it soon. And then we can go back to the Stone Age.

Let me put it bluntly in terms you would (hopefully) understand. And pardon the hyperbole, which I assure you is not that far off. Be careful what you wish for. If you haven’t realized it yet, this is the most popular Philippine president in a long long time. This guy is Mambo Duterte. The more political dirt you throw at him, the stronger he becomes. If anything happens to him, there will be class war, if not outright civil war. Visayas and Mindanao will secede. Your driver will go after you with a screwdriver. Your cook will poison your food. You think Duterte is a monster? He’s a pussycat compared to what comes after him if he is ousted or assassinated.

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Charles Englund
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