Duterte, again.

Note: Phrases in bold link to a webpage.

I have never met a Duterte supporter who does not believe that the end justifies the means. That, together with Elizabeth Kolbert’s Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds, is the best explanation I can come up with for the continued popularity of a president who has publicly admitted to lying, murder and womanizing as well as redefined the rules of the game for politicians, journalists, criminals, and any Filipino with an opinion.

Admittedly, my world is very, very small. But. Being part of the Filipino diaspora, I do get to meet people from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao – more, I suspect, than if I had stayed home in Batangas.

Don’t get me wrong. I deeply admire the man. He has accomplished, despite repeated failures to fulfill promises by his own deadlines, what no other politician or public servant has pulled off since the Philippines became a republic. Consider these events that, taken singly, can be attributed to market forces but which, taken together, seem to have been caused by his acerbic tongue:

1   The peso depreciated to a ten-year low of P50.42 (March 2, 2017)  from P47.09 to the dollar on the day he was elected (May 9, 2016)

2   Two European companies left, bringing with them 4,ooo – 5,000 jobs

3   The PSEI is currently at 7,234.94 (March 2, 2017) after climbing to 8,102.30 on
July 21, 2016, the highest since the May elections.

4   Unemployment stands at 11.2 million, according to an SWS survey that extrapolated a nationwide survey of 1,500 adults. (One wonders how realistic this figure is but I know for a fact that low oil prices led to retrenchments last year)

5   Inflation rose to a 25-month high of 2.7% (March 2, 2017). We ought to brace ourselves for higher commodity prices; the forecast for April is 3.4-3.6%, although the BSP expects it  to “remain manageable at 3.3 percent this year.”

In any other situation or country, such  changes would have  driven  economists and businessmen to issue grave warnings regarding the direction of fiscal, monetary, and economic policies. But this is the Philippines where emotions reign over facts. (Jollibee’s marketing team acknowledged their recent viral ads came about after a commissioned survey showed Filipinos to be the most emotional people in the world.) Where cognitive dissonance, that theory of psychology that explains how a person can hold conflicting views, is applicable every corner you turn. Where facts are interpreted according to a political party’s colors instead of historical evidence. Where sexy dancers can reinvent themselves into credible journalists. As an aside, I find Mocha Uson’s evolution into a media personality uplifting: kung kaya niya maging credible sa mata ng marami, aba, e meron pa pala akong pag-asa … of course, my only problem is I was never a sexy dancer and can’t be one at my advanced age. Ha, ha.

Never, since I gained consciousness about Philippines politics, has a personality amassed   such a cult following. How else can one explain the adulation of a president whose minions have no difficulty convincing people to buy Malacanang’s version of history and events and, note this, modeling how to descend to below-the-belt punches and muckraking on social media. You don’t resort to attacking the messenger if the message is unpalatable unless reason has fled and emotion rules. Even if the message offends your sensibilities because it’s true and facts supports it. What does that say about us as Filipinos?

We should care for each other more than we care for ideas, or else we will end up killing each other.
                                                                Louis de Berniere, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

But this is not a political commentary. So let’s not discuss statistics or the legality of arrests or the posturings of  political neophytes who wish to gain pogi points from their constituents and fellow senators. And let’s not talk about why personalities behind bars, whose guilt have been established without doubt in court, have been set free.

Instead, let’s talk about the ongoing social transformation brought about by the 2016 election campaign and Duterte’s presidency. To date, the president has, with the help of the Internet as well as Armand Nocum and his paid trolls:

1   divided the citizenry into two camps, both of which are at each other throats over his actions, the intended meaning of his words, the interpretation of current events, the veracity of news, etc …

2   hoodwinked a nation of 100+ million into accepting the killing of more than 7,ooo citizens on the assumption that doing away with addicts (who are automatically presumed to be pushers) will deplete the supply of drugs.

3   endeared himself to millions of supporters with his conflicting statements about his (lack of) wealth, his desire to swamp Manila Bay with the cadavers of drug addicts, his fight against corruption, his insulting remarks against Obama and other leaders, not to mention his promises, etc …

I ask you, if Mar Roxas or Jejomar Binay or Miriam Santiago or Grace Poe had declared their intention to kill their enemies would the general population have lapped it up?

People do not seem to realize that their opinion of the world is also a confession of character.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

There’s a silver lining to every cloud and Duterte’s presidency plus the manner in which people have swallowed his flip-flopping statements have allowed me a glimpse into the worldviews of people I commune with. And. Shown me how secular humanism has invaded and pervades the church. Should we wonder, then, why so many evangelicals stood behind Trump prior to the US elections in November 2016?

It baffles me no end that people who profess to be recipients of a saving grace cannot extend the same grace to victims of drug lords who have earned millions by exploiting human weakness. They sincerely believe drug addicts are criminals who deserve no second chance at reforming their lives.

That, I believe, is why we cannot reach out and evangelize. How can we seek the lost when we, too, are lost, mired in the world’s humanistic belief system? How can we proclaim Christ’s redemptive work and His second coming when we have unknowingly become existentialists with a fervid individualism bolstered by our identity as children of the King? How can we be salt and light of the earth when our thoughts and deeds do not deviate from the world’s standards?

The result of Kierkegaard’s emergence in the middle of the twentieth century can be described as theological and philosophical diffusion. Thinking moved from the rational to the irrational; reason gave way to feeling. Final truth slipped away.
Dave Breese, 7 Men Who Rule the World from the Grave

We may not be relativists, holding on with righteous indignation to moral absolutes set forth in the bible, but where Scripture is silent, our words and actions betray a relativism that is shaped by popular culture and not by Someone who died for our sins. And so, we, too, are helpless to recognize when we are being duped by logical fallacies and deceptive philosophies that have caused  the deaths of millions elsewhere (think Russia and China). In the end, there’s not much to distinguish us from people who do not have the hope of heaven.

Leaders must not be chosen based on charisma, popularity or ease of communication, all of which are misleading and have little to do with the efficacy of a political leader.
                                                                                                   Veronica Roth, Divergent
                                                                                                   (“Erudite” Faction Manifesto)

And now I will confess: were not I a Christian, I would have voted Duterte, too, and support his political platform, even his party’s maneuvers to bring about change and attain his Hobbesian vision.

While it’s true that one does not need to be a Christian to oppose a politician (and may I point out that one can also oppose someone yet still support that person’s policies and interests), for me, at least, being a Christian precludes any possibility of supporting anyone – male or female, qualified or unqualified – who has deliberately lied uncountable times, planted evidence to win cases as a prosecutor, claims to dislike corruption but has freed corrupt politicians in jail, and who, according to a clinical psychologist, possesses “gross indifference to others’ needs and feelings, heightened by lack of capacity for remorse and guilt.” Support for gay rights is a politician’s prerogative. It can be repealed. Character cannot.

Morality aside, shouldn’t knowing Jesus force us to confront our feelings, thoughts, convictions, and ideals? (In my case, it compelled me to deconstruct my feminist self.) Shouldn’t our faith be the bedrock of our reason? Shouldn’t people who personally know the God of creation value life and uphold the dignity of man, who was created in His image and likeness? Yesterday, the President declared that “killing criminals is not a crime against humanity because they have no humanity.” One can lose his/her mind but how can anyone lose his/her humanity by doing wrong? If that were the case, we are setting aside the grace of God that allowed us to be saved without doing good works.

When freedom destroys order, the yearning for order destroys freedom.
                                                                                                                     Eric Hoffer

Don’t think I don’t get it. Believe me, I do. I ride the public transport whenever we’re in the Philippines, be it in Manila or Batangas. And if you say that people are so fed up with confronting drug addicts before they can be in the safety of their homes, well, let me tell you that I have had an encounter with a drug addict in broad daylight in Manila years and years ago. It was an experience I have never forgotten: I arrived at the office trembling, in tears, shocked at myself for breaking down so easily.

I, too, yearn for the day when the Philippines can be at par with the countries I have lived in: Singapore and the UAE (it is worth noting that both make an effort to promote tolerance between different races and nationalities).

Being fed up with an imperfect democracy and yearning for change, however, is not cause to give up our freedoms or throw out the rule of law for certain sectors of society. Let us not delude ourselves that violence will bring peace and progress. Or that replacing those who have held power for so long with outsiders will automatically bring positive change. If that were true, how can you explain the despotic rulers that most African nations have had since their independence from colonial masters? I, for one, do not believe that the surface changes, be it at the airport or elsewhere, will last.

True, transformational change does not occur without changing the fundamentals (basically what PNoy focused his energy on during his tenure and yes, PNoy had so many failings as a president). Otherwise, poverty, the lack of work opportunities, the weakening of familial bonds due to OFW deployment, our crab mentality, our celebrity- and entertainment-obsessed culture, the church’s declining influence, yearly natural calamities, our lack of food security, the under-the-table business culture, traffic-associated business losses, the cut-throat nature of international trade, the peso’s depreciation which automatically leads to higher commodity prices, etc … will derail any progress towards prosperity.

In the case of the individual, change happens from the inside. And. If you’re a Christian, change begins when one becomes “a new creation.”

The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion.
                                                                                                 Edmund Burke

In the meantime, I think of another ruler whose military feats and political acumen earned him the adulation of the masses so much so that they “appointed him dictator for life … regarding the monarchy as a respite from the evils of the civil wars.” (Plutarch 57:1) He, too, entertained and gave favors in the form of monthly rations of food to the common people. If you think about it, 2000 years do not change the nature of man. The Filipino who thinks that a strongman who condones the killing of drug addicts to rid society of a menace that they see up close and personal is no different from the Roman who looks at dictatorship as a necessary evil to bring peace to Rome. Both believe that the end justifies the means.

In a democracy … tyranny may well be apprehended on some favorable emergency.
                                                                                       James Madison, The Federalist 

And yet, history has shown time and time again that the maxim “The end justifies the means” to be the biggest lie that has enslaved revolutionaries and dictators alike. No less than Colombia’s ex president, Cesar Gaviria, declared that a heavy-handed approach to the drug problem is not the solution. Also, common sense tells us that no government has ever been successful in legislating behavior. Remember, the Prohibition eventually collapsed.

Then again, consider Robespierre, a name synonymous with the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror even though he never became the head of government. Just in case you think it’s far fetched to compare Duterte to Robespierre, consider their similarities: both were educated as lawyers and both led simple lives.

Robespierre, in fact, was known as “the Incorruptible” (whether the term can be applied to our dear president remains to be seen, he has yet to give the go signal for his bank account records to be publicized) for not exploiting his public position to advance himself. In working for “the peaceful enjoyment of liberty and equality,” however, Robespierre  found it expedient to send his critics to the guillotine.

And you know what else? Like Julius Caesar, whose excesses brought his own death at the hands of his fellow senators, Robespierre met his end  at the hand of his own party mates, the Jacobins.

You are confusing peace with terror.
                          Galen Erso to Orson Krennic, Rogue One

But let’s not dwell on the past. The present is contentious enough. Right now, many Filipinos are rejoicing that peace change has finally come, never mind that more than 7,000 souls did not have their time in court prior to their deaths. What of it, anyway, when their victims also never had a chance to file charges against them? Never mind that the rule of law is subverted by the court of public opinion. Had those deaths happened under PNoy’s watch, you think people would have rejoiced? No, they would have used it as another excuse to vilify him.

In the absence of justice, what is sovereignty but organized robbery?
                                                                                     Augustine of Hippo

Today, many articles and essays are coming out about the loss of freedoms and the rise of fascism in America under Donald Trump. I tell you, we have it worse in the Philippines. Trump won due to an electoral system that enabled a candidate to live in the White House despite having lesser votes than his opponent. We voted into office a politician whose antics and rhetoric has mesmerized the populace so much that they have voluntarily given up the freedom to think for themselves, preferring to digest sound bites of alternative news and views from individuals who were not known thinkers prior to the May 2016 elections on the pretext that the elite (Who exactly are they? The intellectuals, the oligarchy, or traditional media who holds to standards not held by the new media mavericks. I wonder if the common Duterte fan knows or can even rationalize his/her contempt for the elite.) cannot be credible and must be brought down.

Into thirty centuries born, 
At home in them all but the very last,
We meet ourselves at every turn
In the long country of the past.
                                     Edwin Muir, Into Thirty Centuries Born

We have it worse because 31 years after we brought down a dictator, we are at odds with each other over the creeping signs of authoritarian rule, the legacy of EDSA and the lack of respect for the rule of law. Haven’t we been here before? Yet without the old opposition stalwarts, we’re not aware of the climate of fear, impunity, brainwashing, and mind conditioning that is becoming prevalent on our watch. We even cheer when critics of Duterte and voices of dissent are attacked, never mind if charges against them were brought about due to technical loopholes in the legal system. I fear the hubris of a generation unshackled and empowered by social media could be the death of us.

In the year World War 2 began, a British poet wrote a six-line masterpiece after living in Berlin and watching Hitler’s rise to power. Isn’t it chilling that more than 75 years after it was written, his poem aptly summarizes what is happening in our country?

Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,
And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;
He knew human folly like the back of his hand,
And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.
                                                    W.H. Auden, Epitaph on a Tyrant

Was Auden a prophet in foretelling Duterte’s drug war as “poetry he invented … easy to understand?” Perhaps. I don’t know. When I look at how Erdogan has reduced Turkey to a state of martial law without declaring martial law, I ask myself whether we should look outside the Philippines or inwards for hope that the Philippines will not go down the path of other countries with authoritarian regimes. And. I am compelled to conclude: I don’t know.

All I know is that … less than a year ago, I was forced to make small talk with an American. She observed that the Philippines had a Donald Trump counterpart in Duterte. I replied that, unlike Trump, Duterte was politically experienced before he became president and proceeded to enumerate his accomplishments as mayor of Davao (which, one must concede, are impressive when compared to that of our mayor). All this to say … the experience left me gagging – I don’t like verbally defending a person whom I don’t support ideologically – and I vowed to avoid situations where I would be forced to do it again. This piece began out of that bitter taste in my mouth … as Raissa Robles says: never again.

Mr. Montag, you are looking at a coward. I saw the way things were going, a long time back. I said nothing. 
                                                                                                Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451


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