Citizens, not apologists
The political turmoil gripping the country is maddening. People voice their sentiments with gusto, unheeding of what others have to say. Partisans of political colors meet each other with mutual suspicion, each accusing the other of staging dramas to unseat or support those in power. Fake news pollutes political dialogues and exchanges.
Worse, while these things are happening, the socioeconomic reality of the country remains unchanged. The problems that plagued us in the past are the same problems we are dealing with today. Many among us remain poor and largely victimized by rampant violence, and justice continues to be the privilege of the elite.
Rodrigo Duterte’s populism was alluring to many. In fact, many pegged high hopes on his administration, that it would bring power back to the people. The failures of “elite democracy” have caused much despair among us, so much so that the service of an unwieldy leader from the South was called for.
Mr. Duterte’s unpopular methods have earned him both critics and admirers. Even prior to his assumption of the presidency, issues had been raised about alleged corruption and human rights violations. The public dismissed these as mere propaganda by the unfriendly. Support for him was at full blast, recording sky-high satisfaction and trust ratings—signs reflecting the people’s willingness to go with a leader all the way in the name of change.
However, there are red flags worth noting. The controversies dragging in the name of the President, his family, and cohorts deserve the public’s attention. These controversies largely stem from allegations made by his avid critics, particularly Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, but that does not necessarily debase the allegations — especially since there have been no serious attempts to respond to them sensibly in order to put the matters to rest.
Make no mistake. The burden of proof still lies in the accuser, not the accused. But certainly, no random numbers would or should count as an adequate response to a serious allegation—more so because Mr. Duterte himself seemingly betrayed his “non-trapo” image by citing monetary figures that he previously claimed as not having. Before the 2016 presidential election, people were convinced of how simple life was for the former mayor of Davao City. But as the plot thickens, there is now need to put the pieces together.
Certain issues currently surround the Duterte administration. These include: the necessary and unimpaired pursuit of the people behind the P6.4-billion “shabu” shipment that made it past the Bureau of Customs, which, common sense tells us, is important and urgent; how the Commission of Human Rights was demonized and ridiculed by the House of Representatives; how the poor are significantly more vulnerable in the war on drugs, with the police showing an utter disregard of human rights; and how overly defensive the President becomes when faced with allegations of corruption or wrongdoing.
It’s safe to consider these issues as warning signals—not necessarily indictments of Mr. Duterte, but observable gaps in his administration’s narrative that need patching up. For the wider public, both supporters and critics, answers to them are needed, if not demanded. And depending on how they are answered, Filipinos who are true to their obligation to truth and justice can begin to reorder their sociopolitical reality and respond accordingly.
The problem, however, is when we continue to frame political dialogues in terms of partisan politics, so that we generate more heat than light. If these red flags are truly red flags, we should demand answers, favoring truth over our loyalties. In these trying times, the Filipino people are being called to embrace citizenry, with all its obligations, rights and duties.
Ancient Greece birthed our notion of citizenship. At the core of the polis, citizens were invited to participate in the public life by sharing in the polity. It entailed two commitments: one, commitment to the wellbeing of the polis, which calls for the citizens’ willing participation in discerning which are beneficial or harmful to the civic interest, and two, loyalty to the polis as an entity, precluding political allegiance to certain people in power, such as chieftains, lords, or kings. (See Derek Heater, “A History of Education for Citizenship,” London: Routledge, 2004.)
What defines a citizen from this perspective is her or his obligations and duties to the polis as comprised by the larger citizenry. As such, all citizens are both ruler and ruled, accountable to one another.
More doors are possibly opened when we share in the public discourse as citizens of the state than as mere pro- or anti-. Holding everyone accountable, even those in power, is part of our civic duty. And the only allegiance that is never compromised is our allegiance to one another as people of the state—that we all become citizens, not apologists; Filipinos, not advocates of political colors.
But the graver civic betrayal I can think of is indifference in sharing in our polity. As Aristotle once said, “To take no part in the running of the community’s affairs is to be either a beast or a god!”
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Juan Roberto Rances, 25, is a student, part-time lecturer, and freelance writer.
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