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Second Opinion

Manifold narratives

/ 05:22 AM February 15, 2018

Every administration is a mix of good and bad things. It’s a matter of pushing for the good so that it outweighs the bad. Marcos was corrupt but built a lot of infrastructure. Cory restored democracy but plunged the country into power and debt crises. FVR, for all the good he has done, had the Expo Filipino scandal. Erap, well, he was also corrupt but was tough against the Abu Sayyaf. GMA was undermined by her husband but her macroeconomic policies set into motion our present economic growth. P-Noy may not have been corrupt himself but he stubbornly defended his erring allies, and precipitated a culture of blame that continues today.

“And so it is with Duterte. Maybe extrajudicial killings are really happening, but look at the tax reforms he just instituted, not to mention sensible policies. He may be foul-mouthed, Marcos-loving, China-kowtowing, and just as vindictive as P-Noy, but look at the bottom line: The Philippines is one of the best-performing economies in the region.”

Those words, a pastiche from conversations I’ve had with other people, basically sum up an approach to viewing government that I feel is held by many Filipinos: a self-aware, somewhat-cynical pragmatism that thinks of itself as neither pro- nor anti-anybody. It is an attractive world view because it allows people to evade weighing in on individual issues. It also allows them to acknowledge the faults of politicians but maintain support — or tolerance — for them. If all politicians are corrupt, why single out President Duterte? If EJKs have been happening for decades, why complain about them only now?

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Meanwhile, there are folks who consider Mr. Duterte as not just “like any other leader,” but also a one-of-a-kind president who can truly effect the change he has promised. “Drugs are destroying the country,” they hold. “Addicts are on the loose, raping and brutally murdering innocent citizens, and are using human rights as shield.”

“Politicians, instead of addressing the problem, are under the payroll of drug lords,” they add. “In any case, they are more concerned with Metro Manila than the rest of the country. They claim to be decent, but their paths are crooked. They didn’t care about ‘Yolanda,’ Mamasapano, and tanim-bala; they won’t care about Dengvaxia. All they care for is their own interest. What we need is a strong leader who gets things done. And there’s just one person we know who fits this standard: Duterte.”

Opposing these narratives are those that lament how the gains of the past administration have been undone by the present one. “P-Noy’s only mistakes were failing to communicate the image of a caring president — and perhaps being overzealous in his anticorruption drive — but otherwise, he did a great job,” they say. “He stood up to China, ended the pork barrel, and built on the slow but steady democratic gains since 1986. Duterte, with his self-confessed mayor’s mentality, postures to be a man of the people but his policies, from TRAIN to the war on drugs, are actually antipoor. His speech is despicable, even more so than some of his appointees.”

Equally opposed are folks who are critical of the entire system — including P-Noy — but see Mr. Duterte as exceptional in his moral bankruptcy. “Most politicians are just different species of the same genus, but Duterte is a different creature. He’s savaging institutions and attacking anyone who gets in his way. His cowardly response to China has irreparably compromised our territorial integrity. And he may yet become a dictator — if he’s not one already.”

Those are just four of the many perspectives out there — different ways of viewing the present administration. Add to them the growing number of people who have come to feel completely indifferent to our politics—and we would have effectively unsettled the false and unhelpful dichotomy between “DDS” and “Dilawan.” There are many other voices. Most of them are dismissed outright, but very few of them are actually listened or spoken to. To build a “politics of inclusion” and make people rethink their premises, the first step is to understand where their manifold narratives are coming from.

Comments to gideon.lasco@gmail.com

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TAGS: Benigno Aquino III, Corazon Aquino, Ferdinand Marcos, fidel v. ramos, Gideon Lasco, Philippine presidents, Second Opinion
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