Fanaticism and faith
The tide the President rode to the Palace was high. It was propped up on the frustrations of a people over a government deemed callous and elitist. Strides were said to have been made in the economy, and the rich were perceived to be accumulating greater wealth. Yet, all that remained for the poor was dirt.
The previous administration was chastised by no less than the Supreme Court for its arrogance in spending the people’s money. And for all its supposed merit and morality, that administration was also incompetent. It had bungled a hostage situation involving Hong Kong tourists while the world watched on TV. And in a Pyrrhic victory that only Malacañang would call successful (it did net the government the finger of Malaysian terrorist alias Marwan), 44 members of the Special Action Force were killed due to failures in coordination.
The liberal democracy espoused by the previous dispensation had failed the masses. The result: a massive wave of support for a candidate who was every bit then President Benigno S. Aquino III was not.
Rodrigo Roa Duterte talked dirty, but he was seen as honest and down to earth. His campaign speeches were devoid of the pretty doublespeak that the Manila elite had long favored. He promised no ivory-tower rhetoric about fixing society. He said he’d make the fish of Manila Bay fat on the bodies of drug lords, pushers and users.
Fomenting fear and hate, now that is trademark authoritarianism. Yet who would call him out but the political elite that everybody was tired of listening to, anyway? His words and antics proved easy to sell to nearly everyone, from provincials who saw Imperial Manila become bloated and congested with progress but was not generous with that prosperity, to the urban poor who continued to starve just beyond the walls and fences of the posh malls, condos and subdivisions.
But little did they know they would be the first to perish in the brutal realization of the new President’s promises. Today, some 20,000 Filipinos are estimated to have been killed by faceless vigilantes and masked police officers. These extralegal killings have become so common that they have ceased to be news.
Even as human rights organizations are demonized as allies of the drug menace, their lawyers continue to bring the few cases of the few survivors who still have the will to fight to the courts. But it is difficult to put hope in a justice system whose independence has been eroded as well by political influence.
One of the staunchest critics of the President’s drug war in the Supreme Court was recently removed. In a ruling reminiscent of Marcos’ rubber-stamp Supreme Court, the majority of the high court’s members surrendered its independence by ousting their chief in a manner that even the least serious law student would call incorrect.
True to its authoritarian tendencies, the administration continually trains its terrible Eye of Sauron on new enemies. The most vulnerable are the voiceless—the thousands of accused petty drug pushers and users, the “lumad” whose schools are burned or shuttered for their supposed association with the rebel movement, the “tambay” picked off the streets indiscriminately.
But for all the fanaticism ruling the land, the winds seem to be changing. A UP law student and former student regent of Bicol University, long known in Bicol as a staunch supporter of the President, made a Facebook post that recently went viral. In it, he renounced his support for the President and pledged to fight for a better Philippines. “And this time, I pick myself up from the grave wrong I have committed and the gigantic problem I helped to create,” he said.
I have faith that many more among those who had relied on the promises of Mr. Duterte as the panacea to our social ills will see the light.
We have but to recall the darkness of martial law to realize that no one leader will save us. A leader given absolute power is doomed to fail.
Our salvation lies within ourselves. Nation-building requires the participation of all, and that necessarily entails some degree of chaos, squabbling and long-winded processes where nothing seems to get done. It’s a complicated system—democracy.
In his essay, Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.” That essay was called “Self-Reliance.”
Gino L.S. Paje, 28, is a government employee and law student.
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