The midterm elections are less than a month away. I feel like a crew member on the Titanic moments before it struck the iceberg. The outline of the iceberg is now discernible, and it looks as if the ship will not be able to veer away cleanly, in time. It is a calm, cold, dark sea out there, a perfect camouflage for the impending disaster. It seems like a test, really, to ensure only the fittest — be they persons and nations — survive in this overcrowded, resource-stretched world.
Everything seems to lull people into complacency. The Holy Week is like a reassuring ritual — nothing has changed much over centuries, and nothing drastic would likely change in another one. The promise and smell of summer frolic is in the air. In just a few months, the rainy season comes, and after that, the long, salving Christmas season follows. Life goes on.
I look back at the Marcos regime for perspective. It was ushered in by some unfortunate alignment of events — agrarian unrest, student activism, the birth of the CPP-NPA, intra-elite conflict — with a lot of devilish scheming from Ferdinand Marcos himself. Ferdinand Marcos was convicted of murdering his father’s political opponent for the second congressional district of Ilocos Norte in 1935, while the poor man was brushing his teeth.
The young assassin, only 18 years old, was overly confident, even using a rifle from the UP ROTC armory, where he was a cadet officer.
If only this young assassin was kept in jail to pay for his crime of murder, Philippine history might have changed. But on appeal, the Supreme Court overturned the conviction, in a decision penned by Associate Justice Jose P. Laurel, who apparently thought jailing this brilliant lawyer was a waste of talent. He could serve his country well someday. Well, he served us a lesson about how to pillage and plunder from the top under the guise of a “revolution from the center,” a lesson that is apparently lost on many generations, and regions.
The elite, the crème de la crème, bear some blame. They naïvely play God with the nation’s destiny. They encourage and let loose the Marcoses and the Dutertes on the nation, not to mention the Estradas, the Arroyos, the Enriles, the Revillas and the Binays.
We are again in one of these blunderful episodes. When a mayor who has earned a take-no-prisoners approach to governance is elected to the presidency, you feed his ferocious, wacky impunity. To be fair to Rodrigo Duterte, he is exactly what he promised to be — by his actions, though not necessarily by his occasional lucid words. In a democracy, institutions are supposed to provide checks and balances, the more vigorous they need to push and pull, the more outlandish the challenges to constitutional norms. But our political elite manning our political institutions are the first to scramble on to the bandwagon, tilting this democracy precariously out of balance.
The Duterte risk is more fatal than the Marcos tragedy in some respects. The Marcos regime was a purely domestic struggle—Filipino against Filipino. The attempt by the People’s Republic of China to change the odds through an arms shipment via the MV Karagatan to the CPP-NPA in 1972 fell through. The international environment was benign. There was no predatory power like China at our doorstep. Sure, the domino theory that communism was on the march gripped the Asian region. The Philippines dutifully sent Filipino combat troops and sacrificed lives to help put out the fire, first in the
Korean War (112 Filipino soldiers killed) in 1952, and then in the Vietnam War (9 killed, 64 wounded) in 1968.
Now, a predatory China, the solicitous bully par excellence in these parts, is actually playing out the domino theory on the Philippines with its soft power. This time, the Duterte administration is not alarmed at all, and in fact has unlocked the front door, laid out the welcome mat and prepared the master bedroom.
China with its perfected debt trap scheme, smothering our West Philippine Sea islands with waves of Chinese maritime militia, and flooding our metropolises with overseas gaming and construction workers, is our Titanic. And the May 2019 elections are the few hundred meters before we succumb to China’s titanic embrace.
Our choice is, veer away! veer away! Or, full speed ahead! Full speed ahead!
Apparently, the inclination of the voting passengers is, full speed ahead! If Tatay says there is no iceberg, there is no iceberg. The puzzle in all this is, the nation may not survive as a free, independent nation, but the Filipino — rich or poor — thinks he will. China or no China, life goes on.
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