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HORIZONS

The Phoenix: Leni’s political resurgence

“Politics encircle us today like the coil of a snake from which one cannot get out, no matter how much one tries,” a sober yet defiant Mahatma Gandhi once declared, as he rallied his nation, and the broader post-colonial world, against the vestiges of Western imperialism.

“I wish therefore to wrestle with the snake,” he added, underscoring his unshakable commitment to fulfill, with stoic determination, his destiny as the harbinger of freedom to hundreds of millions of enslaved souls.

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As the Indian leader discovered, ultimately at the cost of his life, politics can be the most brutal, unforgiving, thankless and yet spiritually fulfilling arena of human struggle. His ultimate weapon was “Satyagraha,” namely the force of truth overcoming raw, tyrannical power.

Politics is not for the fainthearted. Throughout history, only men and women of great convictions and moral courage, at best, and untrammeled narcissism and destructive megalomania, at worst, were able to survive and even conquer the python of politics.

In the words of Mao Zedong, politics, especially in its revolutionary form, “is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous.”

The struggle for truth and power is the most high-stakes battle in human life. And leaders play an enormously important role, precisely because politics is the struggle of one organized minority against the other for the acquiescence of the silent majority over setting the rules that govern our daily collective interactions.

Each organized minority requires steely and visionary leadership in order to win the hearts and minds of the majority. In fact, the yearning for decisive figures of authority is very much embedded in our DNA, an outcrop of our evolutionary biology.

As the Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari explains in his magisterial “Sapiens,” our species’ astonishing rise in the overall food chain is largely because of our ability to cooperate in large numbers and, crucially, in a flexible fashion. Ants are too rigid, while monkeys won’t cooperate beyond a certain threshold. Humans, however, are capable of organizing in the tens of millions, if provided with a shared narrative anchored by a charismatic leader.

President Duterte’s popularity and dominance is a function of many variables, which I have discussed in previous columns. But his primacy is also the upshot of a seeming lack of a clear alternative. Thus, his organized minority has held sway over the silent majority for the past three years. But things can change.

And this brings me to the Vice President and her remarkable transformation in recent weeks. Precisely when the opposition was at its weakest, suffering its greatest electoral defeat since the end of World War II, Leni Robredo has stepped up to the plate.

Amid the Reed Bank crisis, which saw the President effectively parroting Beijing’s line in contradiction of his own generals and at the expense of our besieged fishermen, the Vice President became an anchor of national leadership. Shedding her usually taciturn and seemingly timid persona, a spirited Robredo called on the government to take a tougher stance in the West Philippine Sea, visited victims of both the Marawi siege and the Reed Bank collision and, with peculiar ferocity, berated underperforming officials.

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As Winston Churchill advised, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” In this case, it was a crisis of leadership amid Mr. Duterte’s silence, timidity and absence. Time and again, the President has failed to draw the line with China, while he is yet to visit the people of Marawi following the liberation of the city almost two years ago.

Our fishermen are suffering dearly in the West Philippine Sea at the hands of Mr. Duterte’s “friend,” while Marawi is yet to be properly reconstructed. Meanwhile, thousands of people, including children, have been killed under suspicious circumstances.

Facts, unlike online propaganda and illusory impressions, suggest a crisis of leadership. Like the phoenix in Greek mythology, Robredo is rising to the occasion, having survived the most vicious campaigns of disinformation, harassment and intimidation in the past three years.

Back in 2016, she pulled off a remarkable victory after a lackluster initial performance. Now, many are wondering if she is going to surprise us once again. Perhaps, as Nietzsche put it, “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.”

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TAGS: Horizons, leni robredo, Richard Heydarian
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