‘Arbitrocracy’ and our unsung heroes
“Patriotic arbitrariness,” argued the Russian philosopher Ivan Ilyin — whose ideas have inspired Vladimir Putin’s governance doctrine — lies at the heart of national redemption by a savior leader. It’s precisely this “redemptive excess,” he maintained, that allows a visionary leader to circumvent the shackles of an unresponsive legal order to save a beleaguered nation from untrammeled corruption and absolute degradation.
Drawing on Ilyn’s philosophical musings, Vladimir Putin has established what can be called an “arbitrocracy,” where a political system is run by the arbitrary whims of an imperial presidency. In modern Russia, Putin’s command is “the” law and his wishes “the” national agenda. In the words of Russian journalist Masha Gessen, Putin can effectively “will his own truth,” almost regardless of facts on the ground.
In the Philippines, we are increasingly facing our own version of arbitrocracy under President Duterte, who incidentally views Putin as his “favorite hero.” From the perfunctory shutdown of Boracay last year to the shuttering of lotto outlets more recently, what’s crystal-clear is that Mr. Duterte’s words and whims are now often “the” expression of state power.
Earlier this month, I found myself at the receiving end of another form of arbitrocracy, when some overzealous propagandists maliciously sought to denigrate, intimidate and even legally sanction me.
On the way back from my hometown of Baguio, I stumbled upon a post by the Land Transportation Office-National Capital Region (LTO-NCR) Facebook page, which, absent any proper investigation or due process, accused me of reckless driving.
Their evidence? An obviously stationary picture (background completely clear) that showed Picasso (my aunt’s adorable Maltese dog) leaning over the steering wheel. The picture was taken on the way to Baguio City, while the vehicle was legally and safely parked, placed in P (parked) gear, and in completely stationary and immobile mode.
My aunt, whom I was taking back home to Baguio for a medical checkup following her horrific seizure earlier that had led to a broken nose among other injuries, took the picture. In our hometown, we reckoned, there would be people to check on her, and the medical expenses would be less prohibitive.
In this context of almost gloomy hyper-emotionality, taking pictures of idyllic scenes along the way, peppered by Picasso’s harmless antics, constituted our little moment of respite. Overwhelmed by the challenges of everyday life, we let our guards down, innocently embracing brief moments of levity beyond our political struggles.
But the ghastly episode involving my supposedly reckless driving took an even starker turn when, within less than 24 hours, the LTO-NCR Facebook page posted a subpoena against me, which even included my home address. My safety was now in danger, while I was being accused of a crime sans due process.
Never in my life have I ever been subpoenaed or involved in any court case. So this was horrifying. But I eventually decided to place my faith in our countless unsung heroes in the government.
At the LTO, I found thoroughly professional, cordial and law-abiding officers who assured me of the protection of my basic rights following the submission of a formal affidavit.
I was aware of the identity of the person behind the Facebook post, which unfairly affected the image of the whole government agency. Gladly, I know many other hyper-professional and reliable folks in the government, whom I have met throughout the years in my capacity as a scholar and media practitioner.
In-depth conversations with senior officials such as Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Benjamin Rasgo Madrigal Jr., and Gen. Romeo Brawner, among many others, have constantly reassured me about the professionalism and patriotism of our defense establishment.
The same can be said about folks such as the Department of Finance Undersecretary Karl Chua and Assistant Secretary Tony Lambino, as well as the Malaya brothers, Assistant Secretaries Eduardo and Jonathan Malaya, whose unquestionable competence and level-headedness have instilled in me a strong sense of confidence in our government in general.
No matter our disagreements with politicians, we should never lose touch with the bigger picture of competence and patriotism among countless unsung heroes in our government, who ensure our basic safety and well-being with indubitable dedication.
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