How can we catch the political spirit of the closing decade? How can we summarize, in a short essay, what happened in the Philippines, politically speaking, in the 2010s or the ’10s?
One way to do it is to look at the results of the decade’s presidential elections, to see the contrasting philosophies of the crowds that catapulted contrasting presidents to power. In the ’10s, the new regime is typically a repudiation of the previous, together with the latter’s principles. Both regimes hark back to the past as glory days of an era and the dark period of the other.
This decade may go down in our history as a battlefield between two nostalgias — of Marcos’ martial law as the golden age of the country, or its darkest days; and of the first Aquino regime as the restoration of Philippine democracy, or the replacement of the old oligarchs with the new. Both nostalgias have rabid supporters that won’t budge to any attempt by the opposite side at gaining some ground.
The two dominant narratives of the 2010s glorify starkly different administrations of the past, and both camps present a dizzying horde of information that are easily muddled with the introduction of “fake news” and “post-truths.” This is a protracted and continuing battle for the hearts and minds of citizens, who may have grown tired, cynical and callous of personality-based political colors as they are gradually enticed by a social media that does not tell them the plain facts.
Ironically, the battle for facts and to set the record straight seems futile, as the majority of citizens still prefer dancing and/or singing political candidates over cerebral ones, validating observations that, in this part of the world, politics and show business seem indistinguishable.
Hence, one could describe this decade in the Philippines as bipolar, a decade of high hopes swept away by harrowing realities, an era when idealism was overpowered by compromise, which can actually be said of practically all Philippine decades after the war.
Inspired by the difficult situation depicted in Joseph Heller’s 1961 novel “Catch-22,” I would hazard to name the political condition of this decade as “Catch-2010.” In our version of this dilemma, any view favoring either strain of nostalgia would be bashed rather viciously. If a citizen would claim to be knowledgeable about the evils of the Marcos regime, he/she would be tagged as a communist, an elitist, or ignorant. But if an individual would express a contrarian and positive view of the Marcos years, he/she would be labeled a historical revisionist, a fake news purveyor, or likewise ignorant. (Of course, having a neutral take on this issue, or having no position at all, would still be deemed ignorance.) This is our sad political condition, and there seems to be no escape.
In Catch-2010, an opinion on the Marcos vs. Aquino issue would spawn virulent attacks from netizens, especially trolls, who are typically strangers to logic and civility. Since trolls are anonymous, knowing their actual position on an issue would represent a quixotic quest. But the more tragic result of this troll phenomenon is that many citizens are easily swayed by trolls’ opinions. Thus, baring a stand on the favorite subject of the decade would open the floodgates to be publicly lambasted, and to be harshly and hastily labeled in a lot of ways.
This labeling would only become viler going into the next decade. As long as people rely on unreliable and misleading sources of information in their attempt to be more informed, Catch-2010 could remain with us and even morph into worse versions. Because, sadly, our political maturity as a people leaves much to be desired.
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James M. Fajarito, PhD, is associate professor at Holy Angel University in Angeles City, Pampanga.
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