Leni 2.0: The triumph of conviction
In one of Haruki Murakami’s novels, a protagonist, Kino, is confronted by the shadow of his conscience, who warns: “But there are times in this world when it’s not enough just not to do the wrong thing.” Kamita, the embodiment of his troubled conscience and wounded dignity, argues that courage of conviction is necessary, because “some [bad] people use that blank space [of cowardice] as a kind of loophole…”
Nothing could be truer vis-à-vis today’s desiccated politics, where fragile democratic institutions are writhing in despair amid toxic disinformation. Authoritarian populists, often with external assistance from tyrannical superpowers, are bludgeoning the majority into silence with an organized minority of opportunists, crackpots and well-oiled propagandists. One should understand that the very physics of power has shifted. As political scientist Moisés Naím explains in “The End of Power” (2013), we live in a “world where [too many] players have enough power to block everyone else’s initiatives… where decisions are not taken, taken too late, or watered down to the point of ineffectiveness.”
The upshot is real and perceived paralysis of governance, further driving democracies into the throbbing embrace of megalomaniac figures. Overwhelmed by the complex challenges of globalization, now compounded by the deleterious impact of climate change, the populace understandably seeks vigorous, self-assured and daring leadership.
Authoritarian populists have tapped into this demand for dynamic, unorthodox modes of governance to deal with new and bewildering challenges engulfing 21st-century societies. And this brings us to the notable transformation of Leni Robredo, our duly elected Vice President, who has demonstrated an uncanny ability for Hegelian self-transcendence (“Aufhebung”).
Shortly after the decisive defeat of the opposition during the midterm elections last year, we began to see what could be described as “Leni 2.0.” Progressively, seeming diffidence gave way to quiet defiance, as the Vice President took on not only the President, but also reactionary politicians and propagandists with gusto. As I wrote in an earlier column (“The Phoenix: Leni’s political resurgence,” 7/9/19), the country woke up to see their second highest official taking the mantle of leadership, precisely when the President was utterly failing to defend our fishermen against foreign aggression.
In a display of compassionate leadership, the Vice President visited our traumatized fishermen who were almost killed by a suspected Chinese militia vessel encroaching into Reed Bank. Over the coming months, she upped the ante by courageously taking the President to task over the scorched-earth drug war. To the astonishment of even her supporters, Robredo agreed to become the antidrug czar, a decision that strengthened the credibility of her protestations against mindless violence.
Her subsequent firing by the President only bolstered the lingering conviction among many Filipinos that the drug war needed a serious reboot. After all, four years into Mr. Duterte’s presidency, not a single real “big fish” has been brought to justice, while there is little sign of any significant reduction in shabu imports from overseas, especially China.
Barely a month into her new role, the Vice President managed to shake up Mr. Duterte’s drug war like never before — and give us a hint of what a “smart drug war” would look like. Soon after, her numbers improved.
Though she would be fired by the President after only 18 days, astonishingly, despite the avalanche of propaganda and bureaucratic resistance she faced, only 26 percent of Filipinos were dissatisfied with her performance as antidrug czar, according to the Social Weather Stations. By the end of the year, the majority of Filipinos (6 out of 10) approved of her overall performance, according to Pulse Asia.
Surveys show that up to a third of the populace who have been “undecided” on her performance are up for grabs. This is a remarkable achievement for someone who has led the opposition against an enormously popular President, and who has had to defend her office against the election complaint of a losing scion of the Marcos dictatorship. Lately, she effortlessly struck down the country’s chief purveyor of fake news with humor and conviction. As one of Murakami’s strong-willed female characters put it: “Maybe working on the little things as dutifully and honestly as we can is how we stay sane when the world is falling apart.”
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