Stranded nation, estranged government
President Duterte has signed the controversial anti-terrorism bill into law, giving no moment to the wide-ranging protests against it, as if the turbulent brew of life in the Philippines has not been toxic enough.
What is the lay of the land now like? Well, the nation gropes for the “new normal.” Actually, normal life has been disrupted in the Philippines since the start of Rodrigo Duterte’s presidency in July 2016, which thrust Filipinos immediately into a world of turbulence. The draconian measures Mr. Duterte visited upon the land — war on drugs, weaponization of the law, desensitization to human rights and verbal abuses, impunity of government officials, and cultivated presidential toughness and uncouthness — were the fast-track solutions to society’s intractable problems of drugs, corruption, and crime.
As if this were not turbulent enough for a single presidential term, COVID-19 happened, and another layer of turbulence enveloped the land. The late-night, rambling boardroom antics of a mayor-president reveal a gross incompetence in managing a massive, open-ended disaster, an unsurprising “new normal” since the Marawi siege destroyed a whole city and made refugees and paupers of the very people that it sought to protect.
After more than four months of quarantine, the people are chaffing. The people are in various forms of pain—frustration, disease, hunger, confusion, and death. Understandably, they have become restive, seeking relief from government.
But Mr. Duterte does not see what has become of the Filipino nation — a stranded society, on top of the traditionally understood archipelagic fragmentation of the nation. Emblematic of this condition are the locally stranded individuals (LSIs) and overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who have been unable to return to their local communities that serve as their support system. They are visibly and lamentably “fish out of water.” What is remarkable about these LSIs and stranded OFWs is how they have distinguished themselves by their forbearance, not daring to break the law, or resorting to crime. They dare not disturb their neighbors, scrounging in garbage cans or selling blood if need be to tide things over. They do the violence unto themselves, until they die, tired, hungry, and exhausted. And their very death is the first inkling that government and society have been remiss, in a land known for hospitable people.
The term “locally stranded individual” has acquired new interesting meanings. Because of the shutdown of ABS-CBN, a person who used to receive television and radio broadcasts is now also stranded in place, unreachable by broadcast news and features. As much as 27 million pupils and students are also stranded, unable to converge in their schools for their education. Many people have lost their jobs, stranded from gainful employment. Senior citizens are stranded, up to now unable to move about, virtually under house arrest. Even in one’s own home, many a Filipino is also “stranded.” Worse, for poor, disadvantaged, vulnerable, and marginalized sectors like jeepney drivers, being stranded also means more enterprising individuals and corporations are taking over their livelihood. Instead of connecting people in ways that make up for the physical, social, and economic dislocation we’re experiencing in the true spirit of “Heal as One,” the government has chosen a strategy that will further alienate it from the people. The strategy of preservation of despots is to blame the people for their misfortunes. If only the people will obey the law and not be hardheaded as they are wont to do, everything will be fine.
The anti-terrorism law will lead to another round of insecurity, and another set of victims. Who will be the guinea pigs of the law? Who will be the first person to be detained for 24 days by the police without a judicial warrant of arrest? Who will be the new martyrs? What will the visible attributes of terrorists be like under the new law? What kind of intimidation and suffering will they, and the watchful society, suffer?
Some people had hoped Rodrigo Duterte would take a moment to listen to the arguments against the anti-terrorism bill. But apparently, Rodrigo Duterte cannot be dissuaded. He had warned the people before he became president that he would kill, kill, kill those who threatened his people, and that he would let loose the police and the military on the dregs of society. Duterte will be Duterte, and that was his promise. It is the only real promise he has kept. Many people, stuck in the Stockholm syndrome, love him for it.
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