The price we’ll pay | Inquirer Opinion
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The price we’ll pay

How cheaply we sell our freedoms! How easily we give up on democracy!

We all wish for an easier, safer, less draining commute. We are all disgusted with petty corruption, with mulcting police and bossy bureaucrats. When we hear of yet another botched government program, we cry for heads to roll. When news of state funds going to the pockets of legislators and other officials reach fever pitch, we go to the streets to denounce the pork barrel and other anomalous practices.

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Yes, we are sick and tired and not taking this anymore!

But sometimes, the cure we seek can be worse than the illness we wish to counter. Yes, life in these islands is messy and inconvenient, and the trains don’t always run on time—if they run at all. Hunger, ignorance, oppression, despair—all these are the burdens the poor live with, day to day, with little sign of relief.

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Weighed against all these, what is the price asked of us by those who promise salvation, transformation, a radical change? I don’t know about you, but I am not willing to trade the freedoms I enjoy—the freedom to speak my mind, to choose the paths I am to take, to vote my conscience—just for smoother traffic.

I do not think the ease of doing business is worth committing the next six years to a candidate whose vision of law and order includes instant executions with little regard for due process or even just efficient law enforcement. We all crave to live in neighborhoods where streets are safe and our homes are secure from intruders. But are we willing instead to surrender our freedom of movement in exchange for constant surveillance and fear of a police state? How safe and secure would we be then?

* * *

I found a blog post that sought to trace how the camp of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte managed to create a scenario of fear and loathing, of desperation and despair, to advance his candidacy despite his many failings as a public official and even—he admits—as a human being.

In fact, he has succeeded in selling himself as some sort of lovable rogue, borrowing from the Erap playbook of openly admitting personal weaknesses and character flaws and transforming these into qualifications for “strong” leadership. The Davao City mayor and the Manila mayor have marketed themselves as epitomes of machismo, uncaring of niceties, harsh in language and attitude toward women and opponents, brazen in their approach to dealing with the bad guys.

Says the anonymous blogger: “Mayor Duterte, as planned, became ‘the only hope.’ Never mind the character flaws, never mind the risks, never mind the repercussions of his actions, never mind the incapabilities in other aspects of leadership, and never mind the signs that he’s not truly fit to be the leader of a nation of more than a hundred million. Mayor Duterte became our last chance at saving this hopeless, god-forsaken country.”

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But creating a “need” for a strongman to address the unhappiness of many was just half of the Duterte campaign manual.

The flip-side of that campaign was to create as well an atmosphere of intimidation, of silencing contrary voices, mainly by drowning them out in an ocean of angry rebuttals, complete with cuss words and threats to rape and maim.

But this aspect of the campaign did not stop with words. Reports have been rife of wandering bands of Duterte supporters chasing cars bearing stickers of other candidates and forcing the drivers to remove the offending items, and, in one report circulated in FB, visiting homes with “yellow” streamers and posters and forcing the homeowners to remove these or else face the wrath of the angry mob.

As that blogger describes the process: “As the noise of angry people increased, a lot of people fell silent. Mostly to avoid the wrath of the angry ones. All they could do was to shake their heads and ask themselves: ‘What is happening? What have we become?’”

Campaigners for the Mar Roxas/Leni Robredo tandem embraced the term the “Silent Majority” to describe themselves, partly in self-consolation, I suspect, but also because the continued low rating of their candidate(s) didn’t hold up much hope, much less hubris.

But recent weeks have seen the numbers improve to benefit Roxas, such that Roxas is now tied with Grace Poe in second (albeit still quite a ways away from Duterte), while Robredo is “statistically tied” with that other bogey from the past, Bongbong Marcos.

The “Silent Majority” have yet to reach the same level of vociferousness as the Duterte followers, but they don’t seem intimidated anymore, or cowed into fearful silence.

* * *

In a few days, we will put our democracy to a test. And part of that test is to see if our system can survive the deep fissures created by a campaign characterized by bitterness, heckling, bullying and charges flying from all directions.

Our prayer must be for the system—for democracy—to remain strong despite the many attempts to subvert it or exploit it. The hope is that, whoever emerges the winner, we as a people would be able to recover our innate decency, set aside the anger and hostility that marked the campaign, and find instead amity and cooperation—traits the Duterte camp, to my mind, has tried its darndest to dissipate.

What price are we willing to pay to satisfy our blood lust? To quell the rising tide of dissatisfaction and disquiet in our hearts? On May 9, we must ask ourselves if the dubious promise is worth the heavy price.

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TAGS: Elections 2016, Rodrigo Duterte
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