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Sisyphus’ Lament

What is happening to my beloved country?

SINGAPORE—“May mas malaki tayong kalaban… ang ating sarili (We have a greater enemy… ourselves),” declared Heneral Luna.

I no longer recognize my country. An inexplicable wave of anger and disenchantment has swept it. The 2016 elections have brought out the worst in the Filipino.

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The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) decried “frenzies of hatred” and a “‘pattern of harassments’ perpetrated by supporters of poll frontrunner Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte,” the Inquirer reported.

After ABS-CBN aired the anti-Duterte ad featuring children, the NUJP reported how staff were “cursed,” “harassed” and “thrown punches.” Reporter Jacque Manabat posted: “A man with a child approached me and said: ‘Taga-ABS-CBN ka, ’di ba? P—– ina mo!’”

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Climate advocate Renee Karunungan filed cybercrime charges. Twenty persons threatened her online: Mamatay ka sana. Ma-rape ka sana. Ma-massacre sana pamilya mo (I hope you die. I hope you get raped. I hope your family gets massacred). She had posted a meme: “Duterte is a lazy choice.”

Strikingly, her lawyer is University of the Philippines law professor JJ Disini, who led the Disini case against the cybercrime law.

A gender rights scholar, just accepted into one of the world’s most prestigious universities, described to me how she received rape threats over a Facebook post. She is thinking of never coming home.

An anti-Duterte friend posted a video of vice presidentiable Leni Robredo and her daughters. Reacting to Duterte’s rape joke, he joked Duterte wanted to rape one of her daughters next. He

immediately admitted he was not thinking straight anymore.

UP freshman Stephen Villena received anonymous death threats, including mock photos of his tombstone, after interrupting Duterte in a UP forum. Students told me they no longer felt safe in their own school—in UP, where not even martial law stifled free speech!

 

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In UP!

And friends of all leanings are understandably unnerved at seeing children deployed to the political frontline in the anti-Duterte ad.

Even citizenship itself is attacked viciously. How can one attack Grace Poe’s husband as a foreigner when he was born to Filipino parents, albeit in the United States? During Poe’s case, people vocally proposed rules that would restrict the residency of returning Filipinos or our dual citizenship law.

Most of all, I lament how law has been reduced to a cheap parlor trick.

Bank secrecy waivers became the latest campaign fashion. Last week, I wrote that these are at best symbolic. Duterte signed a promise to make a waiver. But after stating his Bank of the Philippine Islands account held “a little less than 200 million,” he refused to sign a waiver.

“Sampalan ng passbook sa BPI Julia Vargas” featured a request for an unusual bank certificate instead of a waiver. The half-page request was waved in front of TV cameras.

Roughly half our newspapers and news websites failed to make clear that Duterte did not sign a bank secrecy waiver. Some inadvertently implied BPI prevented any disclosure.

Interaksyon ran, inaccurately: “Duterte grants lawyer power to open BPI bank account in Julia Vargas branch.” Business Mirror ran: “Bank seeks time to release records of Duterte accounts.” GMA News Online ran: “Duterte lawyer: Up to BPI to open account.”

How else can a lawyer feel when he sees a half-page document waved on TV while a lawyer says words that contradict its text, and media focus on what he said instead of how the words on paper say the opposite?

He feels like Pilosopo Tasyo, consigned to writing in hieroglyphics for future generations to decipher. No one even compared the half-page’s wording to presidentiables Mar Roxas’ and Poe’s waivers.

And not only do we have fake news, we now have partisan pages for fake law.

GMA News reported Duterte is “planning to form a revolutionary government” and jettison the Constitution. Former UP Law dean Pacifico Agabin, one of the country’s greatest constitutional scholars, as though lecturing children, reacted, “If the executive and the legislative powers are concentrated in one person, that is a dictatorship.”

If we are not shocked at ourselves, foreigners are. A Singaporean taxi driver teased me: “You Filipino? You have your own Trump!” An American Republican friend forwarded Bloomberg’s story: “Mad Max Meets Trump.”

We can laugh off many things as par for the political circus, such as the last-minute plunder case against Duterte or the rumor that Poe’s husband is a US spy. However, should not death threats, rape threats, threats to close Congress a la martial law, and children used as media attack dogs push us to be Filipinos first and partisans second?

Our society brushed all these off, one after the other.

After sampalan, we are now scheduling May 10 Facebook events for group hugs and refriending everyone unfriended over political posts. But we cannot simply forget the horrible side of the Filipino we have seen, no matter how notoriously short our memories are.

Only 30 years ago, the Filipino’s most fervent dream was to vote freely again. Did our parents stand at Edsa so we could see death threats against students? Is Filipino pride telling a woman one hopes she gets raped? Should law students burn their books and begin memorizing lines from “House of Cards”?

Since my toddler self watched my parents walk out of our living room and to Edsa in 1986, I believed that the collective wisdom of democracy is the best form of government. I sincerely hope I wake up tomorrow still believing this.

Too many friends now quote not Heneral Luna, but Queen Padmé Amidala: “So this is how liberty dies. With thunderous applause.”

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React: [email protected], Twitter @oscarfbtan, facebook.com/OscarFranklinTan.

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TAGS: cybercrime, Elections 2016, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, NUJP, Rodrigo Duterte
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