His challenge, our challenge
“It’s all over but the shouting,” the saying goes, as one administration is on its final stage transitioning to a new one. The shouting has not all stopped but has become quite irrelevant on a national basis. Partisanship has become embedded in the political psyche of Filipinos; it takes little to provoke it, and it takes a lot to mute it.
The new appointments of President-elect Rodrigo Duterte are eliciting mixed reactions, naturally. There are fresh faces, and fresh faces are always a strong statement of change. There are also old faces, old in the political scene, and carry their own strengths and baggage. The appointments of militant Left personalities raise eyebrows and deep concern from the status quo, and it will not be quiet in that front. Neither will the Marcos burial in the Libingan ng mga Bayani. I suppose any reconciling move will first be met with serious distrust among partisans. But if the intent is to forge a healing in this regard, it may be impossible as there are simply too many victims and families of victims of martial law who cannot ever forgive and forget.
A new administration, however, traditionally carries a lot of goodwill among Filipinos. The fact that only 39% voted for Duterte doesn’t mean he will not have the initial support of the majority of Filipinos. Outside of the passionately partisan and the haters, paid and otherwise, Filipinos do wish to not only move on but to move forward. The majority of Filipinos, although conditioned by history to be divided, intuitively understand that active divisiveness will negate the good things that can possibly come. After all, the spirit and practice of bayanihan is a counter-force to the fractiousness that has weakened us as a people.
It is not the lack of a majority of support from Filipinos that make me wonder how the new President can tackle all the major concerns he has identified. I am not questioning his guts and willingness to ride the tiger of change as I believe he has that. I am wondering what kind, and what level, of disruption our society will undergo, and its manifestations in societal life. Forging a peace between Right and Left, between Christians and Muslims, between pro-US and anti-Chinese sentiments, between pro and anti-Marcos forces, and all these simultaneously, is not just a tough act but a veritable mission impossible.
While Duterte has been very vocal in wanting to reconcile opposing camps and perspectives, he also wants to go after the drug trade and its many nefarious faces with hammer and tong. In addressing all these concerns, he does not need only his determination and authority, but an army of Filipinos, armed and not, to cooperate. After all, it is about the people’s sentiments and points of views, their preferences and biases. They may be after change, even drastic ones, but they believe the change has to come from the guilty ones – not themselves. Unfortunately, in partisanship, every side is guilty.
The power of a presidency lies in the people, democratically and otherwise, even in war. The support of the people, therefore, is crucial in any reformist movement. The might of the Armed Forces and the Philippine National Police cannot be the main power to effect change because the process may be more destructive than the intentions of reform. A country cannot move forward on the blood and dead bodies of its own citizens. No one must be pondering about these concerns more than Rodrigo Duterte. He must want peace on all fronts and deflate criminality so much that he risks almost everything.
The power of the presidency also lies in government, especially the Executive Branch. It means the President has to juggle between decades-old hate between the armed personnel of the AFP and PNP on one side versus the NPA and its unarmed political fronts on the other. It also means getting the most out of the departments and agencies while he is trying to root out corruption in these same institutions. I remember that in the rebellions of Fidel Castro in Cuba and Mao Tse Tung in China, they each had an army of committed advocates, intellectuals and people’s organizations who would die for their causes. In other words, the army of Duterte will have to do the same. Are they there, are they so predisposed – by character or by conviction?
I want change, even the radical one. I am willing to accept what is difficult to swallow if I believe that the ensuing turbulence and disruption favor the majority of Filipinos, especially the poor. And, by the way, I do not equate rebels, Muslims or NPAs, as natural enablers of the poor or protectors of their equality and human rights. I have seen only the violence and carnage from the 60’s, ordinary lives being sacrificed for ideologies that have not established a pattern of relief for the people they are supposed to be fighting for. Only now can we hope to see any basis to judge favorably – if they succeed.
Meanwhile, there has to be a clear prioritization in the new dispensation. If it is only a matter of “weather-weather lang”, if the sense of partisanship will not be immediately silenced from the leadership so their followers will follow suit, then there will be no reform, no transformation. What will ensue will be a deepening of wounds and the drawing of more rigid lines between protagonists. And again, the majority of Filipinos who are simple, ordinary, or poor will be usual casualties.
I believe that we cannot entrust our future only or mostly to politicians. I believe that we have to rely on ourselves and inspiring models in our society, including the new president, Rodrigo Duterte. We may be ordinary but we are the people, the major players. We depend on the President, and he depends on us. On that relationship hangs the history of our country.
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