Stay strong Filipinos
It has not been a friendly week. Last Friday, a bomb ripped through a night market in Davao City, killing 14 and wounding 70. A few days later, while being interviewed by media, President Rodrigo Duterte was asked what he would say if US President Barack Obama would bring up the issue of human rights violations to him. His answer contained expletives in Pilipino that set off a crisis because the two presidents were scheduled to meet each other in the Asean later in the week. Obama canceled the meeting and both sides indicated it would be reset for a future date.
The Davao bombing elicited anger against the terrorists involved and strong sympathy for Davao and President Duterte. The breach in diplomacy, however, earned for Duterte what must be his most vocal and strongest (in numbers) opposition yet. Filipinos may have appreciated the independent stance that the Philippines, through the President, was taking, but many were embarrassed at the manner he did so. Never mind that there may be economic consequences, such as American investors pulling out of the Philippine stock market or wavering on opening new businesses here. What mattered was the negative impact on the Filipino face.
As a third world country, a former vassal of Spain, America, and Japan, the Filipino has had little reason to be proud of itself in the past. Poverty is ugly, and uglier still when massively present in a country so rich with natural resources and populated with such talented people. Then, corruption has made the shame even deeper, so much so that Filipinos began to be the worst bashers of their own country.
The steady stream of OFWs toward the majority of countries around the world did not start out as a source of pride, only a bigger source of income. Except for those holding higher positions in foreign companies, most began as domestic workers, often abused, and manual workers, often abused as well. The first large waves of migrants to the US were not treated equally, too, and had to undergo their own process of breaking through their own glass ceilings. But OFWs and Filipino migrants persevered, and everybody developed a higher status in most countries because of the way they worked, diligently, honestly, and warmly. The Filipino face was beginning to shine through with pride, and continues to do so.
Working abroad or migrating to other countries was a painful choice for most Filipinos who did so. That is why they have been called modern day heroes for their sacrifices and the benefits they have caused the motherland to enjoy. And slowly but surely, their dignity and pride have been raised—and ours here in the Philippines have been raised by them too.
Information and communication technology has closed many gaps, including the gap between OFWs and Filipino migrants and their families still here in the Philippines. They have also closed the gap between the rich and poor countries in the world. Our pride, or our shame, is more clearly seen or heard through the same technology. It is not only a matter of jobs and money, it is also about dignity and pride.
That is why the controversy between Duterte and Obama affected not just Duterte but the Filipino face as well. When our President is embarrassed, the Filipino face is embarrassed. All the quiet but significant sacrifices offered by millions to build a dignified and proud Filipino face to the world were sadly deflated through no fault of their own. The overwhelming, loudly articulated and solid support for President Duterte experienced a slump for the first time since his election last May 9. While diehard supporters may be no less determined to defend what he did, or rationalize his behavior, the opposing and contrasting voices increased.
What are we to do? What really can we do to better the situation? We have one President and he deserves our support because he is ours. Even if criticisms are levied against him, they must be done so with the intention of improving the situation, or influencing him to raise our dignity and pride through his words and actions.
We have terrorism at our doors, and all should understand that what happened to Davao City can happen anywhere. That is the nature of terrorism—to terrorize even by imagination, to be bigger than reality. I still remember that December day in 2000 when a bus carrying a bomb exploded along Edsa in Makati City. And that explosion in Glorietta that never convinced people completely about not being caused by a bomb. The Abu Sayyaf are being hunted, hounded, and there is a strong possibility this time that their network in Sulu will be destroyed. It is natural that they will send bombers to divert the focus of the government on their lairs in Sulu. And it is a Duterte leadership that can match the evil plans of the Abu Sayyaf.
We have the horror of a country besieged by the drug trade and massive drug dependency. It needs a Duterte to exert his determined leadership to wage the relentless war to abort the formation of a narco state. Yes, we can also exhort him to turn his attention to the unexplained killings as well because the possibility of dirty policemen and government protectors as the responsible culprits is high. By their complicity in the drug trade, they have lost all right to be considered as part of government. They are no less guilty as drug lords.
And what about reforms in government systems, what about growth and development? We need a president with strong political will to push these, too. Our support is the wind beneath Duterte’s wings, and it is our duty to give it, even critically. Because we have one country, only one country, and we must rise above our fears and weaknesses, just as our President has to.
Our prayer, then, is for Filipinos to stay strong.
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