POSTSCRIPT / February 26, 2019 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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Just the waves, or a tsunami coming?

SOME friends have been saying that they sense a stirring, a kind of reawakening, in many significant places, among citizens not normally reached by the usual surveys who now speak critically of the administration.

They call attention to the ferment on campuses, street corners and tiendas, board rooms and media outlets where the drift of discussions appears shifting from tentative opinion, to a longing for real reform, to the need for a public display of love of country.

We hope our friends are not deluding themselves that things will be set aright in time. We know how slow Filipinos react to bad government, to abuse and even to treasonous acts of their leaders, if they are not yet hurt directly.

We are now deep into February, the historic month that saw 33 years ago a bloodless People Power revolt driving a despot to exile. The more romantic, if desperate, among us are imagining that the waves on the horizon may build up into a tsunami rushing in to alter the political shoreline.

Did President Duterte himself unwittingly contribute to rousing Filipinos to their dismal plight and kindling a burning desire for change?

On Friday, Enrico @Doctor_EVL may have spoken for many of us when he posted on Twitter: “I’ve never cared so much about/for the country as I do today. Love him or hate him, it would be hard to argue that he has singlehandedly brought to life the patriot in all of us we never even knew existed.

“He did not create the PRO and ANTI divide. He revealed it.”

We wish we could be just as hopeful for change – some people have started to refer to that possible breakthrough as a “liberation” — considering that the nation will elect on May 13 a new set of 12 senators and the 297 members of the House of Representatives.

The midterm vote is not for a new president, but it will in effect be a referendum on President Duterte, who has been asking what the beef was as he claimed to have delivered on all his campaign promises except the untangling of EDSA traffic. “Ano pa naman ang gusto?” he demanded.

Either the 73-year-old mayor playing president is having memory lapses or is again joking, this time about his flurry of election promises.

As reminder, Dan Santos @DanSantos8 started ticking off on Twitter some of Duterte’s unfulfilled promises: “Stop (ENDO) contractualization, end drug problem in six months, return to farmers the coco levy fund in first 100 days, have affordable food on the family table….”

Aware of the inertia of most passive voters, we are not that optimistic that the May election will be the hump hoped for by the political opposition after which, they pray, will follow a catastrophic downhill ride for the Duterte regime.

Amid the bombardment by Duterte trolls on Twitter, Karlo Amli @AmliKarlo points to the confused orientation of the administration:

“A TV reporter (running for senator) who thinks the press is not under attack, a National Youth Commission chairman who is anti-youth, a PCOO (Presidential Communications Operations Office) that spreads lies, a Foreign Affairs Secretary who lacks diplomacy, a President who sucks up to China, who lets an OFW be killed abroad, and protects Chinese working in the Ph…  Welcome to upside-down Philippines!”

Whatever be the scattered negative comments and the real/imagined awakening of the populace, our fearful forecast at this point is that the bulk of the 16 million who elected Duterte in 2016 will lend their vote on May 13 to many of his candidates.

But this expectation could change in the coming 75 days if the Duterte administration commits more blunders that would validate perceptions of incompetence, corruption, mismanagement of the economy, and a slavish devotion to China.

Serious errors could erode the administration’s built-in advantage in terms of money, machinery and pervasive presence. Opposition senatorial candidates, most of whom are relatively less known to voters, may just overcome their handicap.

 Cicero’s reminder: Beware of traitors!

THOSE who feel resigned to seeing Duterte dominating the field should listen to this admonition of Plato, the Athenian philosopher: “If you do not take an interest in the affairs of your government, then you are doomed to live under the rule of fools.”

This is a timely reminder to us citizens of this Republic that could be headed for further fracturing under Duterte’s divisive politics and his fascination with a federal setup that would break up an already united country into regions ruled by the dominant political dynasty in place.

Duterte’s love affair with China also bears watching. Marcus Tullius Cicero (106—43BC), a Roman statesman, orator and philosopher who once quipped that “politicians are not born; they are excreted,” said in an address to the Roman Senate:

“A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gates freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself.

“For the traitor appears not a traitor; he speaks in accents familiar to his victims, and he wears their face and their argument, he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men.”

(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 26, 2019)

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