A NATION SEVERELY DIVIDED
by Krip Yuson
Any objective reckoning can only lead to the bottomline of criticism against President Duterte: that he has polarized the country since he took office. And that he continues to exacerbate the situation.
Oh, on occasion he takes pause from provocative statements, and actually softens a bit on a previous hardline stance. He has pulled off the PNP from a ruinous campaign that has cost over 7,000 lives, if temporarily, and owing only to the gruesome murder of a foreign national inside a police camp. Only recently, he signed the Paris pact on climate change, which he had resisted at the outset.
Well and good. These show that he is not beyond being convinced of the error of initial stances. How it’s wished that this becomes default mode.
Whatever our political preferences had been during the 2016 presidential elections, and no matter that more of us decried the victory of the dark horse from Davao, a substantial number of these became open to supporting the new president for the sake of our democratic nation.
We realized why he won. Parallel to populist movements around the world, Filipino voters had once again felt disenchanted with the last president. No matter if history will say that Noynoy Aquino’s unassailable exemption from any whiff of corruption had turned things around for the national economy. Towards the end of his rule, he was seen as apathetic. And his elitist nature had shown its true colors when he refused to fire friends who were dragging him down.
Duterte was the diametric opposite: a foul-mouthed, street smart mayor of gruff conduct but with the promise of strongman leadership. He attracted not only the lower classes, but many of the better educated and privileged, as well as most OFWs tired of their home country’s image of perceived stagnancy.
Duterte’s campaign was also successfully premised on the efficacy of online engagement, which introduced false news to a generally undiscerning audience. Trolls and bot magic did their part to champion him as a fresh messiah, despite his age and controversial reputation.
It was but natural for him to adhere to the myth of his own making. Thus was introduced the great bogey that he would fight and eliminate by any means: a reputed drug menace built up on bloated figures. The conduct of his signature war on drugs could then be rationalized as the end result justifying the means.
The second bogey was the so-called “yellow cult” still revolving around his predecessor’s Liberal Party, which clearly had been decimated by political realities. It was made out to be the continuing enemy, and even invested with the unlikely capability of mounting a plot to unseat Duterte.
He could have reached out to everyone when he became President. But he chose to enhance his tough-guy image by insulting foreign officials, cursing the Pope, castigating the Church, calling anyone who called him out as an idiot, and abiding by his dim regard for human rights, while promoting a culture of senseless death that has taken a grisly toll.
His choices for Justice officials are seen as buffoons. True, he has placed a few good men and women in proper office, but for the most part his selections have betrayed his small circle of familiars. And the use of trolls and self-serving blog writers continues to alienate mainstream media and right-thinking individuals for whom false news is false news.
Stalled peace talks, ineffectivity against terror groups, the falling peso, frozen foreign investments — as against too little real accomplishments on the ground despite what fanatical supporters claim but can’t factually cite much of — have also led to gradual erosion of public trust.
His idolatry of Marcos, perceived vindictiveness against a lady senator, legislative initiatives that prioritize the reimposition of the death penalty and holding nine-year-olds as criminally liable — plus increasing vulnerability to exposure of his murderous links with a death squad — are all of a piece, spelling the culture of impunity and bloodlust that he evidently champions.
Instead of expanding his support base, Duterte succeeds only in alienating more and more rational-minded Filipinos. They may still be fewer than his blind minions, but the current raging state of a virtual civil war may be said to be a conflict between quality and quantity.
The divisiveness has taken root. The extreme polarization of Filipinos can only end when a tipping point is reached.