Something is looming on the horizon: our version of “Culture Wars”. In the West, this is a conflict between “traditional” and “progressive” values. In the Philippines, it is showing up as tension between the invested elites along with the aspirational middle class who supported the status quo, versus the excluded hordes (from all social classes) that challenged it by voting in Duterte.
It lately has been highlighted by the clashes between the president-elect and mass media (apparently representing vested interests) which seems to cherry pick statements made by the president during informal briefings and frame them in provocative headlines. The ensuing situation is exacerbated by reports written and broadcast with insinuating soundbites, so unless the audience reads primary sources or listens fully and carefully to videos of the press conference, they will come away with a distorted conclusion of both the President and what he said.
The real issue is not so much what the President said or what media reported, as the need for objectivity – since the listening audience treats what they hear as gospel truth and base their opinion on what the headlines say. While media tries to hold the state to accountability, it also needs to do so from the space of fairness and integrity. Which can be tricky because certain television channels and newspapers consciously have a slant. The art of journalism lies in balancing it with a discipline that halts it from becoming a propaganda machine that promotes certain interests. In a supposed democracy, we are all on the same side: the people. The state is not the adversary but an impersonal device that operates for the benefit of the people. All the more the need for dialogue between the actors of the state with the media, to ensure the common good, and not confine privileges to a happy few.
This arrangement will be possible only if both sides (state and media) are agreed on a common vision and ground rules.
The common vision of the Filipino people, one can arguably assume, is a peaceful, prosperous, equitable and just society where no citizen is denied access to well-being. How to achieve this is where many disagree. A number feel we are already on our way. But many more feel that we are not, that unless a deep and profound change happens, we will sink deeper in poverty, corruption and crime. The elite feel that things are getting better. Many many more feel excluded from whatever economic gains the state claims we have made.
This is where Mr. Duterte comes in; he has given a voice and a face to the frustration of many. And it is deeply resisted by those who would actually want the status quo to continue. Mr. Duterte rattles their peace, and his unorthodox ways are disturbing to say the least. He is a political outsider, prone to political incorrectness,lack of finesse and for about a third of the population, difficult to grasp both in language and ethos. Then there is the myth of his “strategic” mind – so you do not know if he is being Machievellian or a Sun Tzu warrior. Or, just being street smart. By this time, though, many are getting that he does not always mean “it”, that you have to unpack his statements in order to fully “get” him. He explained it best during his “miting de avance” at the Luneta, when he said, “do not just hear my cussing, but look behind me, at the “Filipino people bent down by suffering” – which angers and causes him to curse. In other words,discern from where he is coming from.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, the onus to understand him lies with the listener. What does he really mean? Does he really mean it? Should we head for the hills, until his six years are over? Or, should we sit down, listen carefully, engage him in conversation and collaborate with his vision for the nation.
He knows he has the mandate and support of an overwhelming portion of the populace, and is not inclined to “make nice” with those he perceives as adversarial. His choice not to attend Congress’ proclamation of his presidency seems to indicate that he will act only on matters which directly contribute to his role. His priority is not ceremony, but to get the job done soonest: clean up the civil service, and local communities; establish rule of law and build a strong state.
He is not campaigning for a second term, so he may care what people think and feel, but not too much. He will, however, make extra effort to relate amicably with those who can further the interest of the nation, but he is not willing to be the patsy of any imperial power. But if civil society takes the initiative, and the circumstances are right, we can have a fruitful dialogue going with him. It sounds ironic that we have to work at relating with the president of the country. We all assume that he is there to make things easy for us. Well, he is. But it seems he is going to make us work with him for it.
So how do we get to Point B – the nation we all want?
First, trust that the President has the best intentions for the nation. He campaigned on the issues of reducing corruption, crime and drugs. And apparently that is what the majority also want. Based on results in Davao, he has the wherewithal to do it.
His method is inductive: his years of service on the ground allowed him to observe what works and what does not work for peace prosperity and justice in the nation. Experience tells him his political theory works. That is why he founded his campaign on reducing corruption, crime and drugs.
For this reason, let us reasonably accept his method as the head of the state. The position deserves respect, no matter what quarrel we may have with the person.
Second, let is embrace our role as citizens. Let us get our act together and do our part. The basics are: pay your taxes, obey the law, and help in nation building by working for the common good using our talents and skills. Though duties are not spelled out in the Constitution, let us assume these as necessary – for one, engage the state in dialogue through the right forum.
Third, let us accept that we are multi-cultural people; so let us make the extra effort to be open, and understand that differences are meant to be overcome instead of causes for disagreement.
Fourth, let us embrace positive Filipino values: treasure family (but let us extend goodwill to those outside our class and clique); act with good will and good faith (but not compromise higher values); aspire for economic and social progress (but not at the expense of those who have less in life); be heroic and stand up for others but not just with emotion but also with informed reason
Fifth, let us give ourselves some slack. We are still finding our identity as a nation. We were not a nation when the Spaniards arrived; all we knew then was the barangay and the datu. We were loosely tribal, based on language and geography. So we were easily conquered.
Though we deeply resented being colonized, we had to do all in order to survive. We tried fighting back but all the previous revolutions were just regional uprisings, never a shared effort under one identity.
When the Americans arrived they further interrupted our quest for nationhood. When they left they gave us pseudo-freedom, a weak state, and no tradition of rule of law. They left the “nation” in the care of oligarchs who captured the state, and deliberately make wrong political decisions that served themselves rather than the people.
We have had only 2 revolutions that galvanized the entire nation – EDSA, which was people power; and the latest elections, which was a rejection of the status quo and support for a leader who stands up to the traditional politics of the mandarins of Manila.
The times are not only interesting – they are our evolutionary drivers towards full Pilipino nationhood. That means we have to face our dragons and our fears. And the only way to do that is sit down and talk. To listen fully and carefully. Even if we do not like what we hear. But that is what a conversation is all about. Let us trust this process.