The Boogeyman Cometh

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As children, we were raised to believe that boogeymen existed. There were creatures that lived under our beds or inside our closets, ready to take us away in the night when we did something wrong. No matter how behaved, courteous, or quiet we were, the boogeyman was always there: the embodiment of fear in our young imaginations.

Yet as we grow older, a lot of monsters—real and imagined—still keep us wide awake at night. Some of us live in fear of the terrors that threaten our ways of life. There are criminals among us: there are kidnappers, thieves, rapists, and murderers lurking in the shadows. We lie awake at night fearful for our jobs, anxious for tomorrow’s expenses, terrified of the prospects of war.

On May 2016, if the surveys are to be believed, we are about to entrust our country’s future into the hands of a boogeyman.

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Over the past four months, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte has emerged (at least for some of us) as the conquering hero who will trample all over these fears to the drum beats of “change.” That word —“change”— is the rallying cry of his legions of supporters, many of whom truly believe that he is the best hope for the country. There are stickers, ballers, posters, and even music videos that attest to this unshakeable faith in him and what he stands for. For what it’s worth, Duterte is change.

And yet many of those who support him are all too willing to overlook the contradictions, ironies, and paradoxes around and about him. Some have gone as far as to turn these things against other candidates, invoking fallacies in his defence in the act of fanaticism. Duterte may represent a “new breed of politics,” but at heart, Duterte is a local politician—as traditional as they come—who has had a stranglehold in Davao politics for decades. For 28 years, Davao was ruled by at least one Duterte, either in Congress or in City Hall. There is no one to compare him with and nothing to suggest, much less from those of voting age who trumpet his achievements and accomplishments.

The existence of the Davao Death Squad is up for debate, but Duterte has as much in common with tough-talking law enforcers as he does with warlords. Duterte will not hesitate—or so he says—to mobilize armed forces to “get rid of crime in three to six months.” And like any local politician—and like so many warlords through the ages—Duterte has mastered the rhetoric that lent him so much success: to talk tough because the people demand toughness, to promise urgency because the people demand urgency, to say what people want to hear. Something like “political will” may sound trite when uttered by another politician, but sounds golden from Camp Duterte: especially when you pepper it with curses.

And yet some of us—if not most of us—applaud it. We point to the flaws of other candidates as if the criticisms against Duterte are stains upon his political sainthood. Some of us have gone to the point of excusing his appalling remarks on women and the disabled as merely the manner by which he speaks. Some of us have even gone to the length of using Scripture to defend the indefensible things about Duterte.

And for what, exactly? What is “change?” After four months in the campaign trail, with barely two weeks to go before we vote, it’s not like he has a clear plan. It’s not like we know what the next three to six months under his leadership would be. We’ve got his punchlines, alright: the kind that points to a sea tinged scarlet with the blood of criminals, our streets free from crime or having less of it (depending on who you’re talking to, or when you talked to Duterte about it), or the kind that challenges sovereignty issues.

And we applaud. We whoop in approval. We raise our fists in the air welcoming this new era of “change,” even if we deserve so much better than rape jokes, off-color remarks about killing, and platitudes where plans are needed.

And maybe it’s because we’re afraid. We’re probably so afraid of criminals that we forget how they become productive citizens given the right opportunities. We’re probably so afraid of economic programs because of how they would affect us, rather than how they can change the lives of those who need it the most. Maybe we allow fear to lord and reign over us so much that we allow it to dictate our vote.

So much so that we entertain the possibility of voting for fear. Or entrusting our future on the people who feed on our fear. The boogeyman cometh, and he watches over us. After all, there is nothing to fear because this time around, fear is on our side.

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Decades from now, there will come a day when the Duterte campaign will be seen as an instructive case in grassroots campaigning. Few people in recent memory have galvanized so many people and generated so much support like Duterte had in the past few weeks. There will come a day when Davao City will be the blueprint by which all cities in the Philippines are measured, especially along the lines of public safety and public service. Those things, I think, are things that we cannot take away from Duterte.

Still, there are things best kept away from Duterte. Like the Presidency, for example.

I’m not saying that on the basis of a rape joke, or because I do not believe in capital punishment. I believe that a vote for Duterte is a vote to add to the fears and anxieties that we already go through on a daily basis. As impressed as some of us are with his no-nonsense approach to public speaking, we do not deserve the nonsense of getting rid of crime in three to six months, whether that’s a promise or a proposition. As afraid as we are of crime, we do not deserve a kind of justice that merely gets rid of it, instead of addressing the root causes of crime. We deserve so much more than facing the world stage biting our nails, not knowing what sorts of things Duterte would say. We deserve so much more than having to adjust to “contexts” and accept spin, when our probable President cannot even communicate clearly, much less have enough empathy to make a firm point without having to resort to insult, much less violence.

And while it may be true that the Philippines is not prepared for Duterte, he isn’t prepared for the Presidency either. And if that has been our common complaint about the Aquino administration for the past six years and why we reject Daang Matuwid, then choosing Duterte simply does not compute.

Or perhaps it’s just our penchant for irony, but that’s for another time.

*****

On May 2016, if the surveys are to be believed, we are about to entrust our country’s future into the hands of a boogeyman.

There will never be one way to get rid of the monsters in the night, but there will come a time that we will fight them on our own. Perhaps in dreams, sometimes by simply ignoring them.

But the boogeyman isn’t afraid of change: the boogeyman is afraid of hope. The boogeyman vanishes when we realize that as hard as these times may be, we aren’t in end times. We can work together. We can do as we always have, perhaps even better. We do not need the boogeymen: they need us because they feed on our fear.

The boogeyman disappears because we know exactly the kind of change we need. The boogeyman fades away not because “change is coming,” but because we know that there are better times ahead when we stop being afraid, when we believe that everyone has the capacity to be better when they’re given the right opportunities in life. The boogeyman dies out when we go to sleep at night knowing that we are much more than our fears combined.

Two weeks from now, the vote becomes the paper sword that we all had when we were young: the sort that slays imaginary dragons and scares away the creatures of the night. I hope that we, as a people, don’t put a vote in for fear: because there are worse things than the monsters we once thought would take us away at night.

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