Try to bear with me here: Philippine Mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte is a lot like a professional wrestler.
Perhaps even for his most ardent supporters, Duterte is not exactly the most articulate or eloquent Chief Executive we ever had. But that espouses a certain kind of eloquence: one that assumes that everyone exists in polite society. At least for his supporters, his brutal frankness and spontaneity is a refreshing break from the rather straight-laced and prosaic traditions that come with politicians of yesteryear. You don’t expect Mayor to “arrogate” something, much less “abrogate” anything or “abjure” a lot of things. The Mayor is the kind of person who would not hesitate to pepper his fiery rhetoric with curses, long-winded anecdotes, and innuendo. He’s a veritable goldmine for impersonators, impressionists, and the occasional attempts at Dubsmash.
Just last year, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella traced the colorful language to “Cebuano subculture.” And in so many other threads on the Internet, the defense for the Mayor’s language somehow careens to the repudiation of traditional Philippine politics that has propelled Duterte to being the country’s Mayor. Waxing lyrically: when the Mayor curses, it’s all part of the continuing rejection of elite politics, and him embracing the people.
In yesterday’s paper, F. Sionil José began his essay with the word “revolution,” and proceeded to discuss what he called “the Duterte revolution” in ways that aren’t revolutionary. He describes the next few years in the same way a propagandist would describe his demagogue, or how a campaign manager would describe his client: the florid banalities of ”sacrifice” and “ethics,” the attacks on old enemies like “oligarchs” and “privilege.” And yes, the tired and hackneyed platitudes that are supposed to get a rise out of “the people:” in Mr. José’s words, a “revolution is rooted in ethics and patriotism.”
I guess that the reason why we use the word “revolution” a lot—mostly outside its intended meaning—is because of our desire to participate in one. We want to be part of those historical milestones that fundamentally change the way we live. So much so, that we’re willing to accommodate anything as a “revolution,” fundamental changes to our lives be damned. Such that “revolutionary” things become mundane: socio-political revolutions become as revolutionary as, say, home TV shopping products.
And this is not to take anything away from President Rodrigo Duterte’s victory (maybe other than the poetic language his most ardent supporters want to lend it): it is a triumph of our electoral process. That itself is probably “revolutionary” to a voting population so accustomed to cheating and painfully slow canvassing. It’s what happens when institutions work the way they’re supposed to. Still, it’s founded on things that are in dire need of “revolution:” political institutions that are still in disrepair, processes that aren’t intact, and the great burdens to the public.
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.
The campaign rally was held in Tondo, Manila: rightly or wrongly, the district has always represented the poor and the downtrodden of the Philippines. It’s here that politicians often paint themselves in solidarity with common working Filipinos, and be “one with the people.”
It was in Tondo, though, that one of Rodrigo Duterte’s infamous rants took place. The news reports:
Kayong mga KMU, medyo pigilan muna ninyo ang labor union. Ako na ang nakikiusap sa inyo. Magkasama tayo sa ideolohiya. Huwag ninyong gawin iyan kasi sisirain mo ang administrasyon ko. Kapag ginawa ninyo iyan, patayin ko kayong lahat. Ang solusyon dito patayan na.
This was all in Tondo: a place that has been unfairly portrayed as a hub of violence brought about by poverty and desperation, whether in action films or in drama. Rodrigo Duterte, for all intents and purposes, probably could have chosen a better place to rant about killing.
But when your campaign thus far consists of the lock and stock that scrapes the bottom of the barrel, you really can’t expect much.
Note: So apparently, my last blog entry, The Crimson Stain, went “viral.” Now that idea, if you know me well enough, is sort of ironic (given how much I don’t like the word, and I’m really timid IRL). But it kinda warms the cold, cold heart to know that a lively discussion was fostered, and for the most part the discussion was quite civil. And quite a lot of you agreed with me.
And quite a lot of you requested for the thing to be translated (or written) in Filipino.
Now I’m not a particularly good translator (unless you talk about lyrics, although if you follow me on Instagram you probably have an idea how I prefer to translate things), and my command of Filipino is quite wonky at best, but I’ll try to take a crack at translating the blog entry myself.
And thanks so much, everyone. Many thanks, in particular, to Raissa Robles for pointing a lot of important details out to me (details that, regrettably, I missed out on. My apologies.).
That’s not a scarlet terno that Imee Marcos is wearing. Rather, it stands for the mountains where Macliing Dulag was killed. His blood ran down the slopes of the Cordillera in much the same way he wanted the Chico River to flow. To his dying breath—and years thereafter—Dulag fought against the hydroelectric power that threatened the survival of his people, in the hands of a dictator named Ferdinand Marcos.
That’s not Imee Marcos gracefully crossing her well-formed, tanned legs. Emmanuel Lacaba’s legs were found in the same way, tied and chained, as his corpse was dragged to an unmarked grave. In 1976, Lacaba was captured with a pregnant 18-year-old comrade in the underground, and was shot with a .45 caliber bullet not once, but twice. His crime was to write literature in opposition to a dictator named Ferdinand Marcos.
That’s not a tasteful bodice that highlights Imee Marcos’s ample curves. That bodice conceals how forces of the constabulary killed Edgar Jopson in 1982. He was found alive in Davao, but was still executed. It took nine bullets to murder Edjop: chest wounds, arm wounds, leg wounds. This son of a grocer became another statistic in a very long list of human rights abuses in the 70s and 80s, and personally earned the ire of a dictator named Ferdinand Marcos.
Those are not the features of Imee Marcos, carefully airbrushed. Those were the walls put up along the routes whenever any foreign dignitary or visitor passed by to visit Malacañang Palace. Entire edifices were built around the Philippines to celebrate and commemorate the “New Society,” all the while those displaced are kept hidden from view. For one cannot be seen poor and starving when guests come by to entertain—and be entertained by—a dictator named Imelda Marcos.
When you come to think about it, Mar Roxas probably has one of the most impressive résumés among candidates on the road to the 2016 elections. Roxas is the scion of two powerful families in both politics and industry (lest we forget that Mar is the son of a Senator and the grandson of a former President, and is also the grandson of the man who built the Araneta real estate empire). He’s an Ivy League graduate: he is an economist from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He spent years as a financial hotshot in New York, making a name for himself in the world of capital and investments. He’s a former Congressman, a former Senator (garnering the most votes for any candidate in a national election, at that), and held three different Cabinet positions under three different administrations.
While other prospective candidates have to blow smoke (like, say, turning the Philippines “into Makati”) to curry favor among the people and win their votes this early (at least one had to figuratively/literally blow someone’s rocks off), Roxas is—on paper—the most qualified. One may even say that he’s destined to be President: a man born and bred to be in Malacañang. Rightly or wrongly, Roxas has a very clear advantage among others through his position of privilege.
Great political leaders emerge from the choices that they make in times of great political opportunity. And in democracies like ours, those opportunities emerge from the challenges that frame an election.
For this, we turn to examples in American history. Abraham Lincoln’s reelection in 1864, for example, had the backdrop of the American Civil War, with the preservation of the Union and the end of slavery on the line. In 1912, Woodrow Wilson won the elections, but the stakes were so high – America was booming in wealth and people, so much so that social causes became central issues of the campaign – that two ex-Presidents (William Howard Taft as incumbent, and Theodore Roosevelt) threw their names into the game. In 1932, the Great Depression left such a big impact on the American consciousness, that the people rejected incumbent President Herbert Hoover, and voted Franklin Roosevelt in; the seeds of a great generation of Americans were planted.
It’s kind of difficult to look for Filipino examples. Partly because we have a much younger democracy that still needs time to grow. But that doesn’t mean that we never had the defining backdrops that make great leaders, or the great landscapes that define political epochs. We’ve always had them. It’s just that these seeds of political greatness found themselves planted on land left fallow by the kind of politics that we have.
I think that nothing sets this tone more than where we are now: the road to 2016.
A few days ago, Vice President Jejomar Binay took to the lectern of the PICC, and delivered what was – at least to his spokespersons and his most ardent supporters – a speech that was “presidential” in tone. It had all the trimmings of what many of us would call “presidential:” the tableau, the motif, the somber cadence of Binay addressing the nation. Except for the cheers of his supporters, chanting his name. So much for the presidential tone: anyone who still doubts Binay’s clear intentions to run for President at that point is either deprived of reason, or deprived of the senses.
While most of us would complain that the substance of Binay’s speech was lacking (if anything, Binay dodged and redirected accusations, rather than answer them outright), that would be somehow missing the point. Binay’s political success – and his rise to power – was never predicated on the desire of an educated middle class for transparency and accountability, but on the message that resonates with the downtrodden majority.