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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Fighting an invisible war

"The stakes are higher than ever before."

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The country is at war.

It is a civil war pitting Filipino against Filipino. It is an invisible war waged online and in traditional media, in the streets, in the halls of Malacañang Palace, in hearts and minds.

Since the rise of President Rodrigo Duterte, the citizens of this country have been fighting a culture war that pits conservative, right-wing ideas against progressive, liberal values.

This phenomenon is not new. It is a constant struggle among the different groups of society. However, the conflict has become increasingly intense over the last three years as social media is used as a weapon for disinformation and as a platform for strident polemics.

Among the issues that have become hot-button topics in this ongoing war is capital punishment. The gangland-style death sentence meted out in tokhang and attitudes favoring summary execution are reinforced by the President’s unwavering pronouncements on killing being necessary to instill peace and order.

This is contrary to laws that provide for due process.

There is also debate on the lowering of the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 12, a legislative priority of Duterte that was greenlighted by the House of Representatives last January when they passed House Bill 8858 on third and final reading.

This law contravenes the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by the Philippines in 1990. It commits the country to giving primary importance to the welfare and rights of children. The House, anxious to please Duterte, passed the bill despite the contrary opinion of experts in the fields of medicine, psychology, education, and human rights, among others.

LGBT rights are also a contentious issue. Congress recently posted a poll on their website asking the public’s opinion on same-sex unions as civil partnerships. As of this writing, ‘yes’ has garnered 464,690 votes or 64 percent of 723,608 total votes. ‘No’ votes  were 256,532 (35 percent), ‘undecided’ 2,386 votes.

The week the poll came out, people on both sides of the fence rallied supporters to vote. I got messages asking me to choose ‘no’; one was from a Roman Catholic nun.

This conflict over cultural, moral, or religious values extends into reproductive health, with abortion largely undiscussed because of vehement opposition from the Church, which also fought against the RH law of the previous administration.

Feminism in this day and age still has foes. The anti-feminists I encounter through messages and in person are all men. The misogynistic and sexist attitudes in society are reinforced by the President himself through his many rape jokes and kissing women on stage, behavior he himself has said he cannot modify.

Duterte is not the only Filipino male who speaks and acts this way, but because of his popularity, he wields great influence over others, who will use his example to justify their own misogyny. The reinforcement of rape culture is compounded by his spokesmen Harry Roque and Salvador Panelo, who make excuses for all Duterte’s egregious conduct.

The spate of killings of elected officials and candidates just before the midterm elections in May illustrates the accelerating ascendancy of the culture of impunity, as does the rampant vote buying and intimidation of voters. Calls for accountability and culpability, long lacking in many politicians, are largely ignored.

Not even discussed are issues like the right-to-die. Assisted euthanasia is for the terminally ill who wish to pass on at a time and place of their choosing before they deteriorate too badly that they no longer enjoy quality of life. The debate on this topic would be ferocious.

Creeping moral relativism is expanding gray areas, and virtues once held in an absolutist framework are devalued. An example of this relativism is the attitude that politicians are not required to be honest; one may lie about their educational attainment, another may steal hundreds of millions from the people, and yet still be elected to office. Honesty for politicians has been rendered malleable.

Culture wars have always been fought but the stakes today are higher than ever before—the heart and soul of the country. As a liberal and a progressive, I will always be on the side that promotes social justice, that sees women and LGBT as deserving of equal rights, that firmly believes politicians are accountable to the people who elected them to serve.

It is a useless life that is not consecrated to a great ideal. ~ Jose Rizal/FB and Twitter: @DrJennyO


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