"Now comes the difficult part."
Where do we go from here?
The recently concluded elections where the President got overwhelming support for his style of leadership (the brashness and profanity included), shows something very evident in the public psyche: impatience for change.
A great majority of our people seem ready to gloss over the “erosion of democratic values” as the opposition described it, but failed to impress upon the electorate.
Cory Aquino once rued that “democracy does not pay dividends,” as when she became disappointed when the gnomes of Wall Street and the pashas of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund gave her and our people no discounts nor write-offs for loans her predecessor left us. Paying off those loans on top of eliminating subsidies on a lot of economic goods that made political “pogi” points but little fiscal sustainability became a heavy yoke upon the macro-economy for decades beyond Cory’s term.
Meanwhile, allowing the unlamented Cardinal Sin and his archaic Roman Catholic orthodoxy to interfere with and reverse Marcos’ nascent population management policy brought about more strains on government resources. People mushroomed so that now we have 107 million versus 54.3 million by the end of 1985, virtually double in 33 years. (By way of contrast, Thailand had 52 million in 1985; now they are 69 million. Vietnam had more than us in 1985, at 61 million; now they are 96 million. And we wonder why we import rice from them).
With free public high school education and additional public services enshrined as “musts” in the 1987 Constitution, the strains on public spending led to a diminution in the quality of life of the D and E income classes, while the middle income C found their lives virtually unchanged, still struggling to give their families a better life.
For far too long, people pinned their hopes on a succession of leaders to save them from their misery. And the cycle of electoral change did not provide answers, from Cory’s immediate successor, FVR, who to his credit started to reverse the economic stagnation through trail-blazing reforms in the regulatory capture of monopoly capitalism, to Erap’s short-lived populism down to GMA’s troubled administration, where long-term economic reforms were eclipsed by the political maelstrom of questioned mandate punctuated by corruption, and to Noynoy’s penchant for good marks from the gnomes and pashas while being distant and cold to the impoverished state of the poor man.
Sociologists could probably describe the last three decades as a state of anomie, where values and ideals have broken down due to the seeming hopelessness of life and the perceived helplessness of leadership to provide hope.
This was the state of public dissatisfaction with national leadership which brought an unlikely candidate from the deep and forgotten South to the presidency in 2016.
From the very start, this writer felt that the electorate was fed up with the system that produced little results, but unable to change the system; they yearned for someone, some savior who could effect meaningful change.
Surveying the declared competition, from P-Noy’s hand-picked Mar Roxas, to a populist but corruption-tainted Jojo Binay, to a leadership-challenged Grace Poe who was bent on reviving old cinematic glory, this writer knew that Rodrigo Duterte of Davao would be the answer to that yearning for change.
Note how the overseas Filipino workers rallied to a man for Duterte in 2016, despite his curses, his thumbing down in no uncertain language the “hallowed” institutions of society. These OFWs were the refugees of hopelessness, who saw painful separation from family and home the only escape from continuing misery.
And to a great extent, Duterte did not disappoint in his first two and a half years as president, such that the electorate glossed over the harshness of the drug war, the so-called assaults against individual freedoms and human rights, even a short run of high inflation last year which under normal circumstances would have dented the president’s popularity considerably.
The senatorial results show that the public approves of the Duterte leadership, give and take the survival of a few who banked on the last dying gasps of personal, largely cinematic popularity. The fact that Bong Go, whose first entry into politics Duterte nurtured, amazingly landed third over veteran legislators and known quantities, proves the enduring faith in the Duterte leadership. Ditto for Bato de la Rosa and Francis Tolentino.
The President had only 10 candidates from the very start, which excluded Lito Lapid and Bong Revilla, plus reelectionists Grace Poe and Nancy Binay. Strictly speaking, only eight of his 10 made it; JV Ejercito and Dong Mangudadatu failing to make the electoral bar. But the shut-out of the defined and declared opposition, even those of early shoo-ins like Bam Aquino and Mar Roxas, scions of historic political “brands,” says it all. By any and all standards, it was a Duterte win.
Now comes the difficult part—moving forward. Enshrining legacy instead of waiting for the twilight years.
“With great power comes great responsibility,” Uncle Ben told Spiderman.
If Rodrigo Roa Duterte is to be the Spiderman in our story of redemption from the people’s state of hopelessness, from the anomie that pervades our social environment, then we are all collectively the Uncle Ben who know that there are great responsibilities that he must yet perform in these last three years.
Sure, the public is happy that there is greater peace on the streets, that the drug menace to a very large extent, has stopped being a threat to their daily lives. They are happy that passports are now valid for 10 years, and driving licenses extended to five years; that there is less “kotong” from traffic enforcers and highway cops; swift removal from public office, though sometimes harshly, has become the norm rather than cover-ups and dilly-dallying. Even the end to luggage terrorism in our airports. All these, and more acts of the Duterte presidency are the “mabababaw na kaligayahan” that people overwhelmingly approve of.
They remain patient that the quality of life requires greater improvement, and that jobs will yet multiply, that the justice system will improve, and see a glimmer of hope in the President’s handling of the Muslim Mindanao insurgency and even his dealing with the bandits among the communists. Even if their hearts still pine for Virginia which their mis-education in history and their consumer appetites have ingrained upon them, they are realistic enough to realize that Duterte’s independent foreign policy is the way to go in this day and age.
Moving forward with a short time bind of two and a half years before the next presidential campaign convulses the polity requires priorities, priorities, priorities.
To quote my (and many others’) favorite contemporary poet, Robert Frost: “The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep. And miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep.”