I am safe...?

I counted. Jeany and I have been friends for eight years now.

I wouldn't call it a trans-Atlantic friendship. She lives in New York, sure, but I don't live in London. I don't even live in Lisbon. I live in Manila, which is not even on the side of the Philippines that's near the Pacific Ocean. I just think of our friendship as one that spans half the world in either direction.

Throughout those eight years, maybe nine, Jeany and I have talked about whether we'll ever see each other in person. Most of the time it involves her chiding me. "Go to New York!" she'd usually say. "I'll bring you to gigs."

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Nothing to declare

The fear is that, sooner than later, Rodrigo Duterte will declare martial law, consolidate power for himself and his cronies, and lord over us all for the years to come.

Well, it's not an unfounded fear, considering how often he uses martial law as a stick to beat everyone into following his bidding. "Do your work, or else I'll declare martial law," he often says, to the point - perhaps it is the point - that the thread has dulled, has lost its punch. It's not an unfounded fear, considering how often he ponders how much better things will be if the constitutional clamps on presidential power were removed altogether. Finally, no matter what some revisionists say about how the time of Ferdinand Marcos brought nothing but good tidings to the Philippines, the thought of martial law still spooks most, if only at the visceral level - the thought of being abducted, being found dead, or worse, not appearing anywhere else altogether.

I'm also pretty sure Duterte is smarter than some make him out to be. He would not declare martial law. He knows that, no matter who is in charge, the idea alone of martial law is not popular. Sure, people may yearn for the supposed peace and order of those days - "oh, things were just much better back then" - making a sweeping declaration to the effect will not go well for him. He may have noisy sycophants flooding the national discourse, but noise does not mean numbers. I think he knows that.

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Who's destabilizing who?

In the streets around Malacañang - I was on my way to a wake - there are streamers, lots of them. "Yes to peace through federalism," they say. "No to destabilization." The signs were put up by a group calling themselves People Power Against Destabilization and for Democracy.

Par for the course, considering the ongoing battle towards what "people power" really means. This side is claiming that the people did not really benefit from the return of democracy - that only the elites benefited, that only the elites are benefiting, while the masses continue to have their faces smashed in the mud. This side, they say that this, this is real people power. Rodrigo Duterte is leading real people power, and he is leading real change, and this will bypass the forces that have screwed the masses over and over: the oligarchs, the Catholic church, the media, the liberal elites. Screw them.

Part of that narrative is how those forces are now banding together to take away this one golden opportunity to bring real, lasting change to the Philippines. There's the biased mainstream media, funded by the Americans and the oligarchs, maybe, bent on painting Duterte's every reform in a bad light, covering all his speeches for the slightest hint of outrage to splash on their physical and virtual pages.

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Award of Excellence

I think we should do away with the idea that change is only for the better. I think we should do away with the idea that change does not mean deterioration, desecration, and any other such words that I can't think of right now.

I don't know. "Change" always implies something good. "You can change." "You must change." Perhaps the only time it takes a negative context is when you say "you have changed" - and most of the time it's always followed up by a plea to, well, change, in the popular sense of the term.

"You have to change," I was often told. I was in elementary school back then, and the administrators saw me as the guy who could, but just can't. I always got the Distinction Award, but never the Award of Excellence. They would always say I am a smart kid, but I had an attitude problem. "You have to have more self-control," the affable Mrs. Guiriba always told me. Just change that one thing and, maybe, you can get an Award of Excellence like Faith or Carmel have. Your neighbors, you know?

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No opposition

It's not hard to understand how some can believe that any opposition to something does not help. "Why complain and complain when you say just support this thing and get it done?" Here, not just in politics, the idea that raising a ruckus whenever you disagree with something just gets in the way is widely subscribed to.

But, of course, politics is a much bigger stage, one that plays out every day on the news, sometimes (especially lately) even live. Anybody who's in a position to point out the flaws of the leadership - all in the name, supposedly, of public service - is seen as a nuisance, a roadblock. Just think of how the scrambling opposition during Noynoy Aquino's time was seen: as a roadblock to progress.

This time, however, with Rodrigo Duterte at the helm, this belief has become a bit more explicit. Perhaps it's his authoritarian tendencies. Perhaps it's his most rabid supporters feeling empowered to actually say it out loud, and not in civil terms, either. The opposition - whoever that is - is a roadblock to change, and this time they will be eliminated if necessary.

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