You're with the swindlers

The radio in cab I was on had Erwin Tulfo on.

I did not know when he became an apologist for Rodrigo Duterte, or why, although I can see how they would gravitate towards each other - or, to be more precise, how one would gravitate towards the other. Both try to be respectable, but underneath is a seething pot of anger, an anger driven by ego and bravado, of the belief that the world should swirl around them, and that everything they do should ultimately serve their images, their egos.

I have not really listened to commentary of any sort in a long time, but out of curiosity, I listened to Erwin. There he was, lambasting Antonio Trillanes for whatever criticism the senator had at that time about the president - I didn't know what; I had no idea what. Erwin claimed the senator had no right to be critical because he was also under investigation for corruption. Erwin specifically mentioned two other opposition figures: Leila de Lima, now in jail for drug charges she is calling weak, and Frank Drilon.

Erwin said that the Liberal Party, in its six years in power when Noynoy Aquino was president, had no right to be critical. Erwin said the Filipino people gave them a chance and were essentially swindled, duped into believing voting them into power would lead to great change, only to find themselves witness to more corruption. Erwin said this pattern has been going on for years - 24 years, to be exact, of Filipinos putting their faith in their leader, only to be swindled out of their expectations.

It has been a year since Duterte became president. A lot has happened since - or, perhaps, nothing has happened. The toxicity of political discourse that people hoped would end after the election didn't quite go away. There could never be a middle ground, even if you tried to understand where both sides are coming from. Either you're an apologist or you're fighting for decency. The narrative of "either you're with us or against us" set in the Noynoy years exploded in Duterte's first, and it has now taken the front seat in the discussion of perhaps every policy of this government, whether it be the contentious campaign against illegal drugs, or the pivot away from the United States towards China and Russia, or the so-called "golden age of infrastructure". Either you're a partner for change or you're working actively to bring us all back to the past.

But it's really all just words, isn't it? It's all bluster. It's why we're fighting wars on social media. It's why we look for anything that's ripe for sharing and, more importantly, goes with whatever we believe, no matter how true or not. It's why we sling insults. It's why we redefined goodness as a political thing rather than a human thing, something that comes with who you support rather than with how you were raised, or what you were exposed to. And yet words matter so much, so much so that this fight has gone to overdrive - all because someone said we were swindled, and someone else we weren't.

Erwin said Filipinos were looking for a superhero, and found one in a filthy-mouthed, womanizing, small-thinking man who became president. Erwin kept on saying "21 million" - perhaps he was implying that he was still cheated from a more convincing victory? More evil forces at work? The Liberal Party, who can no longer complain because they blew it? I don't support the Liberal Party either - just read through everything I've written about Noynoy Aquino - but I am not a rabid supporter of Duterte either, so does that mean I should shut up? At least we allowed dissent in the six years prior to this first year. The president got whiny about it, but he allowed it.

Now, though? The war on drugs is good, never mind the innocent lives killed, never mind the seeming focus on hiking up numbers rather than actually getting to the source. The pivot to China is good, never mind them continuing to build military installations in our maritime backyard. The "golden age of infrastructure" is good, never mind questions on whether finishing all of those projects in time is feasible, or even the question of whether we really have the money for all of it. If you believe otherwise, then shut up. You're with the swindlers. You're with the liars and cheaters. There's no space in this table for you, not as long as you doubt this guy who, at least, is candid and gets things done. For almost a quarter of a century we have been duped. Now, we're seeing change - and when he says it's changed, we believe it, because he's a good guy. It all must be true when he says it.

The clock strikes ten, and Erwin ends his show. His delivery was impassioned, and I admit I was carried away a bit. I agree with him on one thing - we do look for a superhero. It's why we were so disappointed, time and time again. It's why some remain disappointed to this day. It's striking how no change, no fundamental change, passes as change, especially if you dress it up with a fistbump emoji.

I put my earphones back on. I am actually late for my meeting.

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