7/06/2019
Optics

"Shit happens," neophyte senator Bato dela Rosa said, defending policemen - who he used to lead - who conducting an anti-drug operation that killed a three-year-old girl alongside her father.

For days this has been the subject of new outrage amongst the critical crowd, leading, of course, to his remarks being amplified further and further.

"Shit happens," you are constantly reminded.

"Yes," some have remarked, "and shit is also chosen."

This, of course, isn't the first time we've grappled with outrageous remarks from government officials, although it does feel like a different world these days. Rodrigo Duterte has made a brand out of making these outrageous remarks - there's way too many to mention; only the one about the rape of an Australian missionary, remarks he made on the campaign trail, comes to mind - that, even if you try your best not to be numbed by it, you do.

It's not that you, as the most ardent of critics would love to characterize it, let him get away with it. You're still disappointed, at the very least, but what else can you do? It is the president's brand. He ascended to the presidency on the promise, among others, of not being a phony politician like everybody else. He doesn't care about optics; he doesn't care about protocol. He wears his barong with the sleeves rolled up. He gets really animated when he speaks, prepared scripts be damned. And his base, at the very least, enjoys it. They'll say - and I'm sure some of those who aren't so fond of him would, too - that Duterte is very refreshing compared to the excessively measured, PR-based tenure of Noynoy Aquino. He tried his best to maintain an image of integrity and, dare I say, purity - but whenever he is personally hit by not-frilly accusations of corruption, he throws a tantrum, exacerbating the situation even further. Do you really want that?

It's no surprise "shit is also chosen", as many have said. Not just chosen, really, but left to ferment and... is "bloom" an appropriate word? I am disappointed, yes, but I am no longer surprised. The last time we as a nation tried to take that road - one strewn with yellow ribbons - it, on the surface, didn't turn out so well: we had an incompetent and indecisive president, and no matter what his administration particularly did, the fact is, we had an incompetent and indecisive president, and that is a deal-breaker. Now we as a nation have gone for the complete opposite: someone whose words are outrageous, whose deeds are outrageous, but hey, at least he gets something done. Like, look at all those highways. He did all that! (Never mind that the nature of bureaucracy means these projects began long before Duterte harbored ambitions to become president.) Would you really prefer a stupid, autistic president who can't do shit over a pottymouthed one who's done more than that, and then some?

And so it remains a losing battle, at least for the ardent critics, the ones who claim to be fighting for integrity but turn out to be as partisan as the people they denounce. No matter how much you share on social media exposing the fraud that this president is, the fact is, people still find him refreshing compared to all that came before. Yes, it's a mix of the hyperpartisan nature of discourse that slowly emerged when we split ourselves into pro-Erap and anti-Erap camps, and really blossomed when the so-called "unity candidate", Noynoy Aquino, assumed office. Somehow we've become comfortable with that, and went for unfiltered over curated. Why else would media outlets continue to cover his every speech, word for word, even if he never really says anything new? It's good for business. You need to appease the beast that gives you kudos, and in effect, the means to survive. You need the masses to huddle around you, which would mean those in power would choose you over others, propagating their brand through your platform. And so the cycle continues, optics be damned.

The irony, of course, is that this president is just as PR-driven as the predecessor he's vilified. But I understand what they're trying to do. The public - not the majority, you will insist, but the law is what it is - has chosen shit, and it's left out to ferment until it dries up and it's impossible to remove, and you just live with it. After all, why kick out a corrupt government when they've built some roads to make traffic better?

And your responses...

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