3/30/2021
Leni Robredo is not the answer

The problem with unfollowing everyone who you disagree with, as we've all probably established by now, is that you end up being in your own custom-built echo chamber, where everybody agrees with you, and therefore, you can do nothing wrong.

Sure, say it's about keeping your sanity intact and your mental health in check, but it leads to you not having the full picture. Sure, you can say you're shutting out the negative, but you can't ever claim that you have a full understanding of what's going on, not if you only see the side of the story that clicks with your belief system.

The past year has been a clusterfuck, to say the least, and rightfully a huge chunk of the blame belongs to the government for squandering the many opportunities (and the surprising amount of goodwill bestowed upon it, at least in the early stages) it had to properly and decisively respond to the COVID-19 crisis. I mean, as I write this, on the first day of Metro Manila's return to the strictest form of everyone-finally-calls-it-a-lockdown, the situation is at its worst. Ten thousand new cases in one day, for the first time since the pandemic first struck. And it can only get worse from here, what with still no structures in place for proper tracing and testing, not to mention us somehow having cultivated a variant all our own. All the government has to say about this is, "see, it's your fault you're stubborn."

Naturally, people are angry, and not just at an incompetent government, but also to those who still seem to support this incompetent government. Sometimes it seems we spend more time and energy being angry at those people. DDS ka pa rin ba? Bakit hindi ka pa nagagalit? Gumising ka na! And then there was this post about a guy who had a cake made for his father for finally disavowing Rodrigo Duterte. Chuckle-worthy, but ultimately, shallow.

Yes, there are many reasons for one to finally "see the light", but insisting that this will happen sooner or later - insisting that this should happen sooner or later - is demeaning and insulting to the intelligence of the Duterte supporter. There are valid reasons - perhaps not valid to the detractor, but valid to the cheerleader - why they refuse to go over to the other side, but the way you may have set up your echo chamber means you don't see them. They may be inconvenient, but they must be understood.

Those reasons begin, inevitably, with the previous president. This isn't to say that Noynoy Aquino did nothing good for the country. I may have been critical of him throughout his six years in office - just check the archives - but I would point out that he helped set the stage for so many things that we take for granted today. The current government's push to build flagship infrastructure projects across the country would not be possible if not for reforms and initiatives taken under the previous government's watch, for one. For better or worse, Noynoy did inspire some of the country's best and brightest to come together and attempt to realize an ideal version of the Philippines, one that has its dignity intact and can occupy its rightful place in the world stage.

The problem is, Noynoy saw very highly of himself. Perhaps it's the sense of entitlement he built for himself, being not just an Aquino, but the Aquino that would continue the legacy of Ninoy and Cory. He refused to see eye-to-eye with those who were critical of him, or to those who had misgivings towards him, which happen to mostly be those in the lower classes with a somewhat simplistic view of things. Noynoy did good things, sure, but they're not the sort that you can easily sell to the masses. "Making sure we have enough money to spend on nice things" is not as sexy as "building double-decker elevated highways". For better or worse, the masses want to see the change that they're supposed to feel. Instead, they got someone who promised the world and didn't quite deliver.

It didn't help that Noynoy is really a petulant brat. He thought he was invincible. He thought he could make all the criticisms disappear just by wearing that yellow ribbon pin on his chest. But when faced with legitimate questions about how his administration did things, or didn't - the botched response to Yolanda, the Zamboanga siege, the Mamasapano incident, the Cybercrime Prevention Act, the Disbursement Acceleration Program - he acted as if we were trying to pull him a fast one. Can't you see the yellow ribbon on my chest? This means I can't do no wrong! That just made him look worse, and it's something most voters didn't forget when the next elections came.

This is - at least partly - why the most ardent of Duterte's supporters aren't leaving his side. Just look at their comments on social media. If you can get past the incivility and misogyny, the thoughts are pretty similar. "At least may nagawa si Duterte. Anong gusto mo, 'yung mga dilawan ulit ang nasa gobyerno?" Sure, you can reason with them that, say, most of the infrastructure projects now being branded as Duterte's initiatives actually started life as plans under Noynoy (and even before), but to them, it's an absolute failure that the last president didn't start building anything, much more finish anything. At least this president did.

To Duterte's supporters, the worst scenario is to have Noynoy and his acolytes regain power, and that fear is most represented by the fact that Leni Robredo is a heartbeat away from being president.

Frankly, it's astounding that she ever won as vice president. Her storyline - of how she will continue the legacy left behind by her late husband Jesse, who remains one of the best models for good governance in this country's recent history - is one that detractors have had enough of and badly want to get rid of, since Noynoy did exactly the same thing, and, well, look where we are now. But she won the second highest position in the land (at least on paper) because people were hedging their bets. On one hand, Mar Roxas never had a chance to become president, being far too intertwined with Noynoy to present an alternative to the then status quo. (Also, he was acting like a petulant brat at the end of the 2016 campaign. Remember how he begged - nay, demanded - Grace Poe back out?) On the other hand, voters were hoping hard that Leni's presence would soften an inevitable Duterte presidency. Remember how people said Leni's "motherly" instincts would provide a counterbalance to Duterte's aggressively macho style? Those wishes never came true, did they?

And just as well, the current president's cheerleaders would say. Having Leni there, they argue, would just disrupt all the good Duterte has in mind for the country. Or worse, Leni would undermine all that good for her own interests, and that of her cohorts. Ibabalik nila tayo sa kadiliman, to paraphrase the last president.

It's been almost five years since we voted for this president, and we're in the midst of arguably the country's biggest crisis since the last few years of Ferdinand Marcos. There's a pandemic running amok. There's an economy that's on the dumps, and it's a long way from getting back up on its feet. There's a greater sense, with each passing day, that we will be left behind as the rest of the world resumes normal life, or whatever passes for it. There's this feeling, stronger day by day, that this so-called "new normal" that we have no choice but to adjust to is really hardship for most. In normal circumstances, there is more than enough negative sentiment to trigger a series of events that will lead to the opposition gaining power in the next elections, if not sooner. Instead, we're shutting off anyone else who says something that doesn't align with what we believe. That, and we're continuously being gaslit into thinking that any and all of this government's failures is because we refuse to support it. We're firmly entrenched in our positions, and we're not budging an inch.

Some critics may point towards what Leni has been doing this past year as an example of how much better the government's response to this pandemic can be. Sure, credit must be given to where it is due; her office has been pretty quick to recognize potential problems and put together solutions for it, and it's done so with an imagination that's sorely lacking across most of the government. And she did it while being effectively sidelined by this president, you might argue. What more when she has the whole government at her disposal?

Well, for one, she might not be able to do things as fast as she does now. Government, for better or worse, is a clunky beast, and in some instances, it's slow by design. Checks and balances and all that. (It's why Duterte has heavily hinted at doing away with some of them. His brand is "quick action", and oversight just gets in the way.) Sure, Leni can envision a government that's more agile and imaginative - and heaven knows we need that - but it's not something you can do in six years. I mean, Noynoy tried, and almost succeeded, in sowing the seeds of a culture change in government, but his other actions just made people resent anything he tried to do out of the goodness of his heart.

Also, Leni can do the things she's done because she is surrounded by like-minded people, who are also stuck in this sidelined bubble, and have no choice but to do things their way, lest be seen as pointless. Sure, being in government is about being surrounded by like-minded people, but the best leaders are able to deftly deal with any opposition, or at least, opposing viewpoints. Duterte isn't a good leader because his style is to give a middle finger to his detractors and let his supporters do the rest of the slugging out. I don't think Leni can effectively deal with the fact that many still see her as a wannabe who'll just plunge the Philippines into darkness. It's a cloud that will hover over her six years in power.

That's a shame, because the idea that Leni's position represents is something that all of us, regardless of which side of the arena we're on, want government to be. We want a government that acts fact. We want a government that can see far ahead. We want a government that take in the best suggestions and doesn't stick to the same old approaches. That's not to say that the current government lacks all of that. I myself work with the government - and here I must say that I am just speaking for myself in this entire essay, as I do in all other essays published on this blog - and I can attest to how some government officials, under the right conditions, are able to act fast, to see far ahead, and to be imaginative. I can also say that in many instances, it's the leadership - the leadership that has to play to the crowd as often as possible - that holds what we'd call "progress" back.

That idea is always worth pursuing, but the problem is that we don't agree on who should lead the charge. You say it's not Duterte, with his incivility and his misogyny and his "my word is law" approach and his obvious preference for China cloaked under the veil of "independent foreign policy". They say it's not Leni, with her suupposed plans to plunge us into absolute darkness. And if it's not her, or anyone else within the "dilawan" camp, then who else? They'll hesitate to tell you that Duterte isn't the best option, but at least he's done a lot of things. He's the least worst option. Everything else will sort itself out. Sooner or later we'll have every Filipino vaccinated and we'll come to recognize that he did things right. Or something.

But, clearly, he isn't. Again, we're in the middle of the country's biggest crisis since the last years of Ferdinand Marcos. Faced with an unknown disease, this government failed to pour its resources into making sure that we're all (relatively) safe from COVID-19, and into making sure that we can recover as quickly as possible. It even failed to act proactively when the disease was just brewing a few thousand kilometers over. Instead, it shut down virtually all of the Philippine economy in hopes of getting past this problem as quickly as possible, failing to recognize that we are in it for the long haul. And when it realized that they, well, fucked up, they dithered in implementing measures that would ensure we can get back up as soon as possible. Never mind those who lost their jobs, their sense of purpose, their lives. No stimulus package for you. No mass testing for you. Their only solution is us wearing face masks and those fucking face shields, and keeping our distance, and waiting for a vaccine which may or may not arrive soon enough. And if that doesn't work, it's our fault for complaining a lot.

Who could have seen that coming, though? they would say. Leni would've fucked it up more, they would say. As much as that sounds ridiculous to you, to them, that is valid. That comes from fears of a government doing nothing. It's not something you recognize as reality, but that's what they see, and whether you like it or not, that's what they believe.

If we're to see the change we want to see, then we should start by seeing eye-to-eye with the people we've unfollowed. We have to understand their concerns rather than dismissing them for not matching ours. We have to recognize that, underneath our constant yelling about who should be in charge, we all agree on what should be done, more so now that it's glaringly obvious that what's being done is not just ineffective, but bringing us back to where we used to be. It's not about who wins, but what that person stands for. Ultimately, if we're to truly address their concerns and present an alternative vision for the country that they can believe in, we have to recognize that we are also capable of not getting it right, particularly the mistake of believing that we're somehow entitled to this victory because the "other side" is doing a colossally bad job.

We have to acknowledge that Leni Robredo is not the answer.

I know, it does not sound satisfactory. Why give up on the vice president just because a bunch of stupid degenerates - I am just paraphrasing you - don't like her? Because, politically, she can never unite the country behind the what that she represents. She's too polarizing a figure already, and the opposition - provided they can get their act together in time - will not succeed in repackaging her. You cannot have her as the central figure in an alternative vision of the country, one where "tapang at malasakit" is not an ultimately empty catchphrase. I'm not saying she's not a capable person, but if we insist on putting her in the lead, we cannot sell that vision. We cannot make them see the light, so to speak. The answer to your constant "gising ka na ba?" will defiantly remain "ayoko sa dilawan!"

The challenge for the opposition in the next fourteen months, then, is to snap out of its complacency. I'm not privy to any of their discussions, but it seems to me that they're more confident than they really should be. They think people will, at some point, realize that the pandemic has been mishandled so badly, and that they'll yearn for a decisive change in leadership style. Nope. There's an easy excuse, and it's not one fully influenced by misinformation. The pandemic has been bad for everyone, they'll say. Digong has done a pretty good job by all means, they'll say. Would Leni do any better? I believe she'll make things much worse. And she'll line her pockets and that of her allies, and we will all die. At least Digong has had flyovers and bridges built.

Just look at the social media posts you've muted. Whether it's on a news site, or on an administration-supporting page, the sentiments from Duterte's supporters don't change. #SAWSAWLUGAW, they say, whenever Leni makes suggestions. #2INIDORO, they say, whenever an alternative vision is presented. #RUNINDAYRUN, they say, when asked about what the future of the Philippines should be like. Why ruin the good this president has made by voting for a dilawan?

Ideally, the opposition should be working to really sell the idea - not just to like-minded people, but to everyone - that we can have a government that does not just see what its citizens need, but works towards that goal. We can have a government that cares for its people, and not just for those who voted them in power, or its allies. We can have a government that does not treat politics as the be-all and end-all. We can have a government that just works.

The problem, however, is that the opposition and its supporters see very highly of themselves. Perhaps for good reason: why associate themselves with those who post abuse on social media? But also, why associate themselves with the stupid, unenlightened, hopeless cases? Because they're the ones you have to convince the most to believe that things could get better, even if what they're seeing is already the best to them. Alas, even the opposition has decided to retreat to its own echo chambers, to English-speaking podcasts and news programs, because they'd rather seek the validation of people who already are predisposed to agree with them. That leaves the so-called "dirty masses" still believing the not-invalid narrative that the elites don't really care. And so, come 2022, the next president of the Philippines may well be another Duterte, or a Go, or a Pacquiao - and we will have a state-sanctioned forgiveness of the mistakes being done now, more so the atrocities of the not-so-distant past, rather than a reckoning.

If you ask me, the first thing the opposition should do is the last thing Leni's supporters would want to see: she should say outright that she is not going to run for president in 2022. That should compel the opposition to realize they don't have much time left, and really take the upcoming elections seriously. But, frankly, I don't think this timid, coy, trying-hard-to-look-civil version of the opposition can get it together in fourteen months. It will cling on to a legacy that isn't as great as they wish it to be. It will try hard to claim to be above the fray, to say it's not the right time for politicking because there's a pandemic and all that. By the time they have to get themselves together, it will be too late.

It will take a miracle for them to even just have a good chance of winning. I hope to God there is one.

And your responses...

I am so happy reading this post. I agree and share your sentiments. I always look out for different perspectives. I may have unfollowed some toxic friends, but I still try to understand the reason why they idolize him the way they do. And you're right. There really is no strong opposition. And that's frustrating.

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