You may not be asking, but I feel the need to explain. What our president has been saying lately…we do not all agree with it. You have to know that.
There is still a swathe of society where decency and rationality hold sway, and issues are discussed with civility and sobriety. There are Filipinos who abhor his crass language, who are alarmed at the foreign policies he has broached, and who react with shock to his undiplomatic pronouncements, particularly those equating the Holocaust victims with drug addicts ripe for the slaughter. We deeply regret the insult these statements have caused, and I assure you that the president does not represent the views of the whole nation.
Although Rodrigo Duterte’s supporters like to remind us of how large a force they are, it just isn’t so. They were big enough to win the plurality vote, but post-elections, in real life, they are not that many.
Let me put it in context for you. Our Commission on Elections reported that of the 54.4 million registered voters in 2016, about 40 million exercised their right of suffrage. While 16.6 million voted for Duterte (comprising 39% of the total votes cast for president), about 26 million (61%) did not. If I add to those the 14 million recorded abstentions, then I count about 40 million, or 73.52% of the total registered voters, who did not back Duterte.
However, he does have a vociferous, fierce, even vicious, army of loyalists who will defend him tooth and nail against any opposition. Many of them do not ponder issues very deeply; theirs is a visceral response with the end goal of ripping critics to shreds. Thus, there is as much virtual bloodshed on social media as there is actual blood spilt on the streets of our cities and townships. The deaths resulting from his notorious war on drugs which began on July 1 number now over 3,500, with about a third of those occurring in police operations and the rest in vigilante-style attacks. That is about 38 killings a day. Again, to put it in context, there have been more killed in the past three months than the 3,240 murdered in the 14 years of the Marcos martial law regime.
Many are appalled by that, but the Duterte presidency has exposed a latent bloodlust among the populace of which we were largely unaware. There are those who say they hate the effects of drugs, particularly the grisly murders perpetrated by those under the influence. But inconsistently, these same folks will celebrate the daily drug-related deaths and say, more! more! more! It is disturbing that some of these folks are openly religious and will even quote Bible verses (often out of context) to support their stance.
When challenged with hypocrisy, they resort to a labyrinthine logic that is the standard strategy of the rabid Duterte follower. If you take issue with the rising death toll, they will say, “What about the victims of drug addicts? You bleeding hearts only care about the criminals!” If you express shock over the Holocaust statement, they will say, “Well shouldn’t Israel apologize to Palestine for the deaths it caused there?” If you point out the vulgarity of the president’s language and his cruel treatment of foes, they will say, “He is a true gentleman because he apologizes when he’s mistaken.” (The Duterte communications team is expert at this type of reasoning. Today, the president’s Holocaust statement was explained away as an “oblique deflection” used by the president to reach an “oblique conclusion.” Lately, we have been exposed to so many slants that we are hungry for simple, honest, directness.) Off-tangent, non-responsive, usually invective-laced arguments are the course du jour when debating with ferocious Duterte supporters. Very often, it is best not to engage them at all. They will not listen anyway.
Another strategy employed by the administration is the shaming of its enemies, as it has done with special vigor against Senator Leila de Lima. She dared rebuke Mayor Duterte for his involvement in the Davao Death Squad when she was Chairman of the Commission of Human Rights and he never forgot it. For that sin, she is now being pilloried before the nation with the full force of the government. They have even come up with a clearly fake sex video (in which they claim she stars) and threatened to present it in the public hearings on the prison drug problem at the House of Representatives where she has been implicated by several convicted drug lords, all her sworn enemies. That this is a clearly mysoginistic, illegal act seems not to matter to the congressmen. Thankfully, 34 female lawmakers and 10 of their male colleagues have opposed this move. They have not been heeded.
There are Duterte supporters who say they cannot defend the president any longer. Some find the killings unconscionable, some correctly see the connection between his irresponsible tirades and the gradually ailing economy. Others find Duterte’s treatment of de Lima cruel and unjustified. One has taken to social media to express his disgust, while another apologized to the public for his erstwhile support for Duterte. The comments to these posts are enlightening. They give me hope that others will see the light.
There is a monument to the Canadian soldiers who perished on Vimy Ridge in France during the First World War. It features a massive figure of Mother Canada standing on the ridge, weeping for her lost boys. It is a haunting spectacle, and one that evokes in me a similar emotion today. I feel my Motherland, my Inang Bayan, keening for her lost children, wondering where they have gone. More than three thousand have been arbitrarily dispatched into eternity, while others grope in a Hadean existence, like Orpheus seeking an exit. There is a minority that supports the president and is happy to be in this half-life.
But dear world, please believe – the rest of us are not.
This is what the LORD says: “A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”Jeremiah 31:15