I’VE PURPOSELY AVOIDED tuning in to the Duterte press conferences because I’m hyperacidic and watching him triggers the disorder. I tried watching him once and I barely managed 20 minutes. He began talking about burying Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani and the cramping began. Looks like this presidency is bad for my health.
But I can handle it. I’m more concerned about its effects on the nation, particularly the freedoms my generation and our elders fought hard to enjoy.
Duterte has lately revealed much that was undisclosed during his campaign, mostly about his alliances and character.
He has admitted to being close friends with Bongbong Marcos and his family, hence his refusal to grant Leni Robredo a cabinet portfolio. It’s interesting that this foul-mouthed maverick, who is ready to steamroll over anyone, is primly reluctant to offend his good friend Bongbong. How sensitive of him. How it smacks of “playing ball,” though. Back in the bad old days of the dictatorship, we called that cronyism.
Duterte has filled his cabinet with retired police and AFP officers on the rationale that they are best able to effect reforms. I don’t know these folks (not many do, I gather), and perhaps they are indeed capable. We’ll see. But note that Marcos too surrounded himself with officials of the security forces, and it came in handy when he declared martial law. I remember that as a child I feared uniformed personnel because they were unofficially known as the executors of Marcos’s dread will. They were the Orwellian “Big Brother” personified, ubiquitous and sinister – nothing like the game show caricature of today. Back then, we called that militarization.
But most disturbing to me is Duterte’s hostile shunning of the media in favor of government networks which he says will be the sole outlet for his official announcements, “for now.” His spokesmen qualified this as a temporary arrangement. I hope so. I’m afraid that prolonging this will make government media the clearing house for information instead of merely its conduit. This reminds me so much of the National Media Production Center that launched GTV-4 in 1974. For the better part of the dictatorship, information was filtered, sanitized, and frosted by the NMPC in the GTV-4 studios to make it palatable to the conjugal dictators and their cronies. Private networks which were later allowed to operate were carefully monitored by the NMPC and dished out a constant diet of falsehood and placebos. Freedom of expression was unknown, and those who dared to speak and write the truth mostly found themselves dead. Back then, we called this the gagging of the press.
I’m concerned that these “vestiges of that iniquitous regime” (as my father put it) are reconstituting before our very eyes. They might be taking shape too subtly to be noticed or too identified with the teflon president who, for 16 million Filipinos, can do no wrong. Thus these warning signs may simply be ignored. Or worse, they will remain unrecognized by a generation which is largely ignorant of the realities of martial law. That is partly our fault, I concede. We emerged from despotism too traumatized by the experience to speak of it or author more violence and oppression. We feared that we would become what we beheld, and so we opted for magnanimity and reconciliation. We chose not to remember. For peace. For unity.
Unfortunately, the evicted family exploited that and crept back into power like the reptiles that they are. They intend to hoodwink the nation and peddle a version of history that never was. The only weapon against that is truth. The media is essential here. Not teaching this generation well, that may have been our fault. But creating media policies that might keep society ignorant, that will be Duterte’s fault.
Granting that not all journalists are clean, it is wrong to condemn them wholesale. It is necessary, for the sake of truth, for various voices to speak and be heard. The Constitution guarantees that, regardless of how it might be abused. Freedom of expression is not available only to the president-elect to hide behind when he catcalls or improperly sings to a serious journalist; it is available even to her and her offended husband, and to those who learned of it and were outraged, and to those who will support Duterte regardless. All of us have the right to speak and not be silenced as long as we remain within the bounds of decency and the law.
There is a creeping tendency toward censorship on social media. If you say something against Duterte, even if it is factual or your sincere opinion, someone or other will rebuke you or oppose you or cuss you to hell. The religious among them will question your morality, and if Christian, they will challenge your devotion to Jesus, because aren’t we all supposed to forgive? Yes, but even Jesus called Herod “that fox,” adjured the Pharisees as “hypocrites,” and overturned the tables in the temple because He was zealous for the truth.
I did not vote for Duterte but I respect the mandate of 16 million Pinoys who did, and I will be a good citizen and abide by it. But do not deprive the rest of us who did not vote for him of the right to express our disappointment, and our displeasure, and yes, our dissent to what is now taking place. Our honest criticism may make him rule better. Do not turn your leader into a paragon nor unduly idolize him for he too has feet of clay. If we are to make something of the next six years, let us be alert, and let us work together lest the spectre of the past loom large once more and create a living nightmare for us all.
“If you continue in My word, you are truly My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”