A watershed in Philippine history


I OPINED during the campaign that the May 9 elections would be a watershed event for the Philippines

Watershed is a profound word in politics and international affairs. The Random House Dictionary defines watershed as “an important point of division or transition between two phases, conditions, etc.” In geography, the word means “the dividing line between two adjacent river systems, such as a ridge.”

As used in politics and statecraft, watershed denotes an event or period marking a turning point in the course of action or state of affairs. It is in this sense that I apply it to the May 9 elections and, now, to the inauguration of Rodrigo Roa Duterte as the 16th President of the Republic of the Philippines.

Duterte enters the national stage as the spearhead of a populist revolt in the country—the champion of great numbers of Filipinos who are frustrated and weary of decades of corruption, grinding poverty, crime, and ineffective government.

The May elections and Duterte’s accession are a watershed in the same way that the Feb. 1986 People Power revolt and the accession of Cory Aquino as President were a watershed in national history.

Cory and the EDSA revolution

Cory and EDSA commenced a period of three decades that marked a decisive break from the authoritarian rule of President Ferdinand Marcos.

EDSA people power triggered the wave of color revolutions that marked the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and, eventually, the Arab spring.

Yellow was the color emblazoned by Cory and her supporters on the uprising instigated by Juan Ponce Enrile, Fidel Ramos, Gregorio Honasan and other military rebels. For years even after Cory’s departure from office, yellow plodded on as the dominant color in Philippine politics. While Marcos sported the colors of the flag, especially red, yellow was the color of choice of the Aquino family.

Noynoy Aquino would take this chromatic business to nonsensical limits. He and his supporters wore yellow by command in official events and in every election they engaged in.

BS Aquino used a yellow ribbon pin to replace the traditional flag pin used by Filipino officials. And he wore it defiantly up to his final day in Malacañang.

The use of the color yellow was fitting for the Aquinos, because of their politics of hate and vindictiveness. Yellow is the color of bile, the bitter fluid secreted by the liver and gallbladder.

Will green be Duterte’s color?

Some people have wondered what would be the color that Duterte will adopt for his presidency.

I suggest, half seriously and half in jest, that he could choose the color green. If he is as committed to the conservation of our natural environment as he appears to be with his appointment of Regina Lopez as head of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, green might be the way to go. Our environment and natural resources are the last remaining treasures given us by Providence that we haven’t frittered away. The new administration can be our instrument and shield for saving them.

One hopeful sign is that President Duterte mentioned climate change as a priority concern during his first Cabinet meeting last Thursday.

I recommend green because I want us to be ahead of Red China in turning green. Many indicators point to the communist behemoth adopting Code Green as a policy to salvage
what is left of its suffocated environment.

A speech from the gut

As a student and chronicler of the inaugural addresses of Filipino Presidents (I’m writing and compiling a book on the subject), I listened and read intently President Duterte’s inaugural address.

On first impression, and after review, I found the address impressive and effective.

There is a famous saying about speaking from the heart or speaking from an open heart. It means naming the truth of one’s experience—with simplicity and sincerity, and without contentiousness or blame. This has great moral force. You can see the effects writ small and large, as when a child tells her parents, “I feel bad when you fight.”

Duterte’s inaugural address was not so much a speech from the heart as it was a speech from the gut. It was a speech of courage, willpower, and daring.

The President spoke to the guts of the problem of national life. He spoke of his familiar themes—crime, the drug menace, corruption—but, above all, he spoke about the erosion of our people’s faith in government.

He did not orate, he just spoke, dispensing with the familiar cadences and rhythms and imagery of elevated oratory.

What we want our country to be

In elections, Filipinos often vote for where they come from and for tribal reasons. Because
I know and respect many who voted for President Duterte, I venture to suggest that our people voted for what they want their country to be—strong, forthright, progressive, and
respected in the world.

This could be a sign of maturation for our democracy. And this is why the Duterte presidency is a watershed in our history.

The administration party, because of BS Aquino’s all-out support, was totally crushed in the elections.

The yellow fever is over. The Aquino brand has met its expiry date.

The way things should be

But other brands also expired in the elections. While a Binay daughter won for mayor in Makati City, the political career of Jejomar Binay is over.

Significantly, June 30 also marked the close of the political careers of Senators Juan Ponce
Enrile and Miriam Defensor-Santiago.

It would be hasty to proclaim a period of generational change in Philippine politics, just because many major politicians have retired or exited from the scene.

President Duterte, now 71, is a cohort of the older generation of leaders and politicians. He won against much younger candidates, who should have been more appealing to the younger generation of voters.

In fact, the issue of age was never raised during the campaign.

In a true democracy, the election result is the way things should be.

A new era is upon us, and it is up to the President and the people to shape it.

The victor is the Philippines and the Filipino people.



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  1. It is really too early to say if Duterte victory is a watershed event. He is just a different politician in many ways. Just as he has said, he has a message that all the rest do not have. That is true. He has a message but can he deliver the message ? That is what the next 6 years will show. Pnoy has a message too. Daan Matuwid, Kung walang corrupt. Walang mahirap. Was he able to deliver the message ? Heck , no. Dutertes message Is reduction ofcriminality, drugs and corruption. Let us see in the first 100 days.

  2. He won against much younger candidates, who should have been more appealing to the younger generation of voters. Mas madli kasing Utuin ang mga bata

  3. Wolfgang Struck on

    Yen Makabenta,
    As a good journalist you know that talk is cheap. One inaugural speech is not a watershed without the water flowing in both directions, Yes, Aquino, Liberal Party (Drilon), Binay, Enrile, Miriam (sayang) are goners. What now, pussycat? Can we now return back to the future? Well, not so fast. The new President likes the words don’t mess with me, don’t lie to me. Watch out, Mr. President, what you are doing and what they are applauding to. You might be loading too much on your plate. Halimbawa: 1. You want to bury Marcos. Marcos was buried in Hawaii October 21, 1989. You better make sure that the Marcos in Batac is really Marcos. 2. Will you ask Miriam a last question whether Imelda is Imelda and Bongbong is really Bongbong? Everybody can say never mind. The President cannot. He would be a laughing stock to the world: “Now they are burying even a fake president in the Philippines.” That’s not so nice. It goes on and on: Ramos is not Ramos, GMA is not Macapagal, Ayala does not own Makati, the Glonal City is not Taguig, and the Pasay City government does not own the Reclamation Area with the plan to share it, with Bonus, to Henry Sy and SM. Only in da Pilippines!

  4. Old man is full of wisdom……….In 100 days will see change,200 day,which was change,
    360 days what has changes…..If there is no changes by then,try next year the effect change…..If there will be no changes…..then I will sorry to poor Filipino Nations..Sorry no speculation…I stop….

  5. renato s. irlanda on

    A very inspiring piece
    hope you write your columns 6 days a week
    you can take a day off in a week.
    you write well.
    keep it up

  6. Rudi Miranda on

    Yen, Thank you! Kudos! Bravo! Congratulations! A beautiful piece of watershed!