Angry and divided: The state of the nation that the President must address

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ANTONIO P. CONTRERAS

PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte delivered his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) last Monday, July 24.

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I am sure many of my colleagues in the opinion-making business, the academic pundits, the rogue and not-so-rogue scholars, will have their own take on the SONA. Post-SONA punditry is a cottage industry in the same manner that making fashion commentaries about what the people who attended the SONA wore is also a thriving business.

I am not going to add my voice anymore, except to say that whatever the President said in the SONA, he has already claimed a unique place in our country’s political history. Love him or hate him, this President has destabilized so many grounds, and has assaulted so many comfort zones, that he became a living deconstruction of the state of the nation that we inherited from those who preceded him.

Having said this, I would like to take this opportunity to wish that the President should endeavor to heal the asymmetrical divisions that have festered over a nation dominated by the anger that has produced his presidency.

I fully concur with the succinct analysis of Professor Randy David. President Duterte has become a leader of an angry nation, one that is polarized between an angry pro-Duterte majority, and an equally angry anti-Duterte minority.

I say this fully aware of what distinguishes Filipino society, as validated not only by our own self-imaging of ourselves, but also by foreign observers.

At the height of the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda, CNN’s Anderson Cooper marveled at how we can easily break into laughter amidst the death and destruction. He saw us as a people with a strong sense of community, and a robust capacity to rise up after a fall.

We see ourselves as a resilient, happy people. We draw much of our strength from our sense of shared selves, or what Sikolohiyang Pilipino labels as “kapwa”. We use humor as a coping mechanism, even as we celebrate our sense of community as our political refuge.

I once compared the Philippines with Thailand. The source of Thailand’s social cohesion which enabled it to weather the storm of political instability throughout its history is the calming presence of its revered King. In contrast, the Philippines doesn’t have a King, but we have an enormous sense of community that is sustained by a robust supply of social capital that enables us to have a high level of trust even during times of crisis. This is our silent and organic “monarchy,” one that enables us to act collectively despite the weakness of our political institutions.

We value our shared self, or “kapwa,” as the one that propels us to look at other people not as subordinates to be dominated, or as strangers to be avoided, but as members of our political community that we have to deal with, accept and respect.

While this may have been the cause of our easy subjugation by foreign colonial powers, it was also the powerful tool that enabled us to weather the challenges that we faced in our history, from corrupt and inept politicians to natural calamities.

But the festering corruption and social exclusion that the ordinary Filipino has experienced from elite rule, which bore the imprint of colonial and post-colonial structures of inequalities, have over-extended the willingness of the people to accommodate an oppressive and elitist other.

Political ruptures in our history, from the Philippine Revolution to the EDSA people-powered military rebellion, have become episodes that were interrupted by elite betrayal. The former was when we were sold by Spain to the Americans that paved the way for the entrenchment of pro-US Filipino elites, and the latter was when the pre-martial law oligarchs stole in EDSA the thunder from a developing revolution that led to the entrenchment of the yellow elites.

This elitist exclusion led to layers of pent-up resentments and frustrations from a people betrayed. It exploded into anger that led to the victory of President Rodrigo Duterte in the 2016 elections. And this anger continues to sustain him until now.

On the other side, the Duterte election victory has displaced the elites so used to their entitlements, and have been spoiled by their ability to sequester political power for the good part of 30 years. They demonized Marcos. They ousted Erap Estrada. They impeached Renato Corona. And they jailed Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. They monopolized the telling of history. These elites, which are now forced into the minority, are understandably equally livid.

And in the middle are people who claim to be neutral but are equally offended by a President who challenges their moral rubrics and social activism, and end up allied with the yellow elites they used to hate.

This is where we are right now, a nation that is ruled by anger and deep divisions.

Our state of the nation is therefore precarious. The anger that rules us threatens to weaken what we have always taken to be our strength. Social media is now inhabited by emotional, mostly blind partisans who troll, curse, insult and disparage those on the other side.

And this social media warfare spills over into real relationships. Friendships are broken. Relationships are strained, even among family members. Social capital is weakened. And the sense of kapwa is assaulted.

The President is a child of this anger, but nevertheless is the leader of the nation that is ruled by it. He has to do something, before this partisan divisions and hatred consume us and jeopardize our future as a nation.

This is the state of the nation that the President must address.

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