The state of the nation is not one that allows us to celebrate Christmas.
And no, it’s not that we have nothing to celebrate as far as government is concerned. The peace talks and the anti-US stance, the pivot to China and the focus on providing public services – from real anti-poverty programs and social services, to agricultural and agrarian reform, from the promises of free tuition fees for state colleges and universities to (as President Duterte’s supporters have pointed out) free irrigation and free medicines.
Certainly these are great things, yet unsurprisingly all these changes, all the grand declarations we’ve heard from the President, all the good that has come out of the government in the past six months, all of it is trumped by the bigger, more critical, crises that no one in Malacañang cares to address, and which too many of us would rather deny.
No, this does not feel like Christmas at all.
The drug war
I was for the war against drugs, as I still am for the war against poverty, the war against hunger, the war against feudalism and capitalism and all forms of oppression.
The first slew of killings, I thought, were par for the course: a government proving that it was serious about fighting drugs, in ways we have not seen before. I thought after making that point, the government would wrest control of the narrative, the Philippine National Police would be transparent about what it knows and start cleansing from within, and the drug lords would be taken in one-by-one given government intel.
With renewed trust in the police and government, I thought then we would build a more responsible citizenry, one that will stand with the drug war because it is humane and compassionate, not at all the kind that subsists on fear and violence.
But now on its sixth month, it is clear that the task at hand was not so much to fight the war on drugs systematically and within the bounds of the law, but to allow the killings of as many suspected drug addicts and users, like there is no one in control.
It’s like Fear Factor, except it’s not a game show, and the suffering is not limited to eating cockroaches and claustrophobia.
And when a high-profile case like that of Mayor Espinosa, who was killed in jail by police officers, in what the National Bureau of Investigation has declared a rubout, when the outcome of a case like this one is that the perpetrators are absolved by the President because he says “Kung ano ang sinabi ng pulis ‘yun ang totoo sa akin, [Whatever the police says that’s the truth for me]” there is little comfort in this peace and order situation.
Because if the police can do no wrong, then victims will always deserve what they get.
We are told by pro-Duterte trolls and PR people: the greater number of killings on our streets have nothing to do with the police. These are perpetrated by the drug cartels.
If so, why hasn’t the PNP given us data on those killings? And isn’t it true that if the cartels can get away with these killings, that ultimately it still points to a police force that is incompetent, and a drug war that is a failure?
The death of discourse
Where the drug war is a crisis that is made worse by this government’s lack of transparency and utter disregard for citizen’s rights – it also reminds us of what seems to be the official, though un-written, government policy to confuse and confound the populace with the utter lack of information, no matter urgent and critical issues.
In place of a government that respects the people’s right to information, we have troll discourse – the kind that silences anything at all that is critical of what the President and his men say or do, half the time asserting that any critic is politically “yellow,” the other half insisting that we’ve just taken what the President says out of context. All the while subsisting on the idea that the number of likes and shares is equal to positive public opinion – never mind that discourse like this is all about keeping to an echo chamber.
It is easy to get those likes and shares if you say the right things: that is the nature of social media. It is not at all a measure of right and wrong, as it is a matter of saying the right things, at the right time – and planning when and how much to spend promoting your posts.
Equally tragic is the fact that despite all the notions of change that this government and its supporters like to celebrate, the communications status quo is turning out to be exactly the same as the previous government’s – if not worse.
Instead of a well-thought-out communications plan spinning all that government does, you have a noisy – if not loudmouthed – troll team that engages as superficially as possible on issues. Instead of red-baiting, you have yellow-labeling as the default dismissal du jour. Instead of engaging with critics, you have Dutertrolls goading people into hate, fueled by pro- versus anti- dichotomies, and attacking all critics. Instead of arguing about what is right and just, we are drowned in notions of bias and context and the idea that “everything’s an opinion,” which effectively rationalizes what is wrong.
One realizes that where in the past we lived with an elite government that protected its own interests and cared little about justice for the impoverished, now we live with a government that prides itself in being pro-people and pro-poor, yet also protects the interests of big business and oligarchs, while throwing all notions of justice and rights out the window.
One realizes that for all the good that this government has done, or still plans to do, when you live in a country where what is right is deemed irrelevant, and what is wrong is justified, it is difficult to celebrate anything.
For a country that prides itself in having the longest Christmas season, this year, there is no reason to celebrate here.