Now that our new normal is governance that does not care to pretend that we are one stable country, that does not spin the state of nation into a pretty picture, and that refuses to easily and simply deal with issues in the same way we’ve always dealt with it all these years – with a whole lot of silence and/or manufactured discourse – quiet is hard to come by. Don’t get me wrong: that is a good thing as far as I’m concerned. At least we are now actually looking at the sorry state of nation instead of living under the delusions of a righteous path.
And this is of course just for us, who are glued to our TV sets, and are online for most of the day, keeping up with the back-and-forth among the pro- and anti-Duterte, the supporters and the critics, the ones whose loyalty is to the President and the ones who are with the Liberal Party. I’m pretty sure for a majority in the country, the ones in the communities, those in the provinces, much of this goes over their heads – hunger is a far more urgent need after all. Such is the state of nation.
Shades of gray
Thankfully, the black and white, either-or, kind of discourse is also being questioned by more and more people. There’s a growing number who remain critical of the drug war, the extrajudicial killings and human rights violations, and yet are also critical of any and all plans (B, C, D) to unseat the President. This number needs to grow, so that more actually engage and participate, counter and attack, the changes that point to nothing but the repression of people’s rights, not just given the drug war, but also the state of lawlessness and lack of thinking from all fronts, bullies on social media and biased media and the shadows of the yellowed army ready to take over, included.
There’s reason to insist that the drug trade be unraveled before our eyes, that we question all witnesses, that we are given the data tying the big fish with the small, the ones who enabled the drug business, if not those who invested in it. Certainly this is part of the process of pinpointing – weeding out? – those who have so much at stake, who will not think twice about those summary executions. Certainly the President has allowed us to expect that even police and military officers, public servants and politicians, will be brought to justice. We want to understand why we have had to live with the great number who have been killed in the name of the drug war.
At the same time, there’s reason to celebrate the fact that the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) has been fulfilling its mandate (finally!) and have not depended on the public that has practically been trained by the last two governments to do relief operations during rainy season. There’s reason to applaud the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) ordering the distribution of land to our farmers. And yes, it is hard not to be excited when the President makes such bold statements against the US – the kind that makes international headlines – and of course one’s heart breaks a little when the President’s men take these statements back, unable as they are to deal with a leader like the President.
The reason for disquiet is also history.
A good thing: President Duterte himself is teaching us about the importance of having a sense of our past, toward making decisions in the present. He falls back on Philippine history often after all, speaking about Magellan and Lapu-Lapu, about the history of Mindanao, about the historical events that point to our uneven relationship with the US. Where he repeats himself about certain events, in order to justify his decisions, we are reminded by history too, given many of the other decisions he and his men are making.
Case in point: Martial Law.
As with President Duterte who falls back on historical fact, there are no gray areas here. What exist as historical facts on Martial Law are validated and corroborated, proven and substantiated. The number of disappeared and killed, the narratives of torture and abuse done by the Philippine Constabulary against activists and critics of Ferdinand Marcos and Martial Rule, the suspension of writ of habeas corpus and the abuse this legalized, the closure of newspapers and media that are critical of government, the control over culture and cultural institutions.
Even the President does not fight with these facts. He falls back instead on two other facts about Marcos: that he was President and that he was soldier, and therefore he has a right to be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (LNMB). But the President himself would know of the value of the symbolic – he after all lives off these symbols, of being a man of the people, of taking down those who stand for oppression of the masses, from the oligarchs to feudal lords to capitalists of the previous regime.
President Duterte himself teaches us that symbols are important. The burial of a dictator in the cemetery for heroes, the hero’s burial of someone under whose watch thousands of Filipinos were killed for no reason other than that they were critical of him — the President knows how that in itself contradicts all that he stands for.
A sense of history gives us the license to be critical and guarded and paranoid about this government’s moves, given Martial Law. And while many other decisions and articulations of President Duterte are worthy of being celebrated, there is every reason to be fearful and anxious at this juncture.
Disquiet is not a state of mind, as it is the order of the day.