MANY pundits have assessed the first year of President Rodrigo Duterte’s presidency.
They focused on the nature and effects of the programs and policies which the President has implemented and pursued.
I will no longer dwell on these, and would gladly refer you to the social media pages of the prominent Duterte supporters and critics. If you care for balance, read both. But if you want a confirmation of your biases, then you can limit yourself to that side of the political fence consistent with your politics.
What I would like to dwell on are the effects of President Duterte on the sense of community and sanity of the Pinoys.
There is no doubt that the Duterte presidency has led to an asymmetrical state of polarization, where he is supported by a vast majority and vigorously opposed by a noisy minority. And the gap that divides the two camps is filled with mutual hatred and animosity. Many supporters of the President commit idolatry by believing that he is infallible. On the other side are his detractors who turn him into a one-dimensional caricature of pure evil, a mass murderer and a human rights violator. Thus, we are now faced with a political divide where one side sees the President as one who can do no wrong while the other side sees him as one who can do no right.
And the hatred and animosity extend beyond the President and into how people see those on the other side. There is so much vitriol in social media, to a point that ad hominem attacks appear like they are on bargain sale. People attack each other with so much hurtful words that one needs to ask if our sense of “kapwa” which, according to Sikolohiyang Pilipino, is what makes us Pinoys, is now eroded, if not gone.
Sikolohiyang Pilipino has argued that Pinoys treat our “other,” or those who are not like us, with respect and with a sense of accommodation. This is what allegedly distinguishes us from Western culture where the “other” is considered as inferior and subordinated to the “self.”
But this is not what is happening right now. The hatred and animosity between the Duterte supporters and critics are so palpable, and so disturbing that they wreak havoc not only in social media between strangers, but in real-life friendships and relationships.
I am a living example of this.
I have lost friends just because I support the President. My colleagues in social advocacy on gender and women’s issues, as well as in environmental advocacy, people with whom I have cultivated relationships that went beyond the professional, have unfollowed, or worse unfriended or blocked me in social media. Colleagues and former students who know the rigor of my scholarship have joined those who attack me as being ignorant and clueless.
This is what has been engendered by the presidency of Duterte. In my honest opinion, the fault lies not with him, but squarely with those who began the name-calling, and the demeaning of those who support him. These are the people who over-extended the partisan animosity during the campaign simply because they could not move on and accept that they lost.
Maria Ressa boldly claiming that they have to take back the Internet, or Archbishop Soc Villegas issuing a list of alleged fake news sites that are mostly pro-Duterte and advised people to stay away from these lest they commit a sin, are characteristic of the disdain the anti-Duterte elites heap on the pro-Duterte Pinoys.
In retaliation, the pro-Duterte Pinoys, having had enough, fought back with equal ferocity and vengeance. This turned social media into a war zone, and threatened even personal relationships. Now, people quickly label and judge others who they don’t even know, even as friends are no longer invited to parties, or are avoided, or even abandoned and disavowed.
And in the process, people on both sides are forced to act contrary to their nature – the religious nurturing hatred, academics purveying irrationality and ignorance, lawyers committing or recommending acts that violate the law, and journalists celebrating lies. And friends failing to understand and accept.
There is another effect of the Duterte presidency that is more stressful at the personal level. And nowhere is this more palpable than when you have people who support the President and are ideologically liberal. It forces these people to recalibrate their sense of bearing and sanity, and pushes them to be pragmatic and less ideological in their orientation. For example, people like me who are anti-death penalty but support the President have to negotiate with our own self-affirmations of our politics. I still cringe when the President says or does something that I find objectionable, if not offensive.
The stress level from the effort to maintain their sanity is also enormous for those who hate the illiberal politics of Donald Trump, but who are supportive of the President. Trump is hostile against traditional media, and so is President Duterte. Trump’s speeches are politically incorrect and offensive. And so are President Duterte’s on some occasions.
In the end, it is not only people who hate the President who will be stressed for the next five years. It is also people like me who are forced to recalibrate our bearings to maintain our sanity, because the alternative, Leni Robredo and the return of the Liberal Party, is totally unacceptable on all counts.