Love thy neighbor – or don’t

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BENEDICT SEEMANN

BENEDICT SEEMANN

THERE is no political discourse without emotions being involved. There is no political decision without opposition. And there is no political perspective that will not be challenged by one’s opponents. What seems to be universally accepted in politics all over the world turns out to be even truer right now in the Philippines. Having observed the political landscape after the May 2016 elections closely, I see how our political discourses and cleavages have become more emotional, more aggressive, more unforgiving. Or, if you want to use fewer words: Our political culture has been poisoned.

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I hardly dare to name the political issues that cause our feelings to run high right now: the Marcos burial, the issues around Senator Leila de Lima, the president’s war on drugs, the conflict between the presidency and the vicepresidency. No matter how you feel and what you articulate about any of those topics, half of the nation will hate you for it. All discourses are painted black and white for now. You’re either (in the eyes of your opponents) a “Dutertard” or a “Yellowtard”. Allow me share what I found under those names in the respective opponent’s dictionary.

“Dutertard”Noun; \du-ˈtçr-ˌtärd\; often offensive; a person who unconditionally supports President Rodrigo RoaDuterte’s actions, views, beliefs, style and behavior and becomes personally offended if the latter is criticized; usually expresses strong aversion vis-à-vis its natural enemy, the “yellowtard”.

“Yellowtard”Noun; \ˈyçllo-ˌtärd\; often offensive; a person who sabotages President Rodrigo RoaDuterte’s actions, views, beliefs, style and policies, and his supporters; ranks his own moral and ethical values above the well-being of the nation which constitutes an obstacle to the “dutertard”s policy agenda; usually expresses strong aversion vis-à-vis its natural enemy, the “dutertard.”

While the Philippines has developed an admirable reputation for the richness of its wildlife species, the political habitat only contains these two species mentioned above. Those two species who inhabit the political world have not only become natural enemies, they virtually fight each other by all means. Their battlefield is a special terrain of the public sphere, the internet. While it is not new that social media and the internet in general are a playing field for any kind of public relations, virtual interaction, marketing, and political communications, this playing field has never been loaded with so much hate and disrespect in the past years.

This trend is not limited to the Philippines. We were able to observe it outside the Philippines as well. During the presidential elections in the United States, Donald Trump polarized the electorate. In Germany, frustration and anger over how the government was handling the so-called “refugee crisis” led to unknown aggression directed against Chancellor Angela Merkel herself.

How has the Internet become such a safe haven for hate? In the age of unlimited access to digital information and communication, many seem to forget the conventions that have shaped human interaction for decades and centuries. It is easy to assume that you can hide behind the curtain of anonymity and impunity while you are online. This assumption, however, is wrong. In Germany, more and more people have taken a stand against hate speech. In legal terms, this may refer to defamation, slander or libel. Authorities and law enforcement agencies are increasing the pressure on Facebook and Twitter to cooperate when victims press charges. Quite a few perpetrators must have been surprised when they realized that their defamatory actions online would not go unpunished.

In the Philippines, Senator Risa Hontiveros has authored the Tres Marias bills to give women more protection against sexual harassment and violence, including attacks on social media. This should, ideally, deter potential virtual perpetrators who used to think they had nothing to fear as long as the slander remains in the World Wide Web. Nonetheless, the degree to which hate speech, “electronic violence” and personal defamation have risen on the Internet is worrying.

Coming back to Philippine politics, the question can be raised: Why do members of different political camps hate each other so much right now? One answer to the question might be: The more heated the debates have become, the less we care about facts. Our emotions have gotten the better of us.

One development that has to be factored in here is the evolution of fake news. Whatever you believe in, you can verify it online. Aliens from Mars, government conspiracy–whatever you want, the internet has it. Whether it’s paid trolls (social media accounts acting according to their principal’s will) or entire websites set up just to spread blatant lies and to misinform the public, the digital world has become a minefield. And it is this very minefield to which we take our fights, insulting each other, leaving no room for fair discourse. We don’t shy away from shaming and blaming others in public because they don’t share our views. Yellowtards or Dutertards, you have to choose a side and hate the others with all your heart. On top of that, it is your duty to discredit the others as much as you can.

This is a sad development. Nobody will argue that emotions have no room in politics. But when all reason is gone, it seems, only hate remains. And hate cannot move the Philippines into a brighter future. Maybe this appeal is pious or unrealistic, but for the sake of our political culture: Show respect, online and in real life. Love each other. Or don’t.

The author is the Country Director of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) Philippine office. He oversees KAS’ various projects in the Philippines in the fields of the rule oflaw, strengthening democracy and human rights. Prior to joining KAS, BenediktSeemann servedas chief ofstaffto a whip at the German Parliament (Christian Democrats’ parliamentary group). He holds a master’s degree in political science and public law,having studied at the University of Trier (Germany) and Hong Kong Baptist University. He is a member of the board of advisors of the Centrist Democracy Political Institute (CDPI).

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2 Comments

  1. Your definition of “Yellowtard” is not necessarily correct. “Yellowtard” is a person who unconditionally supports Aquino’s (and his Liberal Partymate’s) actions, views, beliefs, style and behavior and becomes personally offended if the latter is criticized. They have been around a lot longer than PRRD’s die-hards and while they may claim to be “of higher social class”, they are just as, or even more rabid than PRRD’s die-hards.

  2. You have not stayed long enough in this country if you cannot see that the political fault line is still the Marcos-Aquino divide. As for the mainstream media vs the internet, yes there is less inhibition practiced in the latter, but nobody owns the internet. On the other hand, mainstream media everywhere are owned by the oligarchs. From this distinction alone you can tell who is the real manipulator of public opinion.