UNDOUBTEDLY, the Luneta rally by the pro-Duterte forces emerged as the more powerful narrative, both in terms of images, and of numbers. This, when compared to the one launched by the anti-Duterte forces held at the People Power Monument in EDSA. While still possessing a strong symbolic power for those who hold the memory of the February 1986 uprising close to their hearts, even to the point of continuing to remember it as a revolution, the EDSA gathering has in fact been reduced to a disappointing spectacle.
From the millions that went in 1986, to the 2,000 that went this year, what we have is 31 years of a stolen revolution, and of a betrayed revolutionary spirit. It was really almost painful to watch aging activists with the revolutionary spirit still in their hearts, mingling with their millennial counterparts, encouraged by their schools and universities, many of whom were there to commune with the narratives of heroism which their parents tell them, but only to be confronted by the shadows of what are left behind. What they saw was a celebration not of victory, but of anger and hatred, of fear and of elite exclusivity all embodied in that one single act of bullying by Jim Paredes.
There was an unfolding of narratives that could have been the trigger of another people’s revolt, ably articulated by their leaders, with Leni Robredo openly wishing for the possibility of another people power, and enabled by the representations by the media of a country allegedly ruled by a despotic, egomaniacal leader. But despite these, EDSA remained a field littered by angry ghosts of 31 years of failure.
Days before, a witness recanted his testimony and implicated the President as the chief architect of the so-called Davao Death Squad. Before that, Senator Trillanes painted the President as a thieving, plundering official. Senator De Lima followed that up by calling the President the worst criminal in our country’s history. All of these culminated in the arrest of De Lima which her allies labeled as political harassment, and to which the international media agreed.
It would have been the perfect stage for the unfolding of another political spectacle labeled as EDSA 2017, except that it did not happen. Instead, Jim Paredes happened.
Right across town, the image of another political spectacle was drawn at the Rizal Park. With a mammoth crowd in attendance, which police authorities estimated to have reached a peak of 215,000, and which lasted overnight until the morning of the next day, one can easily say that this was the bigger political show.
But there was also another story unfolding there.
Anti-Duterte forces have accused the rally organizers of massing up people by virtue of a memorandum issued by the DILG for the local government units to send contingents to express support for the President. But this is just one counter-narrative that now threatens to dampen the euphoria of what otherwise would have been a perfect celebration.
There is also a sense of discomfort in the Luneta rally felt particularly by some in social media, by pro-Duterte netizens, who saw that traditional voices have once again occupied the political stage. They felt that the presence of traditional politicians threatened to undermine the populist, alternative politics which they believe brought Digong Duterte to the presidency.
This feeling is palpable and real, for it speaks of a fear that the presence of traditional politicians will undermine the real spirit of a Duterte presidency. The President is seen as a child born of the anger of the people at the betrayal of the real revolution when it was hijacked by the oligarchic class which these traditional politicians represent.
And the signs are there: opportunistic politicians speaking on stage in Luneta, buses full of supporters carrying banners with the names of their political patrons.
This is a stream of discomfort that should be addressed by pro-Duterte forces. If left unanswered, it may plant the seeds of discontent, and later of division. If not addressed properly, the Luneta of today may become the EDSA of 1986.
Fortunately, there is a new game in town that was not present during the early years of post-EDSA Philippines which enabled the oligarchs to take a stranglehold of the country’s political and social order. And this game is not played in traditional corridors of power, but in online communities, in FB groups, by committed social media warriors. In this game, the rules are not controlled by traditional politics. In fact, the very power of those who play this game rests on their being able to escape definition, and regulation, by traditional political institutions.
This is the new way of doing politics. The traditional politicians from the oligarchic class can have the stage they are used to speaking from. But they can never have a monopoly of all democratic spaces. The virtual spaces of the social media and the internet are not theirs.