THIS is now the season for name-calling.
But lest we believe that this is a new phenomenon, we should remind ourselves that politics in the Philippines has always been divisive, passionate, partisan and personal. Thus, the deployment of ad hominem attacks on the political adversary has always been a convenient political strategy. The age of social media has only enabled a more real-time, widespread and intense exchange of insults and personal attacks. Whereas before only the name-calling committed by political personalities gets coverage by traditional media, nowadays even the vicious exchanges among supporters explode in cyberspace.
It is safe to hypothesize that the reason why it is easier to unleash insulting remarks in social media is not only due to the herd mentality of viral trolling and joining the bandwagon, but also in the ease by which people can take anonymous social media identities. And even when account identities are revealed, the absence of immediate response when insults are thrown in a face-to-face encounter encourages audacity, boldness and even recklessness in people’s political discourse. After all, calling someone an idiot or a murderer, when said face to face, can lead to an episode of physical violence with blows being exchanged, eyes getting blackened and faces getting slapped, something that does not happen in social media.
Many blame President Duterte for the further institutionalization of vitriol in our political landscape. The ease by which he cursed and used indecent language during the campaign, and even when he was already in office, has been appropriated both by his critics and his supporters as templates for their political discourse.
Many supporters use it as a form of idol celebration, akin to a symbolic marker of pride in emulating the President. Supporters, with ease, unleash epithets towards critics as a political celebration and affirmation of President Duterte’s brand of politics.
On the other hand, some of his critics use vitriol to mock the President and his supporters, as a way of dramatizing their blaming Digong as being the one responsible for the degradation of civility in political discourse.
And the result is a toxic political environment that can easily cause the uninitiated, but even those who are already familiar, to cringe.
And the vitriolic verbal exchanges both in social media and in real time continue. Critics of the President call him as serial murderer, a child killer, an insane tyrant and a megalomaniac fascist and consider this as their moment to get back at a President who easily uses cuss words to diminish his critics, and give him a dose of his own medicine.
Recently, the President alluded to Commission on Human Rights Chair Chito Gascon as being a pedophile and the Digong supporters wildly cheered. Earlier, Senator Trillanes unleashed the most disrespectful litany of ad hominem attacks on the President, and critics of the President erupted in jubilation, including those who ordinarily would not relish being allied with the senator.
The vitriol and the name-calling have breached boundaries beyond traditional politicians, to now infect ordinary cybercitizens, creative artists and academics and the perfumed elites living in gated communities.
Recently, a Filipino writer based in New Zealand issued a hate list that marked other Filipino writers for targeting just because they are perceived to be pro-Duterte. And a well-known Filipino historian in the diaspora chimed in to justify the list by suggesting that it can be a counter-narrative to the tokhang list that also brands people for targeting.
I have been at the receiving end of untold calumnies and personal attacks that I have become a veteran recipient of hatred. I used to eat trolls for breakfast, but now I just simply ignore them. I must admit that I sometimes engage in a tamer version of ad hominem attacks, though I am always careful not to launch it directly at a named person, but only at a cohort or category of persons. It is just too easy to get lost in this divided, polarized and toxic environment of name-calling.
It is precisely because of this that we must commend the enormous arsenal of civility of the Marcoses, as an epitome of restraint in an otherwise blighted discursive landscape.
As a family that has been severely demonized in social media memes, rally placards, history textbooks including those written by journos pretending to be historians, classroom lectures, speeches, training workshops for history teachers, creative works and artistic performances, and even homilies of priests during masses, the Marcoses provide us a powerful lesson on civility in political discourse.
The Marcos political dynasty, from President Ferdinand Marcos, to his wife Rep. Imelda Marcos, to their more politically engaged children, former senator Bongbong Marcos and Gov. Imee Marcos, is a shining example of civility in political discourse. The third child, Irene-Marcos Araneta, has always been a model of dignity in silence.
I have personally interacted with and heard Bongbong and Imee during moments that they articulate their views, in prepared speeches and in informal conversations. What they offer is not hate, not rancor, not bitterness, but the ability to be civil even to people who are their most vicious critics.
Imee Marcos is always restrained in talking about their political enemies, and has not launched a vitriolic counter-offensive even against Rep. Rudy Fariñas. In my personal conversation with her, she never said any demeaning word against their political enemies and critics. In the election controversy surrounding the 2016 vice-presidential elections, there is no single instance that Bongbong Marcos has directly accused Vice President Leni Robredo of being a cheat and a fraud.
In saying these, I am not even exculpating the Marcoses for their alleged crimes against the people. This is something that the courts will have to settle, and for history to eventually decide.
I am simply stating what is evident and cannot be distorted even by their worst critics.