It is the meekness of the Filipino, the silent courage that we exhibit in the face of disasters and oppressors, and the ready smile we flash even during periods of torment that may have cultivated our resilience in the face of the worst that nature and politics could inflict on us. Social scientists who have endeavored to contextualize our behavior relative to our history and culture point to our inherent capacity to live a life that is shared, or what is referred to in Sikolohiyang Pilipino as our sense of “kapwa.”
It is “kapwa” that nurtures our strong sense of community, and transforms this into a powerful resource that enables us to weather not only storms but even dictatorships, and the corruption and inefficiency of our leaders. It also helps a lot that we possess an uncanny supply of wit and creativity. We have been able to deploy laughter and parody in the face of the worst of crises, to a point that we managed to turn our tragedies into material for comedy. We have used humor as weapons to turn our politicians into caricatures. We have colonized the social media and used them as templates where we paint not only our foodies and selfies, but also our memes as our virtual placards to show our disgust at our political leaders.
Unfortunately, the meek and gentle Filipino was abused not only by our colonizers, but even more so by the elites who inherited their power. Filipino elites mistook our silence as apathy and a blanket acceptance of oppression, and the Filipino smile as a sign of an unlimited supply of forgiveness. This, notwithstanding the revolution we waged against the Spaniards, the war we fought against the Americans, and the resistance we inflicted on the Japanese.
The resistance waged by the Left, which on its own logic embodied the capacity of the ordinary Filipino to rebel against capitalist and imperialist torment, and an alleged dictator by the name of Marcos, was unfortunately co-opted to become a base narrative from where our politics has become just a rivalry between two political families. In this narrative, everyone has become just a footnote to the political war between Ferdie and Ninoy. In the end, opportunities for transformation were co-opted into being mere convenient narratives to sustain the elite power play.
The horrors of Martial Law, instead of becoming assets to propel the search for real justice and truth, have instead transmogrified into convenient tales that the anti-Marcos elites could use to increase their political capital. This turned the real victims of Martial Law into mere recipients of legislated indemnification, and its martyrs and heroes into part of that accounting and treated them as mere victims. This is what was convenient to the political elites – to use Martial Law and Marcos as objects of hatred, even as the widow and orphaned son of Ninoy, their political power notwithstanding, turned a blind eye to the search for truth of who really ordered his assassination.
Post-Marcos elites ruled by drawing their legitimacy from a demonized narrative of the evil Marcos and his Martial Law. EDSA was celebrated as a people’s victory, lulling the ordinary Filipino into believing that we owned that part of our history, when in reality it was a civilian-backed coup in which we became merely human shields. The narrative of EDSA appropriated the Filipino’s penchant for a community gathering to propel a fictional people’s revolution. In truth, EDSA was not a revolution but a restorative episode in our history, and it rendered restitutive justice not to the people, but to the elites whose political capital suffered under Marcos. Thus, the pre-Martial Law elites came back with a vengeance, personified in one single act when Cory returned to the Lopezes the empire that they lost. ABS-CBN returned the favor and became not only the source of people’s entertainment to feed the ordinary Pinoy’s craving for fantasy and fun and aided in turning politics into a simulacra where image and reality are no longer distinguishable. It also became the bully pulpit and the propaganda machine of the elite to vilify their political enemies.
The post-EDSA and post-Marcos political, and even intellectual, elites have grossly underestimated the people. They have appropriated our silence and misunderstood our smiles. Thirty years of being taken for granted and lied to. How can the elites even think that there is a forever for this? “Walang forever!” as one character in an ABS-CBN soap opera has said.
It is just their misfortune that the icon to where the people turned to is a mayor from the south who represents a break from this narrative, and has become a bearer of the people’s rage. Uncouthly vulgar, but authentically on the people’s side, President Duterte has become the elites’ inconvenient truth and nightmare. He has turned out to be the people’s revenge on them.