WE are a people who can survive not on the power of the state but on the strength of our communities. We derive our social and political order not on the strength of our laws but on the robustness of our shared selves, which indigenous social theorists call as “kapwa.”
And this is nowhere more evident than during times of crisis, when the state is immobilized by natural disasters. At the height of floods spawned by Typhoon Ondoy, we saw people helping other people survive. The strength of the Filipino was put to the test as we climbed roofs to escape the rising waters, and when the floods receded we acted as one community even in the absence of a state. This was repeated during Typhoon Yolanda, when people volunteered to help amidst the devastation brought about by the killer winds and the murderous storm surges. Strangers from unaffected parts of the country descended on Tacloban City and other affected areas to act in communion with those who were widowed and orphaned, and left homeless.
Tears were shed to mourn the dead. Yet in another display of resilience, and in the words of CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, we taught the world how to live. We picked up the pieces, and in the horror of death we still managed to celebrate our humanity by flashing a smile, or breaking into laughter. In the aftermath of Ondoy, I can still vividly remember that image of a child blowing a birthday candle, with his flooded home in the background, a powerful representation of how we can still celebrate life in difficult times.
This is what we are as a people.
We drive on the road not according to the rules set by the state, but in a ritualistic celebration of our sense of community, where “bigayan” and “pakiramdaman” are better norms than following traffic lights or obeying signs. We do not have to glance behind to check on our blind spots, because in this community ritual we do not have blind spots. The person driving behind watches our back.
And when traffic stands still, we do not blame it on a breakdown of law, but we attribute it to a breakdown in the community norms of “bigayan.”
Our sense of community is so powerful that in contrast to the Western norms of privacy, we celebrate our entitlement to intrude into the life of others we consider as kin. The ordinary neighborhood is not defined by walls and divisions, but by their absence. This even leads me to hypothesize the reason why there are no serial murders happening in our country. There is simply no physical space for the serial killer to hide the bodies of victims, or the social space to escape the probing eyes and the wagging mouths of nosy neighbors.
We are sustained by our high levels of social capital, which simply refers to our sense of trust that enables us to act as a collective. We may not have a monarchy or a grand epic narrative to bind us, but we have a strong sense of community.
Even now, in Marawi City, we see images of people helping each other despite differences in faith.
Yet, one is confronted by a disturbing phenomenon, of divisions happening in cyberspace, when niceties yield to bashing, and when civilized discourse descends into vitriolic trolling. There is just so much hate circulating in social media that one has to ask whether we have lost our sense of “kapwa.”
In a crisis situation like a terrorist threat, what dominates the political landscape is no longer the readiness to lend a hand, or to act as a community in solidarity with those in danger, or who are in need of help. Instead, the polity is being torn asunder by mutual hate and distrust between those who criticize and those who defend the President.
And when a lone gunman attacked Resorts World Manila, what competed with the search for answers was the discord once again between those who criticize and those who defend the President.
And this leads one to the roots of this breakdown of our civility that lies deep in the representation by the post-Marcos elites of President Duterte as a Marcosian reincarnate. As such, he deserves the hatred of those who survived Martial Law, and of those young minds that never lived through it but on whose minds the seeds of hatred have been planted. It did not help that President Duterte declared martial law, too.
What makes the situation more divided is the fact that ordinary people who were burned by the failed promises of the post-Marcos elites of a better life saw in President Duterte the realization of those promises. The political corruption that beset the rule of the post-Marcos elites has fueled contempt and hatred from this side of the divide that placed their hopes and dreams on the shoulders of the President, whom they defend with ferocity and passion.
Our sense of community is now threatened, where even friends and colleagues figuratively slit each other’s throats in social media, and where civility has been sacrificed on the altar of hate.
Marcos is dead and buried, but he continues to divide us because post-Marcos elites do not want to literally and figuratively bury him. They insist in treating President Duterte as his proxy.