• A weakened political community in the shadows of elitist hatred

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    ANTONIO P. CONTRERAS

    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.

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    4 Comments

    1. In a time when you country is being invaded by foreign fighters from ISIS. In a time when your president is fighting to a war to prevent ISIS in building caliphate in Mindanao.

      You have lawmakers in Senate and Congress arguing about constitutions. What is more important, the constitution, which is a set of rules made by human, or the lives of the civilians and the safety of the country against brutal rebels.

      You even have two nutheads going to ICC to complain about some local political procedures which should not be ICC business.

      Do you have clowns for politicians ?

      As your president says, ISIS are not ordinary rebels. These are people who have burned people alive for propaganda reason. The first being the Jordanian pilot. These are people who threw gay from buildings for being gay. These are people who rape women and then auction them off once they are tired of them. These are people who get you sons to be child soldiers, train in killing before they reach puberty.

      Yet instead of saving their country, all they do is senseless opposition.

      No wonder your country is where it is today.

      If the entire country goes into war should ISIS spread in Philippines, those people who oppose have the money to go abroad to seek asylum. The poor people are the one who is left behind to suffer. Look at Syria.

      What is left behind are the poor people

      • Rose Marie Quimson on

        I cannot comprehend really how some politicians in my country think. Taking in to account self interest first before the welfare of the people or the country. Recently I listened to Sen. Hontiveros’ interview stating that what is happening in Marawi is neither an invasion nor rebellion I should be shocked but coming from her and coming from that party I could not or should not expect anything more. It disgusts me to no end that this kind of people are holding very high positions in the government. Every time we get news that the government is taking big steps to advance the economy forward the opposition comes up with attempts to pull the president down bringing the whole country along with it.

    2. Amnata Pundit on

      Your article backstops my long held thesis that the foundation of our government should be the barangay. In short, the entry point to politics should be the barangay, nowhere else but. The only acceptable sign that the government is in the hands of the people and not the elite is when the top officials live in the common barangays and not in exclusive, gated villages like today.

    3. Amnata Pundit on

      And who are these elitists exactly? They are the Catholic Church and the Makati Business Club combined with the so-called leftists human rights “victims” and the NPA. Their agenda coincides, mysteriously, with those of armed separatists like the MILF of the recent BBL fame. Today they are more interested in defending the Cory constitution than helping Duterte defend Marawi against the dreaded ISIS. How did these supposedly disparate groups end up acting in concert? Only a powerful hidden hand can be responsible, and who else might that be if not the American-led West? This about sums up who are the real enemies of the Filipino people. Nice article as it is a simple but trenchant analysis of what’s going on today.