Mixed Messages

MixedMessagesChange is disruptive. The disruption can be mild or dramatic, but without disruption, there will be no change. Aging itself is change, the body giving way to nature’s design and journey to a natural end or death. Most of aging is gentle, hardly noticeable on a day to day basis. But no matter how gentle, aging disrupts the status quo because disruption is the very nature of change.

Great change, then, requires great disruption. The expressed clamor for change by passionate partisans of Mayor Rodrigo Duterte signified they wanted great change. And these passionate partisans even convinced millions more to join the bandwagon of change, not small change, but radical change. They did not mind the thought of summary termination or imprisonment of suspected corrupt officials or government personnel (wow, hundreds of thousands could be affected, and their families, of course); they did not mind the possibility of summary executions of suspected drug pushers or drug lords (tall order whether six months or six years).

I cannot memorize the various other demands, and promises, of great change. There were just too many. It sounded like Philippines was the equivalent of hell itself, that everything was wrong, that nothing was working, and a massive overhaul was the only way. Federalism was a battle cry, a change of the Constitution a foregone conclusion, and even a revolutionary government was not objectionable. There was lots of anger, too. One side was accused of being self-righteous, and their critics became self-righteous, too. It seemed like those who were not for us were against us.

Well, factionalism and fragmentation do not mean great change. They are even not small change. Partisanship and divisiveness have plagued Filipinos throughout history. They usually begin at the top but can cascade rather rapidly to their followers comprising the base of the pyramid. Remember Ka Andres Bonifacio? Remember Heneral Luna?

Now, unity is radical change, but impossible to begin in a climate that has demanded change the partisan way. Unity is great struggle of a journey but demands serious maturity and intelligence. Visionaries can see unity and dedicate their lives to it, but ordinary Filipinos conditioned by a history of divisiveness cannot simply rise to it. Unless maybe China attacks us, or tsunamis, typhoons and earthquakes hit us in rapid succession.

Or a dictatorship with a dream we can buy. True, too, is the opposite possibility, where a dictatorship generates enough hate to unite a people to rise against it.
A democratic framework, however, that treasures and protects freedom and human rights will need radical change from people’s attitudes as much as radical change in the ways of leadership – not only of a President but of a government bureaucracy). A new President can signal that great change is coming. However, his rhetoric is not enough, his personal character is not enough. His appointments at the highest, second highest and third levels of government must reflect it as well. If his values and standards differ substantially from those he appoints, he will be so busy firing them. Presidential appointments are so critical in assuring the citizens that great change is coming, or has come. Down the line, only the sustained faith and support of the people can honor the kind of change that the leader begins.

Mixed messages are an anathema to great change, especially to a divided people that quickly become confused from a cacophony of slogans, allegations and accusations. Mixed messages guarantee unlimited interpretations and divided actions. A determined leader may have the stomach to whip people into line, but whipping people is not leadership. Whipping people will not bring us to the promised land, just to the promised punishment.

Those who loudly clamored for change, going to the extent of being more aggressive and angry than Mayor Duterte himself, it is they who will have to close their eyes to questionable appointments and mixed messages. They have to be the ones who must drum up support for the man they created into a President whatever he does in the beginning. They have to be the ones who must show extraordinary trust and determination to make the Duterte presidency deliver the promises he made. Because if they do, then others may follow and give the new president enough room to prove himself.

Thank goodness that a growing number of Filipinos are distancing themselves from politics and political messiahs. More Filipinos go on with their lives dedicated to build a solid foundation for the future they dream of for their children. Just like the OFWs who do their thing despite government yet end up giving that same government more strength and room for growth. Like call center agents and other BPO employees who simply go through different time zones in pursuit of their own ambitions—and end up enhancing the economic strength of government. Or small farmers and fisher folks who are the most threatened by climate change but keep feeding their families and us no matter what. On their backs, on their resilience, often on their resigned spirit, government is allowed to commit mistake after mistake without collapsing.

Most Filipinos are not involved in the rigodon of political personalities shifting power and positions. That is a powerful attitudinal buffer zone in the prevention of deep disappointment or even delicate political discontent. Our insignificance insulates us from the political dynamics that triggers in Davao City what is now called the biggest job fair in the Philippines. For all we know, if we had enough basis through expertise or connection, we might be applying for a position, too, or haggling to keep our slot in government.

Elections are finished. Let partisanship wind down. Let patriotism step up. We have a nation to build.

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