I was at Limay, Bataan, the other day to be by the side of an old friend whose 94-year old mother just passed away. It was a nostalgic visit as well as an expression of sympathy. In my younger years, I spent a lot of time in Bataan as part of my work. The wake was in the same barangay that had adopted me as an honorary son decades ago. There were so many new structures that I hardly recognized the place. But the memories remain strong, and friendships even stronger.
Among the siblings of my friend were a few who had migrated to the United States and Europe. It was not unexpected that they would ask about the state of Philippine politics, assuming that since I am writing opinion pieces, I would know more. And they have been receiving some amount of negative news, if not fake (they could not tell the difference from afar). I accommodated and shared my perspective – a perspective of accumulated experiences and insights over 60 years. Lest you wonder, I am not that aged but my memories are threaded all the way back to when I was a young boy too young to go to school yet.
Threading memories of several decades allow me to appreciate both history and a unique context. Events are not random even if they seem so as they happen. However, a modern fast-food mentality for news and politics will not usually exert an effort to know and understand the context of any happening. And when we do not thread the strategic factors and personalities of the past, we will end up with a shallow and distorted perception of the present. Worse, we will miss the patterns and lessons, doomed to commit the same mistakes.
In previous articles, I had shared my views of how partisanship effectively colors facts, even science. Partisanship is part of human life. That being so, what may be natural, when brought beyond healthy levels, turn destructive. It is natural that we favor those we love, those whom we are grateful towards. That is partisanship. But using partisanship as a fundamental platform to discern between right and wrong, between ethical and immoral, between legal and illegal, converts natural partisanship to dangerous prejudice and bigotry. If partisanship can alter science and facts, it can more easily alter the truth. When the truth is impossible to determine, order breaks down, asking chaos and violence step in.
How, then, is the political situation in the country, or at least my view of it? I answered the question with another question. What news have you been receiving, from what source? Because partisanship has become a stronger factor than objectivity, I had to know the sources of the little news that had piqued them enough to ask about the state of our national affairs. One persistent controversy and question was the allegations that the Duterte administration was becoming dictatorial.
Frankly, with my level of confirmed information, I would not know if the Duterte administration wanted to be dictatorial. It is important to know if that desire or intent for authoritarianism is present and active. If there is none, what appears to be dictatorial would be more a matter of leadership style than a devious attempt to subvert democratic freedom. Even if I have no inside information, I do have great access to life in the Philippines from many angles. I am still quite involved in advocacy work that brings me all over the country, that allows me to engage Filipinos from all walks of life, I have a healthy amount of observable facts that can make me conclude at any point if people are afraid of a looming dictatorship or authoritarian governance.
So far, I have detected no such fear. Yes, there are areas in Mindanao, especially those that have and continue to experience violent conflict. Or some other places where there is actual fighting between government troops and rebels from the Left. In these areas, even before the Duterte leadership, there has been fear. But that is a fear of armed conflict, not a fear of dictatorship. It may be that political personalities and adversaries accuse one another. Among the vast majority of the population, I have no such sense. In that barangay where we were during this conversation, there was a covered basketball court and people were playing. I did not sense fear there. I had traveled three hours from Manila to get to Limay and I saw no evidence of fearful behavior whenever I made stops for refreshments. I had read newspapers and digital news all the while and the free-wheeling spirit of Filipino media, traditional and social, was in full swing. Obviously, I am not a minority in sensing that our freedom is not under real threat.
The older generations that are still alive today often speak of millennials and their sense of entitlement. I am not in full agreement of the term “sense of entitlement” to describe the generation attitude of our young, but let me set that aside for now. Assuming that our millennials have that sense of entitlement, then any government would have to contend with precisely that. The fact is that our millennials have grown up (and new ones are going on stream every day) in an atmosphere of freedom, greater freedom than the older generations had. They will not give up that freedom because they would not know how to do so. The older generations experienced authoritarian leadership from their homes, communities, and country. That enabled us to accept, albeit reluctantly, martial rule. That acceptance cannot happen today among our young because they know only freedom and nothing else.
Does Duterte want to turn dictator in the real sense of the term? Will he be able to if he wants? Frankly, I do not know the person and his private thoughts. But I know enough of the Filipino millennials, including my own children and their friends. They are mostly non-political and non-partisan, preferring to engage only what interests them. It is best not to awaken the sleeping giant.