Who Is Ready To Change?

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

Change - Blue ButtonThe peak of confrontational exchanges in social media has passed. There have always been the haters, so consistent in their presence that the term “haters” was coined to given them a common identity. Before, during and after elections, the haters will be there and we might as well accept their existence.

Internet trolls, too, will dramatically decrease in numbers, especially after the vice presidential race will have been decided with finality. But, like haters, internet trolls are there to stay. For as long as there are people wanting to smear other people and have the money to pay for it, internet trolls are the new mercenaries. It used to be AC/DC media practitioners but social media is a green environment with plenty of growing opportunities to earn dirty money.

The incoming Duterte presidency is the big news today. Life has it in the Philippines that the President has to sign thousands of appointments. He will never know them all and they will be lucky to shake his hand once or twice in the next six years. A major headline said all doors lead to Davao, and indeed, they do. If only the public knew how many are angling to be appointed—and not only for a deep desire to serve the public. As the biggest employer of the country, government compensates all who work for it.

So far, only the offer to the Left can be remotely considered radical. Reserving a number of departments for an organization that is actively fighting government, the Armed Forces and the Philippine National Police is a delicate matter. But I am sure that Mayor Duterte is aware just how sensitive and complicated things are and how much more they will get to be as a wish approaches reality. He must have cards up his sleeve, not to take advantage of the Left, but to push a peace agenda with the least pain and the most benefit for all concerned.

Earlier, in a dinner with classmates, all of us in our late 60s, we joined what may be a national pastime today—speculating on a Duterte presidency. Some were hopeful and others were fearful. I think that the Duterte rhetoric during the campaign was taken to heart by many. I myself believe that the biggest radical factor is Mayor Duterte himself. It is not so much that he has radical ideas because, in fact, his ideas are quite simple and straightforward. Rather, then, it is the sense that he gives to most people that he will do as he says if he has to take all legal shortcuts to do so. That is radical.

I expect Congress to find its way to Mayor Duterte (I will keep calling him “Mayor” because I read he prefers being called Mayor of the Philippines). From the time that Ferdinand Marcos allowed elections after declaring martial law, I have not seen Congress stand up to any President upon his or her assumption of power. On some issues, yes, but never beyond that. I don’t expect it still. It will amaze many to realize that the most powerful and wealthy are the first to bend to a new President. It is the practical that counts most of all, summed up by the phrase, “business is business.”

Which is why I am tempted to be scornful at many who, during elections, will call the masa “bobotantes” as if the rich and powerful do not somersault with their values and principles when what is practical calls for it. Well, the masa are also trying to be practical, also trying to defend their immediate interests—including the next meals for their families. And until poverty is effectively challenged and reversed, the poor will remain vulnerable to promises of food, clothing and shelter. The future to them is not as real as their pain.

Change is coming, or not coming. It depends less on Mayor Duterte than how we, the people, insist on it. If we do, then Mayor Duterte will be even more radical in trying to follow our expressed voice. I know Mayor Duterte can and will break protocol when he wants to do so. Somehow, I cannot see how what we want, if expressed clearly and strongly enough, will not be a primary influence to what Duterte will do as President. The point I am trying to emphasize is not a new or complicated principle; it’s simply the truth—that change must begin with us, that 100 million is greater than one president.

It is those who have less options in life that I cannot take to task in the same way as those with more options. Survival is a powerful master, more powerful than a Constitution, more power than a legal system, more powerful than a president. People will do what they need to do to survive. Most of the time, they submit to authority or the wealthy because they are resigned to receiving little than none at all. Sometimes, though, they get desperate and do desperate things, like committing crimes, like joining an armed insurgency, like being part of rebellion or terrorism.

I do not expect miracles from Mayor Duterte. I have a clear recall of the last 60 years of Philippine history and seen the slow struggle for change. It is not hard to understand why there has been little change when we expect government to change but are not willing to make a small change in ourselves. I look at the OFWs who take that chance to change their inherited destiny even though the pain of separation hits even before they leave the country. They did not wait for government to change—they took the lead for their own lives and the lives of their families. Yet, they reached a certain critical mass and are changing not just government but our nation.

If we are ready to change the weak in us and contribute our personal goodness and strength to the common good, then I believe that Mayor Duterte will want to follow our lead.

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