The phrase panem et circenses (bread and circuses) is often used to describe the way governments provide superficial appeasement to the governed. No doubt this describes the Philippine government and politics, with all their telenovela-worthy drama that the media is only too willing to shove a camera and microphone towards.
One can also notice, however, that Philippine politics is also like watching someone wrestling with a pig, in mud. As an idiom, wrestling with a pig means engaging an opponent that benefits from the struggle even without winning it.
A quote is popularly attributed to playwright George Bernard Shaw: “I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.”
The latest spectacle in Philippine politics indeed resembles pig wrestling. It involves current president Rodrigo Duterte and Senator Leila De Lima. Duterte recently called out De Lima and linked her to the illegal drug trade. In doing so, however, he also called attention to De Lima’s “sexual indiscretions”.
Duterte’s critics claim that he is misogynistic, potty-mouthed, generally uncouth, and not at all presidential. The first three traits, of course, are all on record as part of his behavior ever since the presidential campaign. People will not let others forget his comments of “wanting to rape a woman first”, and where he cussed at the Pope. Nor will his critics let up about what is widely perceived as extra-judicial killings (EJK’s), the visible result of his “war on drugs”.
On the other hand, De Lima, portly as a matter of fact, has her own fair share of critics. She earned her reputation as former president Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino’s Justice Secretary. She is on record for disregarding a Supreme Court Temporary Restraining Order (TRO), and keeping Gloria Arroyo from seeking treatment abroad in 2011. De Lima’s comments about the late former Chief Justice Renato Corona are also on record, in which she called him “a lawless tyrant”.
Between Duterte and De Lima, who the pig is, and who’s doing the wrestling, is a matter of perspective.
Duterte, as part of his promise to the Filipino people, is seemingly not afraid to “get dirty” in order to “clean up” the country. Though he stakes his reputation on “knowing his limits within the law”, he has not been hesitant to name and shame government officials, who, according to intelligence, are allegedly corrupt or involved in the drug trade. He is perceived as encouraging people to “shoot criminals” and ask questions later.
Duterte, for lack of a better word, is a troll; he will not hesitate to say outrageous things to get people’s attention. What makes Duterte a slippery opponent though, is, “what you see is what you get”. He has successfully sold his straight shooting and unpretentious persona – warts and all – to an audience that has wanted change. Any criticism of such persona will just bounce off. Most anything his enemies have so far accused him of, so far, has also applied to them; they end up looking hypocritical because he has no veneer to hide under. Pretty soon his opponents are bound to run out of ammunition.
It doesn’t hurt that he has an army of rabid supporters that is – by all appearances – a mirror image of the LP/Yellow army.
De Lima, on the other hand, has a formidable support system behind her. She is still associated with the Liberal Party (LP), the same as her former boss BS Aquino. Consequently, she has mainstream media as a readily available podium on which to respond to, and attack, enemies and critics of whatever she represents. In addition, anyone who watched her respond to Duterte’s address will get the idea that she will not hesitate to evade answering issues directly, and paint herself as a victim of persecution and unfair attacks. Much like her former boss used to do.
Who seems to enjoy wrestling in the mud more? Again, it is a matter of perspective.
De Lima and the LP were quick to bring up the “feminism” angle. One has only to remember, however, how BS Aquino subjected Gloria Arroyo to all sorts of rude treatment, and yet only a few were calling it out. Where is the consistency here?
I thought politics knows no gender. It is definitely not for the thin-skinned; those who survive know how to give as good as they get. Otherwise, they quickly get discredited and fizzle out.
One observation stands out: it seems that Filipinos are merely content to watch the spectacle, and are hardly feeling dirty about it – even when the mud starts splashing all over them.
If so, then the general truths about Filipinos continue to hold true: that their politicians merely reflect what they are as a people, and; that they deserve the politicians they elect.
If this is the best our country has to offer, then perhaps we’re destined to wallow in the mud again for quite some time.
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