Many see the Philippines today as hopelessly polarised with the “die-hard Duterte supporters” (DDS, a.k.a. the “Dutertartds”) on one side and the old “Yellow” cliques loyal to the cult of personality of the Liberal Party (LP, a.k.a. the “Yellowtards”) on the other. The Yellowtards were, since their colossal loss in the 2016 elections, easily-characterised as an obsolete political faction in its dying throes but, by no means going away quietly as evident in the trite noise it contributes to the national “debate”. The Dutertards, on the other hand, were the up-and-coming “new breed” of influencers who seemingly expertly wielded the modern tools of the trade crafting punchy Intenet memes, sustaining statistically-impressive “engagement” scores on social media, and pushing out edgy “blog” articles over various channels.
For the most part it was, at least as far as our narrowly-curated timelines would reveal, a troll “war” between both camps, each side accusing the other of “weaponising” the Net and burying the “truth” underneath a mantle of mass-produced sound bytes meant more to sow confusion than add clarity to the discourse. But the narrative that had been sustained for a while, that of two unified camps that dominated the Philippines’ bipolar discourse, seems to be evolving. The monolithic character of the DDS has seen some fraying at the edges lately which, following a tell-all video released by Bruce Rivera (erstwhile part of the “solid” DDS inner-circle) that pretty much lay the group’s dirty laundry out for all to gawk at, now seems more like an understatement.
The pedestrian cliques of the Yellowtard side, for their part, have remained consistent to their shallow, primitive, and monomanic style of discourse despite an underworld network of slapstick blogs and shadowy Google AdSense money trails being laid bare under the harsh light of DDS “investigative” blogging. At the upper crusts of the Yellowtard camp, chi chi mainstream “journalists” have maintained their ideological umbilical cord to Western liberalism and even strengthened this bond having all but invited generous commentary on today’s “killings” from their European and American counterparts. Evidently, the strategy involves tapping into stubborn vestiges of Filipinos’ renowned colonial mentality to accord automatic social ascendancy and credibility to these foreign Western voices.
This, interestingly enough, is not much different from pro-administration bloggers and “influencers”. Although “Dutertard” bloggers provide a fresh and innovative perspective to the discourse that contrasts with the Yellowtards’ voodoo primitivism, there remains in the DDS’s approach the same “credibility” built upon cult-of-personality. And just like the “influence” wielded by the Yellowtards during their heyday, the key DDS influencers’ work in punditry and social media is entangled in a conflict-of-interest owing to their being employed or contracted as officials or “consultants” by Malacanang.
As the discourse gets increasingly polarised with both sides digging themselves increasingly deeper into an unproductive trench warfare wherein each side shells and snipes at the other from a distance rather than engage in close-contact combat, the landscape is once again left wide-open for true and independent punditry. The key here is for these true and independendent pundits to elevate themselves above the stalemated trench warfare being waged by the Dutertards and the Yellowtards and way above the intellectually-bankrupt arguments of choice such as “Why should I listent to you, you’re a […]-tard?”
True pundits should focus less on polarising the debate and more on clarifying stuff — clarify the issues, clearly-define the problem, evaluate options, and recommend clear pathways. When there is an increase in focus on clarity, we can expect an increase in focus of inclusiveness in the discourse. At the moment, there is none of this sort that can be seen in the way the Yellowtards and Dutertards conduct themselves. Indeed, the division they are causing is not just between the two camps but, as evident in the Rivera and Cocoy Dayao episodes, also within their respective camps.
The patterns are becoming quite evident. On the Yellowtard side, its honchos have, as presumptive leaders of the Opposition, failed to unify this Opposition around a common ideology or strategic direction. On the Dutertard side, a once-monolithic unity surrounding Duterte’s cult of personality is beginning to unravel and is starting to make the DDS brand look more like a house of cards rather than the formidable edifice it once came across as. Across all that is the general erosion of the blanket trust the public once blindly-accorded mainstream news media and the celebrity “journalists” that fronted the industry.
Seeing all this, it is evident that Filipinos in general haven’t really yet become the independent-minded and skilled thinkers that are essential for a society to thrive in a full embrace of Western liberal democractic ideology. The lip service paid to “equality”, “people power”, and “rule of law” serve well as fodder for the cocktail and latte-sipping classes’ pretentious conversations in their quaint soirées but, unfortunately, these lofty concepts break down in the broader Philippine setting where beholdenness to personalities rather than ideas is more the rule.
To be free and responsible in the use of democratic “freedom” requires intelligence and foresight. The latter is important because the ability to think several steps ahead and visualise the different scenarios that could branch out over that horizon is key to making the right decisions. Also as important is framing the problem properly. Not surprising, therefore, is the reality that faces us; that the Philippines is basically a society that is the result of the wrong solutions being implemented on the back of ill-defined problems.
In such a society, one would be better off cautious about espousing too much “freedom” on the assumption that people to whom this will be afforded will apply enough personal accountability to wield it well. That’s the Philippines in a nutshell, basically. It is a society begging for a dictatorship but fatally-convinced it is entitled to enjoy liberal Western democracy. Note that this is a strong unifying premise that describes the current bipolar condition of the Philippine national “debate” — the Dutertards begging for a dictatorship opposed by the Yellowtards who are convinced of Filipinos’ entitlement to “democracy”. The challenge is to discover what lies between.
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