It’s been more than a year into the presidency of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and the Opposition remains a ragtag clique of whiney self-described “temperamental brats” who agree on only one thing: What the Philippines should not be. To be more precise, the Opposition are united around a conveniently-simplified notion that the Philippines should not be anything Duterte set out to turn it into. And what is it exactly about the direction Duterte has turned the Philippines toward that they do not like? Ask them and they will respond in their characteristically shrill tone, a society that is “authoritarian”, “inhuman”, and “indecent”.
Press further and ask members of the Opposition why they think the Philippines is turning into an authoritarian, inhuman, and indecent society under Duterte, and they will utter a handful of names of people and places: Leila de Lima, Kian delos Santos, Marawi. They will also drop some familiar buzzwords: “Martial Law”, “extrajudicial killings”, and “human rights” among others.
This is an Opposition built on sound bites — snippets of information crafted to simplify concepts. People in the business of mass persuasion make liberal use of sound bites in their work because these are effective at bypassing the audience’s critical thinking faculties. Indeed, messages — and even entire ideologies — built on sound bites appeal directly to emotional levers. This could be the reason why Filipinos cannot seem to unite themselves around common aspirations — because their discourse lacks a set of unifying ideas that run deeper than the fad sound bites that pepper their chatter.
It is not difficult to explain why Filipino political discourse lacks depth. After all, thinking is hard, but believing is easy. This is the reason why “fake news” spreads so easily. People who prefer to believe and are disinclined to think are quick to click or tap on the “retweet”, “like”, and “share” buttons. Thus we see the top social media “influencers” build audiences of believers rather than thinkers. Retweeting and sharing creates noise but hardly adds quality and intelligence to the discourse.
Filipinos’ approach to solving problems is to latch on to something to believe in. As such, what is regarded as a breakthrough in Filipino activism — the emergence of the latest “victim” or outrage fad to rally around — has become the sad but true-to-form pwede-na-yan standard of activist innovation. Filipino activism is like what Apple has become after Steve Jobs’s death. Apple has not come up with a new groundbreaking product since the death of its iconic founder. For the last decade, Apple customers have been stuck spending more than a thousand dollars ever year or two upgrading to the next iPhone version. It’s a lucrative business model, indeed — irrational consumerism propped up by the sheer momentum of brand loyalty.
Like Apple customers, the Philippine Opposition is stuck to an irrational loyalty to a tired rhetoric rebooted once too often. They continue to believe the next “victim” or “martyr” will be a catalyst for change the way Benigno ‘Ninoy’ Aquino Jr was in 1983. Indeed, the way the latest gunned down stiff that is put up as a rallying symbol for the Philippines’ agenda-laden professional “activists” all follow the Ninoy template — bullet-in-the-head, shrill cries of “outrage”, a circus of a funeral march, followed by a spectacle of a burial.
It is interesting to note that the most celebrated Filipino “national heroes” all died of gunshot wounds in the back. They were either “martyred” or were “victims” of brutes (according to thier storytellers). None, it seems, died running towards the enemy, firing their own weapons, while, themselves, being shot at.
Why do Filipinos celebrate heroes who were shot in the back and not real heroes who died fighting and, while doing so, also inflicting casualties on the enemy?
This “National Heroes’ Day” Filipinos would do themselves a service by reflecting on the confronting answers to the above question. The answers to this question will likely go a long way towards explaining the abject shallowness of chatter surrounding the Philippines’ most serious national issues. They would explain why the merely emotional solutions (rather than the sensible options) are discussed by the nation’s so-called “thought leaders”. Filipinos need to explain to themselves why they prefer to worship “martyrs” rather than admire real heroes. Through honest reflection and a willingness to confront realities about their national character, perhaps Filipinos could begin to explain to themselves why they seem to consistently fail to imagine what they could be and remain stuck in whining about what they should not be.
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