At one level, the remark made by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte about what part of the anatomy state forces should aim for whenever they get a female member of the New People’s Army (NPA) within their sights is deeply offensive. As the Inquirer Editor pointed out today, it is Not Funny. Mr. Editor also further adds an admonistion:
Every Filipino should feel offended.
And, in fact, they should. But the question is, will they?
For us private-school-educated folk and the cliques of social climbers who routinely tap their two cents on matters such as these into their $1500 iPads, the idea that things like these are offensive constitute the stuff we take for granted. As such, we judge the existence (or lack) of outrage in our society through the lens of our gated village upbringing and our expensive up-that-Hill education. More disturbingly, we seek comfort in the false sense that sufficient outrage on the matter exists using our small social media networks where we had, over time, curated every trace of dissenting opinion (to ours) off, as dubious evidence.
The reality is, our social networks do not serve as samples that are soundly representative of the broader Philippine population. For one, the elements of these networks are not randomly-picked (because we consciously or subconsciously curate the information it feeds us). Second, they are not a big enough sample. So any conclusion we draw from what we glean from content we see in our timelines and newsfeeds (a sample set that is skewed and too small) cannot be attributed to the behaviour or sentiments of the broader society at a high enough confidence level.
In short, it is debatable whether Filipinos are truly outraged by what Duterte said (or routinely says) and it is debatable whether what Western media say (or echo from our local media) about the matter actually matters to the average Filipino. Indeed, the fact that Duterte routinely gets away with saying such things does say something about what Filipinos really think and should prompt us to pause, take stock of, and critically evaluate the layers of assumptions we’ve piled upon the foundations of our online rhetoric of just how-deeply embedded in Philippine society Western liberal ideas really are.
Philippine society’s elites may raise big stinks about Duterte’s offensive quips but we need to challenge whether the voice of the elite at the very least resonates with ordinary Filipinos.
A starting point in that journey of inward reflection is to take stock of some facts.
(1) The Philippines is a deeply-religious society and, as such, isn’t as liberal (in the Western sense) as many “thought leaders” would like to believe.
(2) Evidence of outrage over the female NPA quip comes primarily from the social media “politically-passionate” elite and even within this elite, statistics on “trending” topics have not exhibited evidence of significant chatter surrounding this topic.
(3) Efforts from prominent “women’s issues” groups to rally Filipinos to protest this quip had thus far failed to muster the significant enough headcount in rallies to demonstrate widespread indignation.
What remains consistent is Duterte’s remarkable ability to remain popular over almost a year and a half of making deeply-offensive misogynist remarks. Traditional “civil society” and “activist” cliques of liberal-minded Catholic-school-educated elites and the corporate media firms that serve as their powerful megaphones have effectively lost their ability to influence hearts and minds in Philippine society or, at the very least, persuade Filipinos to give a shit.
A popularly-elected Philippine president who can be a misogynist with impunity in a democracy is but a mere symptom of a deeper problem if we consider that, in principle, the character of leaders in a democracy mirror the character of the electorate. Considering these confronting facts and the rather adolescent and evidently ineffectual way revered “thought leaders” go about coming to terms with the behaviour of a popular president, it is high time the Philippine Opposition think up a better and smarter strategy to go about opposing the incumbent and persuading an apathetic Philippine public to understand the offense they ought to feel.
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