My Facebook feed is an interesting place. You can read about some of my friends who quote Bible verses and ask for prayers, and you can also see atheist posts questioning the sanity of grown-ups who still have imaginary friends. In the political arena, you can also see many posts praising the efforts of current president Rodrigo Duterte, and perhaps just as many posts tearing him down.
People ask me why I do not unfriend or unfollow those whose posts are strongly opposed to mine, to the point of offense, and I like to respond with this gem from Frank A. Clark, “We find comfort among those who agree with us — growth among those who don’t.”
To be fair though, a good number of posts contain sweeping generalizations, hateful and sarcastic remarks, faulty logic, or erroneous statements — from either side and those I can safely ignore. There are a few of my contacts though, who are not that way, and although I do not fully agree with what they say, I still listen and reflect on their words. We must never be so blinded by our own biases that we fail to truly consider or pre-judge what the other side has to say.
I recently came across such a piece by one of my contacts from Manila, Jorrel Vincent Valdez, and have obtained his permission to reprint his words in full and without commentary from me. As I told Jorrel, it is a piece that deserves to be read:
A friend and colleague of mine asked why I hate Duterte so much. Just to be clear, I categorically do NOT hate Duterte. I did not vote for him, yet I accept that he is still our President for the next six years. Contrary to what Duterturds (yes, THAT particular distinction has to be made) may think, I do not oppose Duterte out of spite since my preferred presidential candidate lost. So what drives my incessant criticism of his actions over the past few weeks? Why does it seem that I only count the misses and ignore the hits?
It’s simple. I HATE the effect Duterte’s brand of governance has on our people.
In their years under Duterte’s leadership, the people of Davao turned their city into a model of development and order that the rest of the nation looks up to. Yet sadly, under the few months of Duterte’s candidacy and presidency, supporters from all over the nation have instead turned into a vicious and hypocritical mob that bullies critics into silence. I can’t help but think that maybe, the rest of the Philippines outside Davao isn’t really ready for a Duterte presidency.
I hold on to the notion that a significant proportion of the 16M who voted for Duterte are decent, morally upright, and hardworking people who have merely grown increasingly frustrated with the ineptitude and lethargy of previous administrations. I cherish the thought that most of these Filipinos made their decision rationally, after weighing the pros and cons of each candidate. I want to believe that most voted for him to have a strong partner and advocate for genuine reform, a true servant leader.
But social media tells a different story.
I’ve always been skeptical of mainstream Filipino media – but not skeptical enough since I’ve admittedly been misled by inadequate news reports about the alleged DOH budget cut. By the way, I own up to that mistake, and hope that it serves as a lesson for vigilance to me. Fortunately, an alternative exists – social media. The great equalizer, the platform where all voices are heard, not just those of the powerful and educated.
Unsurprisingly, the story social media tells is horrifying.
Is it fair for me to criticize a leader for the actions of his supporters? I don’t know, is it fair for me to criticize Hitler for the wickedness of the Nazis? Is that comparison unfair? Deliberately or inadvertently, the government has channeled the pent-up hopelessness and despair of the long-suffering masses into something despicable. Instead of directing this collective pain into a genuine sense of civic responsibility, the leadership has allowed the formation of a blind, vindictive underclass of fanatics who view Duterte as their Messiah. Fundamentalists who believe that our President is a destined Great Leader, a god-king who can do no wrong, who celebrate in the death and destruction of alleged criminals without due process, who view human rights as impediments to the reign of their king.
Am I sowing division, by encouraging an “us versus them mentality”? Am I speaking from a position of privilege, by virtue of my education and profession? Maybe. I am not so blind as to discount that possibility. But I cannot stay silent while I witness more and more people turning a blind eye to the cost of this war, abandoning all their rationality and sensibility in exchange for a blind faith to a fallible leadership.
Six years ago, people elevated the son of Ninoy into something he’s not. And his mistakes cost us dearly. Yet here we are poised to do the same thing again. Have we learned nothing?
So yes, President Duterte. We give you leeway. We know that you are a product of your time, and it’s too late for you to move beyond your machismo and idiosyncrasies. We also know that you have the nation’s best interests at heart, and your sincerity shines through your ruthlessness. We also come to accept, painfully, begrudgingly, that your way of doing things is not the way of Justin Trudaeu or Lee Kuan Yew. But we reserve the right to remain critical. You need a genuine opposition, not the spineless sycophants you cowed into submission in the House. You must learn to respect your critics, not to throw tantrums when they dare to challenge you. Be the bigger man your followers already think you are. Set the example for your supporters to follow.
Your noisy and insufferable online critics will always be here, President Duterte. Supporting the good, calling out the bad, and doing our own small share in making this nation a better place. We intend to enjoy our hard-won freedom to be sarcastic dicks, unless of course you decide otherwise. Just like the guy you’re giving a hero’s burial.
Originally published in Sunstar Davao.