The curious case of the Mocha Uson blog
I was one of those who did not sign the petition to suspend the Mocha Uson Facebook page. While I agreed with the petition that the page did spread "unsupported claims" and widened "the rift between those who support the current administration and those who are critical of it,” I did not think that shutting down her page was the best way to address those problems. I also thought that it was a violation of Uson's right to free speech.
Freedom of speech is a right that should be accorded everyone. It can and should be regulated but not by pressuring or telling anyone to shut up. Moreover, partisanship – even the rabid type – is not a crime. No blog should thus be suspended for being partisan. Fake accounts and paid troll comments must be taken down but (real) people and groups must be allowed to speak.
While I believe that the Mocha Uson blog should be allowed to thrive, there are a number of things about the blog that bother me.
In this piece, I present 4 reasons for this unease.
First, the blog glorifies President Duterte and sends the message that the President can do no wrong.
Second, it sensationalizes Mocha Uson as a symbol of anti-elitism.
Third, it glosses over the reality that the conflict over the extrajudicial killings is now the core societal disagreement.
Fourth, it is indicative of a fragile, not a robust, democracy.
Glorifying President Duterte
The Mocha Uson blog is clearly a systematic and sustained defense of President Duterte. This kind of partisanship is common and imperative during elections but after the ballots have been cast and the preferred candidate acquires power, it becomes peculiar.
Government, ideally "of the people, by the people, for the people," should always speak on behalf of the people and act in the interest of the people. But is the inverse also true? Should the people speak on behalf of government and act in the interest of government? This to me is the curious case of the Mocha Uson blog.
I think this kind of citizen defense of a President is not desirable because it promotes personalistic instead of rational political discourse. It is also not necessary since government can easily transmit its ideas to the public and mobilize popular support through the various state apparatuses.
I find the Mocha Uson blog disconcerting because its main message is that President Duterte can do no wrong. To me, this is incompatible with democratic rule where no President or government is beyond reproach and even good Presidents can make bad decisions. In mature democracies, citizens do not glorify or defend governments in toto. Rather, they lend support or criticism based on palpable issues.
My discomfort over the blog's main message is actually no different from the discomfort that I felt when some supporters of the previous administration continued to praise PNoy despite EDCA, PDAF, DAP or Mamasapano. It puzzled me no end how people could still "love the guy" despite the obvious excesses of that government.
According to democratic theory, society must always be separate from the state, regardless of who is in power, because citizens must always be free to shape and control government – rather than the other way around. When the state and society are practically one and the same, that regime is totalitarian. When state control of society is high but not effectively all encompassing, it is authoritarian. When spaces for citizen engagement and dissent are always made available and utilized, it is democratic.
Sensationalizing Uson as a symbol of anti-elitism
Thus far, the Mocha Uson blog controversy has not been framed as an issue of state-society separation but as one of two things: an assault on freedom of speech (as explained above) and a manifestation of the triumph of anti-elitism.
Not a few have argued that the controversy reflects elitism and intellectual and class divisions in Philippine society. They point out that the popularity of Mocha Uson is an indictment of the bankruptcy of mainstream media institutions like Rappler and Inquirer, and, of so-called experts from the academe who are allegedly just "yellow" stooges. According to this claim, such media institutions and academics hate Uson because they cannot accept being upstaged by a starlet-turned-political pundit-and-citizen journalist.
Elevating the Mocha Uson blog to a discourse on anti-elitism may be valid as intellectual and class divides do exist in Philippine society, but it is not the best way to fight elitism. Anti-elitism entails breaking the elite's strangehold on our economic and political structures and requires more than just rallying people around a symbolic figure like Mocha Uson.
Inequality in this country runs so deep that even while the growth rate is high at 6.3% (PSA 2015 figure), the poverty rate is also high at 21.3% (PSA 2015 figure), and, while the richest 10% of the population earn a per capita income of P176,863, the poorest 10% earn a meager P14,022 (in nominal 2009 figures). This is the elitism that we need to fight against.
Anti-elitism should be waged in corporations where abusive contractualization is being practiced or in agricultural communities where the rights of farmers and indigenous peoples are being violated or in workplaces where women and the LGBT are discriminated against. Of course, elitism is also a matter of perspective and mindset. It must be challenged whenever and wherever it rears its ugly head – including on social media – but glorifying Mocha Uson as a symbol of the triumph of anti-elitism is mere sensationalism as this glorification has no objective or material basis.
More often than not, those who are against Mocha Uson are not necessarily assailing her validity as a political commentator, rather, are merely challenging her assertion that citizens should just accept and support everything that the President says and does.
Unfortunately, when these people call Uson's attention over factual errors or sweeping statements, they are often dismissed as being "anti-Digong" or "yellowtard" or "elitist," with some accusations bordering on harassment and cyberbullying (e.g "ma-rape ka sana ng adik" or "lumipat ka na ng bansa" or "mamatay ka sana" or "tandaan nyo ang mukha ng gagong ito" or "tae ka").
("I hope you get raped by an addict" or "move to another country" or "I hope you die" or "remember the face of this fool" or "you're shit")
This is unacceptable.
In the same way that Mocha Uson should not be silenced, netizens should not be ridiculed or harassed or rendered hostile for pointing out the inconsistencies of President Duterte – such as his disregard of due process in the anti-drug war despite his pledge to uphold the rule of law or his refusal to recognize the plunder of the Marcoses despite his avowed intolerance of corruption.
In other words, public discourse should not simply be about loving or hating President Duterte or Mocha Uson or the "yellows." The elections are long over. Discourse in between elections is not supposed to be a zero-sum game where one side can win only if the other side loses. Rather than solving long-standing problems, this kind of polarization and sensationalism only creates new problems.
Glossing over the killings
The framing of the Mocha Uson blog as anti-elitism is insufficient also because today there is obviously a core societal disagreement that cuts across classes and goes beyond the (awfully labeled) "yellowtard vs. dutertard" or rich vs poor divide.
That core disagreement is about the extrajudicial killings and the violation of human rights.
While President Duterte himself has assured the public that the killings are not state-sanctioned, the fact of the matter is, it is the state that has the primary obligation to stop this kind of killings.
Almost 4,000 deaths in just 100 days. The numbers speak for themselves. Until the killings stop, there will always be contention over President Duterte's governance, and by extension, over Mocha Uson's defense of President Duterte.
The rest of the issues – federalism, Bangsamoro autonomy, peace with the Left, contractualization, land conversion, mining and coal, climate change, foreign policy – are not as polarizing as the extrajudicial killings because they involve negotiable entitlements or policy options or institutional arrangements and not questions of very basic, non-negotiable rights, namely the right to exist and the right to due process.
At this point, the conflict over the killings is the most polarizing of all issues also because it is the issue that the President is most adamant about. The President has repeatedly refused to recognize the demand to respect human rights in the anti-drug campaign as valid or sensible.
This situation is what the Mocha Uson blog has been glossing over or covering up. It has never questioned much less condemned these unexplained killings. Neither has the blog made a case for the protection of human rights. The blog, in fact, has been reinforcing the recalcitrance of the President on the matter, and I think this is what's making the blog highly controversial. Like the President, the blog has not been accommodating of any opposition, especially on this issue. Because of this non-accommodation, the opposition to it has been intensifying (e.g the petition).
The notion that people who oppose extrajudicial killings do not see drug addiction as a problem should also be disabused. Because of President Duterte's prioritization of this issue, I think there is now societal consensus that drug addiction is a serious social problem. The disagreement is over the methods by which the drug problem is being addressed. People are now saying "no to drugs" but they are also saying "no to extrajudicial killings to solve the drug problem.”
How about disagreements in government?
The Mocha Uson blog controversy should remind us that there is something terribly wrong with our representative democracy. Citizens are now (literally) fighting with each other directly (on social media) instead of through their elected representatives. That there are more exchanges and more dissent outside of government instead of within government should be cause for concern.
Yes, public discourse on social media should be promoted but it should not replace or supersede deliberation in mandated political institutions such as the legislature.
This situation is evidently the consequence of having a supermajority in Congress rather than a political configuration where the minority effectively engages the majority. It must be noted that such is not just President Duterte's doing but the product of patronage-based/pork barrel politics, a weak party system, and a winner-take-all political system.
If we had real and strong political parties that stood for particular ideals instead of just serving as vehicles for presidential candidacies, and, a system of proportional representation where diverse ideals could be articulated and negotiated, perhaps public discourse outside of formal politics would not be so antagonistic and polarizing. Moreover, if we had real political parties, public discourse within formal political institutions would be more substantive and productive.
In my opinion, our representative democracy is not working because we have reduced democracy to a numbers game. Who wins the plurality in elections wins it all and losers are expected to be invisible after elections. Who gains the most number of followers in social media are deemed the most authoritative of all political commentators and those who have fewer "likes" and "shares" are deemed unreasonable or insignificant. What is viral online is deemed the (only) truth.
Meaningful democracy cannot be reduced to mere numbers. Just think of this: the Muslims of this country are a minority. Even if all of them voted for what Muslims wanted (i.e self-governance), they would never win because technically, a minority can never win in a majoritarian system. This is why, to solve the Bangsamoro problem, government has to employ peace negotiations and not just the usual legislative processes. In the latter, disputes can be settled only through a majority vote.
More than numbers, what matters in a democracy is that conflicts in society are articulated and not supressed, and, conflicts are resolved through political, peaceful methods rather than through militaristic means. In a stable democracy, conflicts are deliberated through democratic debates that are anchored on articulations that find basis in sound arguments, solid facts and evidence. Anything outside of this is mere propaganda that distracts citizens from focusing on the task of ascertaining the most effective solutions to pressing societal concerns.
As mentioned earlier, there is now a core disagreement among citizens and between citizens and government. This disagreement is not simply about which Facebook blog or media outfit or academic is more truthful or more intelligent or more "maka-masa". Rather, it is about the extrajudicial killings and whether or not citizens should accept government's bargain to sacrifice human rights and due process in exchange for public safety and a drug-free country.
That disagreement is what is tearing us apart as a nation. Not Mocha Uson or Rappler. – Rappler.com
The author teaches political science at Ateneo de Manila University.