Sui Generis

Radical love

Marites Dañguilan Vitug
Radical love

PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFUL. Supporters and family gather at the Quezon City reception house on October 7, 2021, as Vice President Leni Robredo announces her bid to run for president in the May 2022 national elections,

Jire Carreon/Rappler

Lesson from Turkey

Vice President Leni Robredo said some stirring things when she declared she was running for president as well as in later video messages posted on social media. Here are the lines that, like shafts of light, pierced through our darkened political paths:

“Ang pag-ibig, nasusukat hindi lang sa pagtitiis, kundi sa kahandaang lumaban, kahit gaano kahirap, para matapos na ang pagtitiis. Ang nagmamahal, kailangang ipaglaban ang minamahal.

(Love is not measured by forbearance alone but by a readiness to do battle. Whoever loves must do battle for the beloved.)

“Tandaan: Madaling makipagtalo, mas radikal ang magmahal.”
(Remember: It is easier to argue but it is more radical to love.)

She talked about love as a force that could enlighten our politics. This is giving some people pause and making them rethink old political mindsets. It’s because we seem to have forgotten to aspire for lofty goals, to reach for the stars, what with a president who has flogged our spirits.

VIctory in Turkey

Robredo was not speaking in a vacuum. She got her inspiration from Turkey where, in 2019, the opposition won local elections in the biggest cities, including Istanbul and Ankara, amid President Erdogan’s autocratic rule. Erdogan launched a polarizing campaign then, hurled invectives at the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the largest opposition party, calling them “terrorists.”

The opposition responded by spreading the gospel of radical love, straight out of a 55-page book, “Book of Radical Love.” At its core, radical love is “giving your love not only to those who already love you, but also those who do not.” (You can read it here.)

In practice, the CHP rose above the divisive rhetoric and, instead of trading barbs with political opponents, followed this mantra:

“We will use the language of love. We will not get provoked…We cannot succeed by countering insults with insults, lies with lies. On the contrary, we will only lend more power to hate-mongers if we do this.”

Essentially, the book advises candidates and supporters to talk to people sincerely and listen more, to avoid a know-it-all attitude, and discard hubris:

“The opposite of hubris is respect. It’s our duty to feel equal respect for everybody…We are striving to find solutions to our citizens’ problems, not to propagate general political views.”

The book was produced by a campaign strategist of the CHP who said in an interview that they could not change Erdogan, “so we fight by changing ourselves.” This template may be a fit for the Philippines: Take out Erdogan and replace it with Duterte.

Already, Robredo, in her video messages on social media, advises her campaigners and supporters to widen their circles by talking to others outside their usual networks, to reach out and help those who have suffered setbacks because of the pandemic, and to show acts of kindness.

Battered wife

It was last year when I came across this book. Later, way before there was talk of her running for president, I heard Robredo refer to it in a speech.

It was only when I learned of the context of the “Book of Radical Love” – it has been hailed as a key factor in the opposition victory in major cities in Turkey – did I appreciate it. But I value this little book more now that Robredo has transposed it into our own experience.

For the past five years, President Duterte has treated many with disrespect, lashing the public with his curses, threats, and violent orders to “kill them all” or “shoot them dead.” Critics and perceived enemies have become punching bags. In the post-Marcos years, I do not remember such meanness of spirit from the highest office in the land.

Duterte unleashed hatred and vile which have risen to toxic levels. On social media, it has reached a point where these negative forces are drowning out true and polite conversations. Telling lies seems to have become as easy as breathing. Labeling people “communists” is done without remorse.

It’s like our spirit has been beaten up all these years. Thus Robredo likened the nation’s situation to that of an abused wife who, despite repeatedly being battered, doesn’t protest and leave her partner. It is such an apt analogy. Robredo draws from her experience as a lawyer of women who have suffered in silence.

She said in her speech announcing her bid for the presidency:

“…tiniis ng mga kliyente ko ang pang-aabuso at pananakit ng asawa nila. Kapag tinanong mo kung bakit, iisa ang sagot: Alang-alang sa mga anak nila.

“…kapag sa wakas, pinili na nilang lumaya – kapag nahanap nila ang tapang na mag-empake, bitbitin ang mga bata, at gawin ang unang hakbang papalabas ng pinto nila. Dahil natauhan na sila na kung hindi sila maglalakas ng loob, mamanahin lang ng mga anak nila ang pagdurusa.”

(…my clients endured all the pain and abuse inflicted by their partners. When you ask them why they chose to suffer, the answer was constant: Their children.)

(…when, finally, they chose to be free – when they found the courage to pack up, bring their children, and take the first steps out the door. It is because they have realized that if they cannot find within themselves the resolve to leave, their children will only inherit their sufferings.)

Could radical love, described as a philosophy, be the counterforce that could push back the hate and divisiveness that have permeated our politics?

Can we dream again of leaders who show kind-heartedness and generosity of spirit and who are unafraid to love radically?

Marites Dañguilan Vitug

Marites is one of the Philippines’ most accomplished journalists and authors. For close to a decade, Vitug – a Nieman fellow – edited 'Newsbreak' magazine, a trailblazer in Philippine investigative journalism. Her recent book, 'Rock Solid: How the Philippines Won Its Maritime Case Against China,' has become a bestseller.