New Year

[EDITORIAL] 2021 is when we act and build. Or bust.

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[EDITORIAL] 2021 is when we act and build. Or bust.
The choice is whether to renew the Duterte franchise of tyranny or transition out of it to eventually stop the nation’s daily burn

That we begin 2021 with fears of a more prolonged pandemic and a new variant of COVID-19 seems a foreboding of what will be required of us in this year of the Ox, a zodiac animal known to endure and persist amid difficulties. 

For while we did shut the door on a horrible year and bid good riddance to it, who are we kidding? 2020’s ghosts will continue to haunt us and taunt us and dare us to do more, and to do better. 

To do more and to do better is the least we owe the many friends, families, colleagues, frontliners, activists, lawyers, and journalists we lost last year – killed not just by a virus but by guns and ineptitude of the top, from the top. 

This is not to say that a reservoir of hope eludes us completely as we welcome the new year. At no other time since the Duterte years have we witnessed anger spill over to on-ground and online mass actions. We’ve seen the broadest coalition of petitioners before the Supreme Court against the anti-terror law, which lawmakers passed in June even as COVID-19 deaths mounted. The global pushback against human rights violators yielded results in the Western world through various laws; an international crime court found “basis to believe” allegations of extrajudicial killings in the Duterte government’s drug war; and Americans voted out a petty tyrant.

From our homes, we dissected and scrutinized everything that went wrong in 2020. We’ve joined countless webinars and opened endless Zoom links to try to make sense of people and policies that did not make sense. We’ve “hashtagged” our fury over hoodlums in the police, the red-tagging rascals in the armed forces, the lazy leaders pretending to lead, the inutile czars who impose face shields on us as we bike in open air.


They’re still here in our midst – tormenting us with their hubris, vaccinating themselves in posh hotels and secure buildings, pocketing our hard-earned taxes, and manipulating us with propaganda. 

While we’re locked down in our homes, unable to peek into the corridors of power, those who play in them are consolidating for the next presidential race that’s happening a mere 17 months from now. They’re deploying state resources to vote-rich areas, flooding villages targeted by opinion survey firms with ayuda, relief goods and lies, and stockpiling dirty money or laundering them in the meantime.

And what do the so-called democracy warriors have to show in the face of all this?

The protest movement is bolder and angrier but not any wiser – as they’re caught up in old squabbles and one-upmanships, pushed to a corner by a rampaging military and forced to mobilize online by a virus.

The traditional opposition, or whatever bone is left of it, is opposing via press releases and quotable quotes and senatorial probes. 

Big business is ripped off but continues to hedge its bets and sits comfortably in the last row of resistance.

We woke up to a New Year morning realizing that a mass movement of chatter – not warm bodies – has emerged from 4 years of tyranny. The pleasure of likes and shares has replaced the rigor and pain of organizing. A menu of slogans has devalued dialogue, discourse, and debate. Chambers of self-righteous, them-and-us human rights champions pledge to die for democracy and wonder why the rest would rather scrounge for food or shelter. The country’s smartest minds are constantly aghast and appalled by what they see and, to feel good as citizens, scribble a few angry lines on Facebook. And sleep tight.

This lazy and fly-by-night mode of resistance must end. 

2021 is the year before an election that will seal our fate for another 6 years – and perhaps beyond. 

The choice is whether to renew the Duterte franchise of tyranny or transition out of it to eventually stop the nation’s daily burn. The choice, as we know it, demands more than talk and more than the click activism that, for years, has created a reality that jolts us each time we see our Duterte die-hard relative or read opinion surveys.

We’ve out-talked each other for so long. The challenge now is to act and to build. To organize and mobilize for short-term gains and long-term goals. To count the warm bodies and to measure their commitment at every turn.

Sounds so ’80s, you say. But look at what this nation was able to accomplish in the ’80s.

We wish you a New Year filled with hope and action in the real world. –

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