When Rodrigo Duterte announced his candidacy for the presidency of the Philippines in the 2016 elections, I knew he was going to win for one reason: he was an outsider. He did not seem like a traditional politician, at least not in the mold of the prominent ones during preceding administrations. For many of those who crave genuine change, he was easily the best choice.
Fast forward to the 2019 midterm elections, and it is safe to say that change has come. But it is not necessarily for the better.
We only need to look at the candidates likely to win the 12 Senate seats, based from Comelec’s partial tallies. If we take these polls as the nation’s verdict on the performance of the Duterte administration, then this was a resounding stamp of approval. His popularity against intense criticism definitely helped the candidacies of his allies. (READ: Opposition bets failed to counter Duterte strongman myth – analyst)
But if the Filipino people support the President because they wanted to break away from traditional politicians, then the track records and characters of some of the 12 soon-to-be Senators put this argument into question. Almost all of them are associated with political dynasties, in one way or the other. Some of them have histories of being involved in graft and corruption scandals, with a few still having pending cases. Others are known to have conflicts of interest between their responsibilities as legislators and their personal ventures.
It looks like most of the voters simply believe in Duterte’s vision so much that they are willing to elect even people with questionable characters. This strategy of “us against them,” combined with a reputation of fear, was enough for political butterflies to throw their machineries into ensuring victory for the President’s bets.
At first glance, it is easy to blame the so-called “uneducated voters” for keeping these traditional politicians in power. After all, if the same problems continue to persist at either the national or local level, at some point we expect that they would catch on and realize that electing the same names will not solve their woes.
However, if these voters have no choice given the same names keep on appearing in their ballots, what else do we expect them to do? From vote buying to threats of violence during the election season and afterwards, some of them have been desensitized into thinking this norm is the best way for their communities.
Also, we the educated are just as culpable for our current predicament. Given how vocal the opposition has been to some of Duterte’s policies, especially on social media, we thought that perhaps things are beginning to change for the better from our perspective. Seeing how other countries have become progressive through our studies and jobs gives us expectations that we will inevitably be on the road to the same type of socioeconomic development. Some of us even believed that the mock polls seen in the country’s top universities reveal a changing mentality in terms of choosing our representatives in government.
But at the end of the day, we will prioritize building a comfortable life for our families. Who wouldn’t? It is understandable why many Filipinos avoid directly working in or with the government. Opportunities for income and providing for ourselves and our families are more promising in the private sector.
But by choosing not to be politically active beyond voting every 3 years and occasionally complaining on social media, it helped pave the way for our current political environment to take shape. Perhaps in a subtle way, we also expected somebody else will fight for the change that we want on our behalf without any of us making a bit of sacrifice to do so. As they say, “you can’t have your cake and eat it too.”
Perils of democracy
Despite the supposed fall of the dominance of certain political clans within Metro Manila, these elections show that the rule of political dynasties remains apparent throughout the country. In fact, these families have now infiltrated what was already a broken party-list system, giving these families even more opportunities to monopolize political power within their reach. We may claim that new, younger faces have emerged as leaders of some cities and provinces, but how certain are we that they truly have the well-being of their constituencies in their agendas and not those with whom they share a surname?
Even though both houses of Congress are on the verge of being dominated by the allies of Duterte, our country seems to be more divided now than it was 3 years ago, which the current administration itself has actively pushed through. Instead of working together to solve complex, far-reaching issues, we are antagonizing amongst ourselves simply because of the color with which some believe we represent through our opinions and principles. Even innocent people are being included in ouster plots that resemble less of an actual threat and more of a poorly written storyline for a murder mystery show.
The Filipino people have spoken. Whether you like it or not, we need to respect the outcomes of these elections. What we need to do now is to start moving forward. Let the mistakes of this election season serve as lessons on how we assess the political landscape in our society. With issues such as federalism, tax reform, environmental degradation, and the country’s relationship with China poised to become even hotter in the next 3 years, we need to be even more vigilant than ever. We need to hold our government officials accountable for their actions.
After all, the Philippines still has a government “of the people, by the people, [and] for the people.” Pointing fingers will not really accomplish much because ultimately, each and every one of us had something to do with the current state of our country.
More importantly, we really need to adopt a more inclusive mentality. We need to connect with those who may not necessarily have the same political beliefs as ours. We need to work with or help others beyond corporate social responsibilities, trending online posts, and publicity campaigns. Because when all is said and done, despite many differences, we all want the same basic thing: a good life.
They say in the world of politics, there is no such thing as a savior. There only exists a magician whose best friend is a drunk audience. If change is really coming for us, we need to stop being drunk with delusions and start seeing reality for what it truly is. And act on it responsibly. – Rappler.com
John Leo is a citizen journalist who usually focuses on telling stories on climate and the environment that are not usually highlighted on traditional media. He recently earned his MS Atmospheric Science degree from the Ateneo de Manila University.