[OPINION] Citizen-blaming: The discipline rhetoric is a trick

Roma Estrada

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[OPINION] Citizen-blaming: The discipline rhetoric is a trick
'How the Duterte regime has managed to sell this deceitful rhetoric of discipline – this belief that our plight as Filipinos is primarily caused by our disobedience to authority – is worth mulling over'


In this regime, we’ve been waking up to news reports that get worse each morning. To date, there have been at least 3 bikers killed in Metro Manila during the community quarantine: a physician who was hit by a truck in Pandacan, a security guard who collapsed on his way to Antipolo, and a construction worker who also collapsed on his way to work in Bicutan. The first two were killed on their way home after a long day at work. Meanwhile, workers continue to line up for good deals on affordable bicycles in Quiapo. 

Deflecting the issue from accountability, government agencies have succeeded in insisting palatable versions of citizen-blaming guised as reminders: do stretch before biking, drink lots of water, find shade to take a rest. Never mind the poor urban planning giving least priority to bike lanes, the non-provision of transportation for workers of the so-called essential industries, and the privileges of private car owners.

Let’s reaffirm what has been primarily missing in these narratives: the cyclists were workers who dared to report for work despite the obvious hazards, despite the unreasonable requirement to report for work in the absence of major modes of public transportation. They were workers who made a way despite lack of state support.  

To reaffirm this is a painful admission of the gaslighting we have been suffering under this regime, which has been happening long enough for many to miss. 

How the Duterte regime has managed to sell this deceitful rhetoric of discipline – this belief that our plight as Filipinos is primarily caused by our disobedience to authority – is worth mulling over. Have we embraced that Kennedy quote too much? Or the one by Gates? Is it the centuries of colonization that have conditioned us into this unreasonable meekness? There is something worse than governments blaming the people for things that go wrong: when the people believe they are primarily to blame, especially in the midst of this pandemic. (READ: [EDITORIAL] Tigilan ang giyera laban sa mga pasaway, virus ang kaaway)

“[Laying] the blame is much easier than being accountable to an increasingly angry public,” writes Sapalo and Marasigan in “The Pasaway and Duterte’s Pandemic Blame Game.” By pinning the blame on the public, the Duterte regime can somehow get away with its irresponsible leadership. Worse, the discipline rhetoric has created a culture of passivity by disempowering people against thinking, so we believe that it is only through uncritical obedience that we can contribute, that myopic visions are the correct ways of seeing, conveniently overlooking the structures that dictate the current socio-political order.  

For example, the government itself – the very entity in which we entrust the responsibility of ensuring our collective welfare. The discipline rhetoric maintains that the government leads and the people merely follow. If plans don’t work as they should, it is because of people disobeying, never the government making a mistake. The Duterte regime has cunningly played this behavioral manipulation in exercising authority: the alleged peddlers of illegal drugs were killed because “nanlaban” (they fought back), ABS-CBN didn’t get renewed for claims of being critical against the president, cities had to be put on militarized lockdowns because people are “pasaway” (stubborn). (READ: [OPINION] ‘Pasaway’ commuters amid lockdown? These people don’t have a choice)

But the COVID-19 pandemic is a test of leadership, and the Duterte regime knows too well how the discipline rhetoric cannot excuse them for long. Now dubbed as one of the world’s longest and strictest lockdowns for surpassing the 76-day lockdown of Wuhan, China where the coronavirus originated, the Philippines’ lockdown translates to more and more cases instead of flattening the curve, which can primarily be traced from lack of mass testing and the overall precarity of our healthcare system – factors that have little to do with obedience to authority and have everything to do with accountable leadership. 

Instead of blaming its constituents, it’s about time the government do some self-assessment: could it have done better?  

The government could have passed reasonable policies and laws by consulting people’s organizations instead of railroading the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, which allowed President Duterte to tap into billions without a proper breakdown. It could have implemented these laws justly rather than parading impunity for violators among top government officials while slaughtering the poor for the slightest blunder. It could have at least refrained from being so bold in weaponizing these laws against the people themselves.  

The government could have been fair and transparent about budget allocations instead of incurring what seems to be nonstop loans amounting to billions, about the accurate number of cases per day rather than altering data at the last minute. It could have set aside political grudges and prioritized the public’s right to information by not putting a major network off-air at a time when people need information the most.  

The government could have taken into account informal workers, they who comprise most of the manpower of the country, before placing communities under militarized lockdowns leaving them with little to no support, for some at the cost of their and their families’ lives. 

The government could have upheld the public’s welfare above all by providing utmost support to health workers – from transportation, physical protection, compensation, to the overall strengthening of the healthcare system through facilities and policies.  

The government should listen to its people. Free mass testing now. What cannot be identified cannot be treated. 

Beyond voting and paying taxes, let critique be one of our important political participations, along with our labor that keeps the economy on its feet. It is through critique – not cowering before authority – that we can reach even the higher political feat of questioning unjust systems. – Rappler.com 

Roma Estrada has been teaching for a decade.

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