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Of democracy, development, and Duterte

This kind of “silencing," however, only gives a false sense of security, peace and order and fails to address the roots of the problem. Real peace and development stems from addressing social inequalities and the respect for human rights.

I understand that the clamor for Duterte’s brand of leadership is a product of the perpetual frustration of the Filipino people in a government that consistently fails to deliver the promise of a democracy. I fear that the celebration of Duterte’s leadership delivers the message that it is okay to sacrifice human rights if this will lead to a better Philippines.

Is it not that this very thinking is the foundation of a tyranny that our nation has fought against for so many years?

I am saddened that our people have reached this point that we have no confidence in our justice system, in the ideals of democratic government, that we are so willing to sacrifice life and liberty for the sake of a semblance of progress, that we have succumbed to a mindset that we need to kill criminals and wrong-doers to discipline ourselves. 

They say Filipinos have a short memory. We have easily forgotten the terrors of Martial Law. We would rather content ourselves with short-term solutions to deeply entrenched problems. “Gawan ng paraan," (finding a way) “diskartehan” (strategy) – are celebrated as Filipino ingenuity.

Perhaps this is why we are fascinated with the term resiliency, and why we use this excuse every time a disaster hits us. Our strength as a people is that we endure, stay intact, and get back to our former shape. Centuries of Spanish colonization, decades of American colonialism, and 21 years of tyrant rule have not transformed us. 

'No easy road'

We always fall in the trap of personality politics, as if one strong man can change our lives overnight. Here we are again. We welcome another messiah whose brand of leadership will lead us to salvation. I will credit Duterte for inspiring us to believe in the electoral process again, for making those who normally do not vote think of participating again, for awakening hope that perhaps this government with his leadership can work this time.

However, I will raise my voice in appealing to my fellow Filipinos, to think twice. If Duterte wins, does what it is expected of him, and then gracefully leaves the Presidency after his term expires, what will happen to us? Do we change our constitution and re-elect him? Do we look for another Duterte to emerge? Think twice not about electing Duterte to office but about the mindset his candidacy is espousing. 

I fear for a generation whose culture disregards human rights, whose idea of discipline is rooted out of fear, and whose notion of progress alienates the concept of justice.

We accept this model of “effective” governance because we want to remain comfortable in our sleep every night with the thought that we are safe from the ills of society, that we do not have to painfully struggle for our rights and welfare to be taken care of, because we have a superhero that will pull the trigger for us to keep the villains away.

But we know fully well that there is no easy road to genuine peace and progress. We, as a nation, as a people, have been uncomfortable for very long. Our genuine comfort lies in the assertion of our rights and dignity, in our active involvement in governance and making democracy work for us every day. We have forgotten so easily that we, collectively, have that power to transform our lives, our community, our nation and society. And it requires us to struggle.

If there is one thing that the message of the film, Heneral Luna, should have taught us, it should have made us realize Heneral Luna’s failures. The most important ingredient into making deep and meaningful change is to empower the people. You may root for Duterte because there is no better option for you, but openly criticize his stance on human rights. You may vote for Duterte because he exemplifies good governance, but do not equate good governance with the presence of extra-judicial killings. Do not gloss over Duterte as the charmed one. Demand genuine platform for reforms.

Heneral Luna may have been the best person that could have led us to victory in the war, but if he fails to educate, to organize, to empower the people in the struggle, then the revolution is bound to fail. We have been wanting and wailing for real change to happen in the country for a long time now, but, we always forget to take part in the revolution every day. -

Leni Velasco is the Executive Director of Dakila, a group creatively building a movement of heroism towards social transformation.