As Metro Manila and surrounding areas entered yet another round of lockdowns, the nation grows weary. Weary of the President’s false bravado. Weary of pandemic managers who can’t evolve beyond brute force approaches to stem a pandemic (ie, assault rifles in checkpoints). Weary of a health secretary whose “political and diplomatic” priorities, and uncanny tendency to “drop the ball” have led to countless suffering and deaths. Weary of ivory-tower finance teams that rushed to give billions worth of regulatory relief and tax cuts to big business, then shut the doors when it came to giving aid directly to those who needed it most (remember Bayanihan 3?), such as restaurants, shops and their workers.
Within communities, we notice signs of a quiet diaspora. Some plan to go back to the provinces, while others are joining their families abroad. When people vote with their feet, you find truth that eludes any “approval” survey. And that truth has gotten clearer, even to those within the administration: our salvation will not come from the hands of the unfeeling and the incompetent.
But bleakness need not lead to despair. It was said that “democratic republics are… absolutely dependent upon the active and informed involvement of the people for their continued good health.”
This is a challenge as much as it is a reminder. Because if we recede, or turn away, we surrender the field to more of the same. And who would want six more years of this? No one except those given power or those who profit from it. “But, what can we do?” So goes the question of the small business owner, the student, the jobless, the commuter, and the rest of us.
Make a stand
First, is to choose to make a stand. Yes, surveys say they will win if the elections were held today. Well of course they should. With name recall, a flood of “COVID-19 reminder” texts, daily media coverage and of course, troll farms, one expects them to top.
But how are their numbers? Six years ago, then-vice president Jejomar Binay was called “unstoppable” with numbers in the upper 30s to 40s. Against that example, 26 to 28% is hardly a “lock-in.” Unbeatable? Only if you call 17 to 18% impressive.
What we see is a sitting President with all the resources and an alleged “91% approval rating” who can’t even get 20% of the country to choose him as vice president. Then, there’s stagnation. The numbers have remained within the same level for several cycles despite all the tarpaulins and all the subtle campaigning. In short, “may tulog.” So, make a stand. Stand because it is the right thing to do. Stand because the “unbeatable” narrative doesn’t hold water. And stand because it is the most Filipino thing to do.
To suffer in silence is not in our national character. That’s why when Mayor Isko Moreno quipped, “Presidents are elected, not inherited,” it became viral. It touched something guttural.
Second, we need to believe we can win. Mindset matters. We criticize the President for his defeatist stance against China but overlook our own inadequacies when it comes to looking at the 2022 elections. Defeatism in a make-or-break election year is a luxury the country cannot afford. And while early surveys are helpful, they are checked by recent history littered with former frontrunners who lost to underdogs. Underdogs win because every great story of human triumph begins in the face of insurmountable adversity – from Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, the WPS Arbitration and to Hidilyn Diaz, our first Olympic gold medalist.
Choosing to believe is different from engaging in lost causes. And winning in 2022 isn’t one. Why? Because across several survey cycles, the leading topic of concern for Filipinos across classes is now the economy (jobs, recovery, employment). And we all know how that is going.
That’s why during one interview, retired justice Antonio Carpio observed, “This election is for the opposition to lose.” He was speaking from the point of view of history. Incumbents lose when the economy is in tatters. Or as Bill Clinton once famously said, “It’s the economy, stupid.” So there is reason and precedent behind thinking positively. Of course, it’s not going to be easy. We just can’t be fixated with “winnability.” Surveys don’t dictate the outcome. We do.
The forecasts for 2022 are gloomy? Bring an umbrella and soldier on. Courage on.
Build a bigger tent
Third, (and this is controversial) we need to build a bigger tent. Vice President Leni Robredo said it best when she said, “Hindi puwedeng tayo-tayo lang ang mag-uusap; hindi puwedeng tayo-tayo lang din ang magkakaisa.” Those words reminded me of another leader that history placed in equally trying times. “[W]e must not be enemies,” Lincoln once cautioned. I assign the movie “Lincoln” to some classes because of the lesson the great man taught when he fought to end slavery. Challenged about his moral compass for aligning with the “unsavory,” Lincoln (played by Daniel Day-Lewis) had this to say, “If in pursuit of your destination you plunge ahead, heedless of obstacles, and achieve nothing more than to sink in a swamp, what’s the use of knowing true north?” Lincoln saw the value of necessary alliances to accomplish a great task.
We see that wisdom in the Vice President today. And we should trust her judgment. Why? Because as far as I can recall, she is the first potential presidential candidate ever to publicly state that she is willing to sacrifice her run in favor of another just to make sure the cause wins in 2022. In a world where politicians barter everything just to hold on to power, a leader who sacrifices her own ambition is a rare gem.
Finally, register, engage and volunteer when the time comes. The troll farms are meant to cow people. But over-reliance on bots, manufactured sympathy, and disinformation leads to laziness and over confidence. And people are tired of it. We see this in a viral clip showing the President cracking another off-color joke. Only this time, no one laughed.
With the botched pandemic response and a failing economy, they will continue to lose the heartland. Trolls rely on illusion. Volunteerism can’t be faked. And social media noise cannot win over real people mobilizing. Consider how they lost the battle against Patricia Non and the community pantries. Despite deploying thousands of trolls, within days they recalibrated and eventually retreated. Volunteers trump trolls any day.
We need to do all these and more because none of us can afford to have more of the same. For if there is a key lesson from this pandemic, it is this: corruption kills and Incompetence, ruins lives. And there is nothing worse than to be ruled by both during the greatest crisis in recent human history.
In 1787, one of the Americans chosen to draft a constitution was Benjamin Franklin. And as they finished the US Constitution and left Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Franklin was asked, “Sir what kind of government do we have?” Franklin paused and then replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
It is 2021. And with another lockdown we find ourselves asking, “What kind of government do we have?” We should meet Franklin’s challenge and answer, “A republic, and we intend to keep it.” – Rappler.com
John Molo is a commercial law litigator who enjoys reading and learning about the Constitution and its intersection with politics. He teaches Constitutional Law at UP Law-BGC, where he also chairs the Political Law Cluster of the Faculty. He is the immediate past president of the Harvard Law School Association of the Philippines, and former chair of the IBP Law Journal. He led the team that sued the Aquino administration and invalidated the PDAF.