2022 Philippine Elections

[OPINION] Dialogue, not division

Sheena Jamora
[OPINION] Dialogue, not division
'Many Duterte supporters did not necessarily identify as Marcos loyalists, yet decided to vote BBM-Sara simply to spite Leni supporters. And why wouldn’t they?'

In the late afternoon of election day, I went to a public playground near our home to walk my dogs (to de-stress, let’s be honest) and saw many kids dressed in red shirts. They were too young to have voted, but their parents dressed them in support of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. They were running around, playing, and would randomly break into chanting: “BBM! BBM! BBM!” Some of them knew me, as I frequently walked my dogs in that area. I asked one girl who was about seven years old, “Who did your parents vote for?” and she answered with gusto, “BBM.” “Why?” “Just because.”

“Just because.” When us Leni supporters were touting her extensive platform, her numerous projects as VP, and her stellar academic and work credentials, the supporters of Marcos Jr. remained loyal to him “just because.” We clung to our logic, statistics, and facts without first establishing context, solidarity, and connection. We had a lot to say, but gave them no reason to listen. We find ourselves now in utter disbelief because we have not been listening either.

How can true listening happen when there has been so much othering from both sides? We called them “fanatics,” “apologists,” “bobo,” and “Dutertards,” while they called us “elites,” “snobs,” “mayabang,” and “Pinklawan.” In the end, both sides have lost. We have elected as our next president the unapologetic son of Ferdinand Marcos, who Singapore’s Lee Kwan Yew once described as someone “who pillaged his country for over 20 years.”

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In our quest to “educate” Marcos and Duterte supporters, we have alienated them and united them in their alienation. Many Duterte supporters did not necessarily identify as Marcos loyalists, yet decided to vote BBM-Sara simply to spite Leni supporters. And why wouldn’t they? In the past six years, we have been insulting their “Tatay Digong,” calling them demeaning names, unfriending them on social media, and flagging their posts as fake news.

We forget that we are not each other’s enemies. We are all oppressed by the same system run by political dynasties and oligarchs, some of our fellowmen more oppressed than others. We are all victims of corruption, exploitation, and greed for money and power. Too predictably, they have turned us against each other. 

In his book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire calls for dialogue as an act of mutual emancipation. To free ourselves from the chains of oppression, people must be willing to engage in the act of dialogue wherein the purpose is mutual learning and understanding, not merely the transfer of information. He also wrote, “Faith in people is an a priori requirement for dialogue.”

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The little girl’s parents came to pick her up from the playground. They looked just like you and me, but clad in red and green. I have faith that like you and me, they also want the freedom to live a life of dignity in a country led by leaders of their choosing. They smiled upon seeing my pink shorts, but said nothing. I am not sure if they have the same faith in me.

We have six years to bridge the huge gap between our politics and those of others. Further othering will only widen that divide. A research project conducted in the US after Donald Trump’s win provides practical tips on how to talk to someone we disagree with: have face-to-face or phone conversations, avoid quick judgments, ask questions and listen, identify shared values, goals, and feelings, and refrain from explicitly pushing someone to change their views. How many of these were we able to do with our social media accounts, which we wielded as campaign weapons against, sometimes, our very own families and friends?

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Beyond the tips above, we must remember that the most powerful dialogue happens in the context of genuine relationships. I realized this recently through my mother. On Mother’s Day, she filled a plate with pancit and cake and asked me to help bring it to the laborer whom she often hires to cut grass on the empty lot beside our home. As the man ate, my mother asked him about who he was voting for. He explained that he might not vote because someone has to stay at home with the kids as his wife goes out to vote for BBM.

“Why BBM?” my mother asked.

“They recruited all the mothers in our neighborhood to campaign for him, and gave them money as allowance.”

My mother nodded, understanding how helpful that money must be for those mothers. She then told the man that she herself will vote for Leni because a good leader like her will ensure that families will have sources of livelihood beyond the election period. The man smiled and nodded. “I might be able to vote,” he said quietly.

In the next six years and beyond, we have a duty to our fellowmen – to listen, to speak kindly, to understand. We must exit the tiny bubbles of our comfortable existence and reach out to others beyond social media, beyond our echo chambers, towards the margins of the communities that we are a part of but have not truly engaged with. We need to build relationships where genuine dialogue – and mutual freedom – can take place. – Rappler.com

Sheena Jamora is a teacher and counselor by vocation. She is a lecturer at the University of the Philippines Department of Psychology and a graduate student at the same university’s College of Education.