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[OPINION | Newspoint ] Proud to stand left of Duterte

If anything is to be said about the wanted list put out recently by the intelligence division of the armed forces, it must begin with this: It betrays a failure not just of intelligence but of a more common sense; but again, to be fixated on the pun, as tempting as it is, is to overlook the more serious significance of the whole affair.

With billions of pesos of the people’s money lavished on such incapacity, no public expense is more wasteful, not to say more dangerous; indeed, amid a pandemic, the expense is nothing less than immoral.

True, the list has been withdrawn, with even some vague word of apology, but only because it was exposed as something apparently recycled. And who knows? Probably out of the files of Ferdinand Marcos, who, as martial-law dictator for 14 years (1972-1986), should have had all the power and the time he needed in dealing, decisively, with all the enemies of the state. Anyway, the old names on the list, among them of people already dead, gave the ruse away.

Worse than mere recycling, that was actually cheating, an unforgivable crime particularly in military sleuthing, because of the great personal damage it can do if practiced below the measures of certainty, objectivity, and judiciousness set for such an extremely delicate discipline. The recycling was in fact an attempt at a shortcut to intelligence, one as ridiculous as it is malignant. 

And nothing about it could have been offhand; it recalled a trick the Duterte regime, being quite fond of it, is better known for. Remember those matrices – those drawings of crisscrossed lines that interconnect faces of people who make Duterte feel insecure, and are thus marked? Such tricks only underscore his regime’s ineptness, which happens to be its defining quality.

In these pandemic times especially, the costs of official ineptness to the nation’s fundamental well-being are running away. The deployment of those vaccines is not expected to get going until late 2023 and economic recovery not expected to begin until even years later. On both counts, the Philippines rates the tardiest in the region and among the tardiest in the world.

Meanwhile, all the regime can do is distract. One scheme involves constitutional amendments – amendments that, if you listen to the excited, shamanistic divinations of Representative Jose Salceda, will deliver us, miraculously, from the hell of the pandemic. The more suspicious of these are incentives allowing foreign investors to acquire majority holdings in areas that the framers of the Constitution believed we Filipinos should keep control over – for instance, our land and seas and the wealth they hold for us – because to surrender it is to surrender our very sovereignty. 

Actually, with the Constitution undisturbed, a treasonous transaction of precisely the sort has been consummated, although exclusively for a single beneficiary – China, an obvious Duterte favorite. Surely, whatever deal Duterte may have struck with Xi Jinping is not worth giving up our strategic and resource-rich western sea for.

The hope is that any tinkering with the Constitution, as has been the case each time it was attempted, will be prevented, a prospect probably favored by a lack of time. It’s a drawn-out process that requires the assent of the Senate, which right now doesn’t seem too enthused, and nationwide public consultations, before a national vote is taken. As it happens, the Duterte presidency, the orchestrator itself, is expiring in just over a year – although again, its capability for shortcuts cannot be underestimated.          

In any case, the more dangerous distraction, a constant one in fact, is the sort precisely reinforced by that infamous list. Recycled lists and manufactured matrices suit Duterte’s despotic designs. Their very crudeness gives off a sense of impunity, and that, as the thinking probably goes, makes him look fearsomely confident. 

The tactic is obviously part of a strategy to intimidate detractors and dissenters. It should be taken together with the militarization of the bureaucracy, the draconian anti-terrorism law, and the indictment of just about anyone the regime fancies as enemies of the state, particularly and unimaginatively, as seditious communists. 

No doubt, leftism – not necessarily sedition or communism – is thriving, as only it should in an authoritarian environment. And the more it is suppressed the more it will thrive. Indeed, where authoritarianism has hijacked the entire right of the political spectrum the only decent position to take is to the left of it. –