So a lot of people may not be familiar with Philippine politics; Lord knows I’m not either, in spite of my being a born Filipino. But one hot topic right now is “who is going to run for president next year?”
If I’m right (I get my news mainly from passive diffusion, from hearing televisions and radios blaring in the background, or seeing comments on my Facebook feed and clicking on the occasional shared article), there are already three candidates: VP Jejomar Binay, Sen. Grace Poe, and DILG Secretary Mar Roxas. I list them in no particular order of merit, though from what I gather, VP Binay is getting the most flak at the moment, mainly because of charges of corruption that have been levied against him that continue to blacken his reputation.
And there is one political figure, very controversial, whom many wish were also running: Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte. He has already won the hearts of many, on social media and off, because of his iron-fist style of law enforcement. He does not compromise when levying punishment against violators, the most recent example (of which I am aware) being his forcing a man to swallow a cigarette at gunpoint after said man refused to comply with his city’s ordinance against smoking in public places. It seems he doesn’t care about rattling cages or puncturing stuffed shirts; he acts like a man who has no time or energy to spare for politicking, a man who puts the task of “pleasing everybody” in the “not urgent, not important” quadrant of his personal Eisenhower matrix. Perhaps it’s this same “no time for this shit” thinking that led him to decide not to go after the presidency… at least, not next year.
Of course, many balked at the suggestion that he run for the highest office in the land. A hard-line style of rule comes at a price, and that price is a dubious reputation for disregarding human rights issues. Even international journalists have called him out, dubbing him the “Death Squad Mayor”. The Martial Law years during the Marcos regime are almost thirty years past, and yet they linger in our collective consciousness, bringing haunting images of extrajudicial killings authorized, covered up, and/or ignored by a decidedly anti-people administration. Like scar tissue, it still shows and draws out ugly thoughts whenever we as a nation have to look at ourselves naked in the political mirror.
Still, some of us rub our chins, seriously considering the merits of a leader who leans towards the law. The PNoy administration was ushered in on a platform of “Tuwid na Daan”, one that promised action against corruption. For many, I suppose, the next logical step is an administration that enforces the law without prejudice (whether that can be done in a country where wealth, and therefore access to competent criminal defense, is lacking is the red-hot, I’m-not-gonna-touch-that question).
Why is it easy to get behind a platform of anti-corruption, but not so easy to get behind one of law enforcement? To the cynical, it’s because the former is about the government being accountable, while the latter is about everybody being accountable. To the practical, it’s because the you can’t have effective law enforcement unless you can trust those who enforce the law (anyone who’s been on the wrong side of a traffic violation several times knows that what goes on after you’re pulled over isn’t always by the book. It’s like talking over a tapped phone line; both parties are careful about what is said in case it turns out to be what is heard).
I just watched the film Heneral Luna, a contemporary masterpiece that, in bold, fearless strokes, shows how politics and principle often collide. Set around the turn of the 20th century, the movie depicts how the titular character, Antonio Luna, crusaded against the American troops’ incursion into our country.
In one of the very first scenes, he loudly decries the Philippine government’s action, or lack thereof, when the Americans enter the nation’s capital. Some leaders rationalize and justify the decision behind arguments for economic progress and other political considerations; other minor characters just exhibit ignorance and apathy, acting in their smaller interests such as family, ego, or (in one case) sex. Throughout the film, General Luna’s behavior shows that he will not hesitate to eviscerate (either verbally or literally) those who stand in his way and, by extension, in the way of his ideal of a free and united nation.
Though built on a framework of historical fact, it takes creative liberties in depicting the fight for liberty (as freely admitted in the opening credits), and it’s for the best. It’s a refreshing escape for many of us to see such a character in action. How does one speak his mind so openly? How can one so relentlessly defend his principles by attacking those whose actions and words go against them, without fear of giving offense?
It takes heart.
It takes guts.
It takes balls.
We commend those who can think matter-of-factly, those who can call it as they see it. It’s easy to do that when it’s just a matter of one principle versus another, your ideals against others’. Much harder is the exercise of calling a snake a snake, calling a weakling a weakling, and calling a hypocrite a hypocrite, for that potentially opens you up to attack as well. To be credible in that approach, all you do, all you are, must be in consonance with what you profess to be about, all the time.
Simple to say. But really, in a world of people, pride, and power, not easy to do.