Ours is not a democratic utopia; ours is an evolving democracy defined by our history and our sense of self. We cannot be defined by others for the collective authorship is not theirs to make. We cannot be framed by misinformation because by doing so, they change our shared vision. It is our shared responsibility to stand against the lies and the half-truths as it is also our responsibility to acknowledge the missed opportunities, moving forward.
Note: This column originally appeared in The Manila Times on October 1, 2019.
By September 2020, the political cauldron will be heating up. It takes 18 months to prepare a candidate for a national race, and 2022 is a presidential election year. We are 29 months away from May 2022, and we are nowhere in terms of closure on an election system that will be on deck for that election cycle: Do we do another Smartmatic-led election or a hybrid one? If the latter, which hybrid system is still up on air. Neither here nor there.
Postponing the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections seem to be a certainty, but there is no agreement on the date. The Senate wants these in December 2022 while the House of Representatives is for May 2023. We have been postponing elections for barangay, and look where it has got us? A president who commands from the heights to clear road obstructions or else, local government officials will get the exit door. The barangay are no longer accountable because they get their terms extended and some are becoming entrenched that they don’t care about doing their work. When the lowest political subdivisions of the country are lazy and unwieldy, local governance suffer.
Then the 2020 budget is again loaded with an unbelievable increase in “pork barrel” allocations in the guise of legislative research and increased deputies. There is also the increase of intelligence and confidential fund of the Office of the President. Quite daunting, what with the felt cut in education and health. There is money for legislators but no money for the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development (Republic Act 11201) and two other departments are pending in Congress — the Department of Disaster Resilience and the Department of OFWs. As the economic team shot down federalism, so are they shooting down additional departments.
And the attacks against the Philippines internationally has not relented. Still, those in charge of communicating the gains and developments have not been effective in sending these out. We are losing in the global stage even when there are gains due to the Duterte government. We have been framed, from our war against illegal drugs to having the worst traffic jams in this part of the world to unabated greed and corruption and a politics that’s is too extractive for our own good. There is also the burning issue of the West Philippine Sea, which is being flamed for obvious propaganda and what others are saying that we are siding too much with China when in fact ours is an independent foreign policy. We are defeated by default because we choose to let go and not engage.
Some say we seem to be floating these days, with the President appearing tired and gaunt after almost four years in office. His federalism is no longer a centerpiece, and some of his infrastructure projects are delayed. Still, these temporary delays are nothing compared to the policies, programs and activities his administration has done. But communicating the gains has been quite problematic because there seems to be a paralysis in the agency tasked to do so. Imagine the expansive networks we have but are not mobilized correctly: There are 10 million Filipinos outside the country; there are public information officers in every local government office as well as national government agencies; and the government has the last mile covered with Radyo ng Bayan, a TV station, the Philippine News Agency, Philippine Broadcast Service and the Philippine Information Agency. Why is the government line muted? That it takes a ragtag team of online warriors doing the defense and offense?
Very recently, a “United Nations official urged the Philippine government to fight back the ‘false information’ spread by critics after the country earned praises for its accomplishments in socioeconomic development and other human rights fronts.” UN Special Rapporteur on the right to development Saad Alfarargi of Egypt has reportedly said the Philippines could share its “best practices” and participate in international forums to project its “right image.” The UN rights expert made the statement on the sidelines of the 42nd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, Switzerland.
Alfarargi lauded the socioeconomic achievements in the Philippines that uplift the dignity of Filipinos, even as he emphasized that “development is a ‘pivot’ in human rights promotion, protection, and fulfillment by the State,” Undersecretary Severo Catura of the Presidential Human Rights Committee Secretariat said in a statement: “He (Alfarargi) encouraged the Philippines to work hard in refuting the false news being perpetuated by rabid critiques as ‘your country has many best practices to share.’ As these fake news are being spread by enemies of the Philippine government, Alfarargi encouraged the Philippines to ‘fight back’ against this false information, and to continue actively participating in international and regional human rights discussions ‘to have the right image that it wants to project.”
So, how do we tie the knot for the Duterte administration? How do we ensure that the legacy is properly documented and made? How can we effectively tell our story and not the narratives being peddled by some out to obliterate the gains achieved by the Duterte administration? How can we win back the image of the nation that has seen better days in the present leadership? In the last few years of the Duterte administration, effort should be made in tying up loose ends and getting gains out in the public view and in the international arena. There are things we can be proud of and there are things that can be made better. We should be able to separate the chaff from the grain and be proud of our achievements and learn from the challenges.
Ours is not a democratic utopia; ours is an evolving democracy defined by our history and our sense of self. We cannot be defined by others for the collective authorship is not theirs to make. We cannot be framed by misinformation because by doing so, they change our shared vision. It is our shared responsibility to stand against the lies and the half-truths as it is also our responsibility to acknowledge the missed opportunities, moving forward. We are Filipinos, the Philippines is our country; let no one tell us who we are and let no one claim they are better than us. The legacy of Duterte is also the legacy of the Filipino people. We sink and swim with him. His success is ours and his failure is shared by all. The remaining months of the Duterte administration are critical to all Filipinos, friend and foe alike. We must stay the course.