A SOJOURNER’S VIEW: State of the Nation’s 82%

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 24 July) — “Pulse Asia Research’s June 2017 Ulat ng Bayan survey, conducted from June 24 to 29, showed the Chief Executive is enjoying a majority approval score for his performance, pegged at 82% nationwide – a 4-percentage-point rise from his 78% rating in the March 2017 survey.” Such was the headline news in most reports out of mass/social media just recently.

Eighty two per cent despite the debacle in Marawi City resulting in 565 deaths (420 militants, 45 civilians and 100 military/police), 522,777 internally displaced persons as of July 16, according to the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the martial rule in Mindanao and its extension (possibly…even nation-ide soon?), the indicators of poverty and inequality still at record high, the horrendous killings of more than 10,000 victims of EJKs (extrajudicial killings),  the endless sufferings of urbanites owing to the worsening traffic situation especially in Metro Manila, the surrender of our sovereignty of the Spratly Islands for the sake of investments which many experts say will go towards increasing foreign debt, the diminishing value of the peso vis-à-vis the dollar, corruption in the high places of State bureaucracy and the PNP (Philippine National Police), his sexist-misogynist and coarse language… and the list just goes on and on?

And just now the news:  “In lopsided vote, 261 lawmakers say Yes to the extension of martial law in Mindanao until the end of the year.” The great majority of those in Congress are in cahoots with the 82% of our population who continue approve PRRD’s (President Rodrigo Roa Duterte) running the country.  So only the remaining 18% disapprove or have no opinion. (In an interesting interplay of numbers,  the No votes came from 18 legislators — four Senators and 14 Representatives).

So – if rationality still matters in this beleaguered Republic – how can one explain this intriguing phenomenon? Or is there no logic in all these?  Is it possible to mobilize theories and tools of the social sciences to help those who are scratching their heads wondering: from EDSA 1986, how have we as a people shifted once more to supporting a rising authoritarian rule where a one-man rule is being supported more and more by all other powerful socio-eco-political institutions?

Listen to Senator Manny Pacquio – boxing legend turned legislator turned “Christian preacher” – who voted in favor of PRRD’s push for the extension of martial rule: “it’s the right time to give support to the government to exercise authority and power to discipline people…In the Bible, it says let everyone subject to the governing authority…The authorities that exist have been established by God, consequently whoever rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves,”


A year ago, immediately after PRRD was inaugurated, the eminent anthropologist Pons Benagen (delegate to the 1987 Constitutional Convention) exhorted his colleagues to set up an online Paaralan ng Bayan in order for anthropologists to provide explanations as to his rise in power. Now, a year later, there is need to supply answers to the question: why has PRRD remained very popular among Filipinos, including the nation’s elite and intellectuals?

As it developed, there has been no wanting of theories offered by a whole range of public-opinion makers, newspaper columnists and intellectuals appropriating theories from a whole range of social sciences and not just anthropology.  From Randy to Rina David, from top university academicians to radio commentators on both sides of the fence, many have attempted to put forward their explanations,

And just recently an esteemed historian, Vincent Rafael (author of Contracting Colonialism and Motherless Tongues) offered his own analysis which he posted on his Facebook wall.  On why we as a people do not object to EJKs: “It is the logic of scapegoating, one that has become the substance of daytime shows like ‘Eat Bulaga,’ for example, and lies at the core of Duterte’s political speeches. Blaming the victim, scapegoating also exalts the force that puts an end to its life and offers its corpse as the assurance of safety and protection. But it is also about generating fear for one’s safety that then drives one to look for protection in the murderous acts of authority. Conjuring a state of emergency, authorities capitalize on uncertainty and offer drug addicts and other criminals as the source (rather than the symptoms), and their summary execution a cure to such ills.”

On why there is a strong support of martial law declaration and now its extension: “The cultural logic of Martial Law is woven into the very fabric of social institutions. When malls are heavily policed, when armed security guards are everywhere found, every corner equipped with CCTVs, when schools search their students…’”martial law’ is less a legal state than a state of mind deeply ingrained in even the most liberal of Filipinos who prefer hierarchy and authority as the guarantors of safety above democracy. A compliant citizenry, as against a self-assertive one.”

So what else can be offered so we get to the right answers? Ethnographic studies have shown that our pre-conquest indigenous communities needed strong, decisive and courageous leaders who feared no one and can face up to their enemies.  When they appear in the scene, the people support them and will offer their lives in following their lead. Meanwhile mythical heroes from Agyu of Tuwaang of the Bagobo-Tagabawa to Agyu of the Arumanen Manobo were celebrated in orally transmitted epics narrating how they vanquished their enemies – in ways that were gruesome but considered heroic, while performing magical acts to redeem their people.  Such archetypes continued to appear at our various historical junctures: the legends of the messianic figures like Papa Isio and Hermano Pule, up to contemporary era as echoed in the films of Fernando Poe Jr., and yes, even Manny Pacquio’s epic boxing fights!

The late dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, envisioned to be this kind of leader but fell short of the masses’ expectations. He died in ignominy in exile; however, the political dynasty he left behind spends a fortune with a revisionist history that trumpets “the golden years of martial rule.”

Out of this mold arose PRRD and alas, many factors have also arisen to favor his rise to this mythical level. How he has been packaged in the image of a non-nonsense leader who is fearless, his tough guy swagger, anti-US rhetoric, army of trolls in social media, mass base support (with the OFWs worldwide mobilized in his favor), the Rafael notion of scapegoating as drug addiction is every family’s nightmare, the rise of the feared face of global terrorism –the ISIS (now the bogey to be feared, driving people to cow in terror) – all these and more could all add up to the Pinoys’ desire to have a leader like PRRD and support him all the way.  Come what may.

Here is Pacquio’s pathetic explanation of his vote on martial law extension: “The country should be grateful for its strong leader…I think it is right time to support government to exercise its authority and power to discipline the people” and “to have order.” In Foucauldian terms, it is discipline and punish, as judged from the “gaze” of the powers-that-be.  But those listening to his speech aired live on TV would have nodded in full agreement of his words. Fear and the desire for order: such powerful forces determining humanity’s movements. And yet, as a Franklin Roosevelt once said, when it comes to fear, “there is nothing to fear but fear itself.”

So, after all, there is a logic behind all these and one should not wonder as to the survey results? Perhaps there are more reasons.  For our more than a hundred years of being a Republic,  the democracy that our founding fathers yearned for – patterned after the American model with a different kind of historical and societal-cultural context and which at the moment is facing its own challenges – may not have been set up on solid grounds. There is the whole myth of a nation-state as bastion of democracy in Third World setting as ours. Following Benedict Anderson’s  notion of an imagined community, we have only imagined that we could be “isang bansa, isang diwa, isang wika”.

But how could we with the persistence of regionalism (mother tongues do make a lot of difference in uniting peoples), the rise and continuing hold of political dynasties over local politics making corruption a done deal, weak political parties where people shift membership according to where the wind blows, an electorate swayed by how patronage and personalities matter more than a clear understanding of the issues involved and a bureaucracy that operates on the kumpadre system and nepotism (in Cebuano – “sa way pabor-pabor kay paryente man!”)?

For all of the German philosopher Jurgen Habermas’ notion of the rise of a public sphere – that allows the privileging of the best argument when interlocutors gather to discourse on various issues – our executive, legislative and judiciary processes have not risen to the heights of a truly democratic, free Republic. Perhaps in the days of Claro Recto, Alejandro Lichauco, Jose Diokno, Lorenzo Taňada, Jovito Salonga – there was a glimpse of that upper echelon of our government, but alas…when one looks at our Congress now, how come those kind of political  figures have not re-appeared?

There is one more angle that needs to be further explored. Why are so many bright intellectuals and dedicated social reformers who resisted all kinds of oppression and championed human rights and civil liberties through the Marcos years until PNoy’s term part of the 82%?

This, of course, includes the radical left who clearly from the election period – until recently when contradictions demand a new perspective of PRRD’s administration – sided with PRRD. Was this all just a tactical move, learning from the major mistake of forsaking Cory Aquino’s campaign in favor of boycotting the elections (which seems to have been one factor leading to the RA-RJ split)?

Among those who embraced the coming to power of PRRD were products of the First Quarter Storm to those participating in the struggles of the martial law babies; they were activists (some even very rabid in their ideological options) who marched the streets, took risks and suffered arrest, torture and imprisonment.  Up till PPRD’s entrance into the political arena, they were consistent in the praxis of their ideological leanings. But where are they now, and they are quite a number? There are those in the Cabinet, in top- or middle-level management of the bureaucracy. Others volunteer to be in all kinds of tasks, part of the army of trolls, taking on tasks without salaries and provide PRRD with a legitimacy that intellectuals help to construct.

So why this shift? A very human explanation, perhaps.  For many decades, these generations have been pushed to the periphery, operating from the margins with little power, influence, resources and fighting the establishment in the long haul.  When there were bursts of success in their mobilizations, new developments arose cutting down on funding, mass support and even energy (as globalization, the rise of the millennial culture and hard facts of life – the reality of aging and illness  –  blunted the drive to resist). Except perhaps for the hard core, many sections of the left felt frustrated, desperate and ready to give up.

Consciously – but perhaps much more unconsciously – PRRD offers a way out of this anomie! New hopes arise as they find themselves closer to the center of power. There can be resources to be accessed “for the sake of the people!” They can share in some of the material and social capital that come with “walking in the corridors of power”; of finally setting foot in Malacaňang. For those in media, of course, there is the promise of covering the President’s travels abroad.

Who can resist the seduction of power, prestige and influence, let alone, the perks?

But what about the 18%? Can we refer to them as a solid mass of critically-minded Pinoys who in biblical terms would serve as “light of the world, salt of the earth” in this era when rationality is shadowed by darkness and people have lost the taste for basic human values as justice, freedom, the rule of law and solidarity with the vulnerable and weak? This percentage however is also fragmented as there are always those who have no opinion and are safe as fence-sitters and those with the negative opinion do not share the same reasons for their stance.

What part of the 18% can really be regarded as having the needed critical mind to be able to withstand bullying and name-calling and have not lost the vision of a truly just and free society? So perhaps, we have reason to despair if among the 18%, there may be only 1% who will remain standing on the true and genuine principles of justice and righteousness? (But then, a question may need to be asked: who can truly articulate such principles not in an abstract manner but somehow so concrete as to attract more adherents despite the blocks along the way?)

So in the end, why the need to have some kind of an explanation why the 82%?

Why the need to explain? Because as history and literature have taught us through centuries — there is a way out of this impasse! For we can then better learn how to resist and sustain the struggle.

For in the end, we take comfort in Cicero’s De Oratore:

Historia vero testis temporum, lux veritatis, vita  memoriae, magistra vitae,
nuntia vetustatisqua voce alia nisi oratoris immortalitati commendatur?

By what other voice, too, that that of the orator, is history,
the witness of time, the light of truth, the light of memory, the directress of life, the herald of antiquity, committed to immortality?

In short: Historia est vitae magistra. History is the teacher of life!

[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar is Academic Dean of the Redemptorists’ St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute (SATMI) in Davao City and a professor of Anthropology at the Ateneo de Davao University. He is author of several books and writes two columns for  MindaNews, one in English (A Sojourner’s Views) and the other in Binisaya (Panaw-Lantaw)