Since early last month I have been speaking once or twice a week at forums on the stakes in elections, particularly in the upcoming one. My audiences are voters of various ages and social situations, and my enlistments, although unsolicited and coming at short notice, have such sort of serendipitous appeal I just cannot resist them.
Indeed, I apply myself to these occasions with the alacrity of a desperate repentant; I’ve realized, though only now, and only because the consequences have become too dreadfully plain to be missed, that I’ve defaulted on my basic duty as an elder.
The default may well lie with my entire generation, but a personal sense of guilt gnaws at me. As a newsman, embarrassingly for more than a half-century now, I have been privileged to observe closely and professionally the making of some of the nation’s contemporary history; yet I evidently have failed to do my part in keeping the next generation informed enough to be fairly warned.
Crime of omission
The grievousness of this crime of omission cannot be overstated; the rise of a Rodrigo Duterte and a Ferdinand Marcos Jr. should be evidence enough. Duterte and Marcos personify—with perverse pride yet in Duterte’s case—the triumph not only of unreason but of sick-mindedness, not only of bad taste and incivility but of indecency and inhumanity.
Marcos is getting neutralized, and the trend seems proceeding toward his defeat as secrets continue to be exposed, and lies set right, about his father’s reign of torture, murder and plunder. But, even more hopefully, a breath of fresh, healthy air blows across the electoral landscape.
Coming to the vice-presidential race a comparative unknown, Leni Robredo has proved herself the real deal; with a solid track record and an unassailable character, she has needed only to be introduced. Starting unrated, she has caught up with front-runner Marcos in less than six months.
Duterte is comparable with Robredo, but only in the most offensive sense. He is new air, too, but air neither fresh nor healthy; he is, rather, a storm gusting hot and mephitic wind.
He has turned virtue on its head. He speaks in the foulest language, habitually debasing mothers in it. As for women in general, scarcely do they strike him, except as objects of his lechery. Justice, he dispenses outside the law, death-squad-fashion, and diplomacy, he conducts belligerently. About business, finance and economics, he comes across incoherently, to say the least. (And if his latest audience, the Makati Business Club, hasn’t quite realized that, it must be itself in a not-quite-wholesome sort of business or mentality.)
Still, Duterte leads the presidential race. Lately, he has been accused of keeping a hefty and smelly secret bank account, but he won’t talk about it. Like his rival Jejomar Binay, he shrugs off the accusation as “garbage.”
But never mind beating Binay; his own far larger and impurer bank account requires little proving. Never mind beating Grace Poe, either; she once chucked her Filipino citizenship and lied in a public document. (Indeed, the Supreme Court has declared the lie innocent; but, even for the Supreme Court, that’s a tough sell. Poe herself knew—without malice aforethought?—that she stood to gain out of her own lie, and stood to gain big—no less than a shot at the presidency).
But beating Mar Roxas would seem curious—curious, that is, in the normal context. Not only is Roxas the anointed heir to the respectable, progressive, reformist leadership of Noynoy Aquino, he is the only presidential candidate to emerge free of any taint of character.
To be sure, he is no breath of fresh air like Leni Robredo, and he’s up against not a Marcos, an old, foul breath blowing back, but a Rodrigo Duterte, whose appeal would itself seem fresh, if odd, and precisely lies in his distasteful, dictatorial deportment.
He inspires two types of voters. One comprises those who have languished for so long in deep poverty they are easily taken with false messiahs preaching shortcuts to redemption. The other is the more frightening type, and it cuts across class lines.
It has two subtypes. One collects those who identify with Duterte and whose aberrations are provoked by him as an idol; the other comprises well-heeled, schooled—but not necessarily educated—outwardly proper citizens who have flourished in the feudalist culture of patronage and see in Duterte the ultimate patron they can play: he does not cross the likes of them; they can handle him.
If a Duterte presidency does not yet scare you, you must be truly foolhardy or downright sick or both.