It’s 2015 when the circus begins. From one political spectacle to the other, the run for the presidency and vice presidency plays out like a strange reality TV show, complete with insults, eccentric candidates, calls to a duel (yes, really), and a cast of characters who’d probably make a darkly humorous sitcom. This, your cynical mind asks, this is who we’re entrusting the country to?
The outcome seems dismal at best. It’s a game of “pick-your-poison,” a choice between stagnation, corruption, or uncertainty. It’s no longer a question of who is fit to lead the country, but a question of who will inflict the least amount of damage.
It is, admittedly, not the best time to be young — not when an ambiguous future seems afoot; not when you think about all the years ahead of you and how you can possibly survive them. Small problems seem to give way to bigger ones, like some cruel thought exercise: you think about that paper you have to submit, then wonder if your family can still afford tuition the next year. You squeeze yourself into a crowded MRT and imagine yourself going through the same hellish route six years from now. You look at your surroundings as you walk home one night, not feeling the least bit secure in your own hometown.
One person, however, stands out among the motley crew of presidential candidates. For the most part, he is relatively unknown, drowned out by larger names with even larger reputations. It even comes as a surprise when he is considered — Rodrigo Roa Duterte, whose claim to fame is his decades-long stint as Davao City Mayor, located in the less considered island of Mindanao.
Alongside this relative obscurity, he also wields a polarizing reputation — on one hand, he is The Punisher, with dubious ties to EJK vigilantes; on the other, he is The Redeemer, turning Davao City from a criminal hotspot into one of the safest cities in the world. The combination of his “newcomer” status and mixed reactions do little to help people make up their minds on what to think of him, especially when bigger enemies seem to loom on the horizon. Perhaps it is only during his official campaign that the people will decide.
“This startling bluntness leant an edge to even edgier campaign promises, such as rebelling against his own government, dismantling oligarchies, overhauling the educational system, instating federalism, and providing better health and transport services.”
The campaign itself is a wild ride — consisting of one part evasion and another part fire-and-brimstone. Capturing the nation with a prolonged “will he-or-won’t-he” overture, it is perhaps this spectacle that brought about the initial rally of support. It was a waiting period that caused agony, one you could equate to yearning, perhaps revealing a cry from the citizenry that had often been muted: that they were tired of waiting on uncertain futures, that they were tired of the insignificance of what had been done before. That perhaps The Cleanser could bring the Davao City Magic to the rest of the nation.
It was a cry that seemed well received. Contrary to his opponent’s delicadeza tactics, he instead appeared to hold no pretensions — swearing openly and heartily, pulling no legs nor punches. “In three to six months, everything has to stop… corruption, drug abuse, criminality.” “I will ride a jet ski while bringing the Philippine flag (to the Spratlys).” “If you don’t like my style because it sounds dictatorial, then vote for Poe, Binay, Santiago, forget all about me.” “What you see is what you get. This is me.”
This startling bluntness leant an edge to even edgier campaign promises, such as rebelling against his own government, dismantling oligarchies, overhauling the educational system, instating federalism, and providing better health and transport services.
Which doesn’t mean to say he didn’t have his share of mishaps. Take the rape joke about the female missionary, or the exorbitant celebration of his “womanizer” reputation. But all of this we chalked up to human error — after all, he, too, was only a man. It’s almost like the whole campaign had taken on a youthful exuberance, powering through until election time, complete with its mistakes and one-offs.
Detractors still felt uneasy, noting with caution that perhaps his campaign persona might signal what was actually to come. Yet for those in the middle, they reasoned that perhaps it was worth a try. It may be far from perfect, but it is new, it is fresh — and in the eyes of a people waiting for change, this seemed to signal it.
Some months down the line, Rodrigo Duterte was hailed as President, much to the delight of the 16 million who voted for him. Even before the inauguration, his presence was already felt, with the controversial Oplan Rody (Rid the streets Of Drunkards and Youths) put into place. Some had applauded this apparent swing towards national discipline. Others seemed shaken by the dictatorial nature of the operation.
“Perhaps this small discomfort is the price to pay for something revolutionary.”
But perhaps things will get better, went the defenders. Perhaps this small discomfort is the price to pay for something revolutionary.
Then came the first tally of dead bodies. “They fought back,” was the explanation — besides, people die in this country every day; this shouldn’t come as a surprise. But the numbers continued to rise, and so did the doubt: suddenly, innocent people had reportedly lost their lives. Suddenly, all the promises were being tossed around as jokes, and competent women were being barred from their jobs because they spoke out against the administration. Suddenly, instead of dismantling oligarchies, they became more and more institutionalized.
Suddenly — despite claims that crime had gone down — we were left feeling less secure than before. The reasons for instituting the Davao City Miracle nationwide seem far away now, especially as the results seem far from what they should be.
This is not what we wanted.
Because the fact is this: whether you are on one side of the fence or the other when it comes to Duterte, there must have been at least one positive thing to anticipate at the onset of the campaign. Perhaps it was the sense of transparency, or the prospect of a government that would actually act when a national need arose. Perhaps it was the boldness that resembled our own youthful endeavors; maybe that’s what made a slight nod of support permissible.
But to have a situation of this gravity was something no one wanted. We wanted to have safer streets, but without piles of dead bodies in exchange; we wanted honesty, not tactless foulmouthing; we wanted action, but not this sense of utter cluelessness. We wanted a president who could ensure the future of us, those who are to come — not more fodder for our cynicism.
In retrospect, there could’ve been a better way to do this. After all, the wish had already been laid out: be honest with your citizens. Follow the rules. Let commonsensical solutions help patch up the country’s services. But like other administrations, this one also lacked the most important aspect of all — humanity. Without that, even if its other methods worked, this too would be another exercise in national soullessness.
As the year comes to a close, and another year is spent under this new administration, this is our new collective cry: that this is not what we wanted, but perhaps it will give us something we do.