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Why Most Writers Denounce Duterte

March 9, 2018

 Krip Yuson in Flora and Fauna at the Met [Photo by Flora BC]

 

I could have used “despise” in the title, but the occasional sobriety that comes with old age and the continuing struggle to play fair, if not to argue fairly, had me opt for the gentler verb. “Decry” could’ve also fit the alliterative bill, but “denounce” has a positivist ring to it, suggesting possible follow-up action.

What do we do with Duterte? We are left with words that expose him for what he is, denounce his apparent depredations on good manners and right conduct. We are many, in fact much more numerous than those who also wield the pen but in defense of him.

 

Unlike some emotional FB users, I haven’t dropped Friends on my list who happen to be on the other side. This way, I still get to read their posts, thus allowing for a reckoning of the generally poor thinking that dictates their choice of idols, their biases and prejudices, and the often irrational way they are caught up on the piteous side of national folly (a stronger word than foolishness).

 

Oh, I understand that FB algorithms ensure that an account gets swamped within an echo chamber of like-minded choir preachers. But as I’ve said, my News Feed still includes the views of people I’ve known for a long time but wouldn’t now be caught having coffee with. Very few, unavoidable exemptions confirm this rule, inclusive of certain individuals I may be collaborating on a project with, and the fewer ones still held dear, in the hope of either a turnaround or eventual comeuppance.

 

I recently counted these FB Friends, and added the names of non-FB friends who signed up for the manifesto defending a Duterte diehard’s controversial award. Full disclosure: I added up only those with notable literary bylines (per my personal judgment).

 

These FB writer-friends plus the non-FB-friends who signed up for that manifesto drafted and passed around by a major poet in Filipino (a friend not only on FB, over whose pro-Duterte stance most other writer-friends and I have long shaken our heads, just a bit sadly) totaled … wait…

 

To this “pro-Duts” list I also added the known “influencers” (incorrectly branded as “trolls” since they’re really troll-feeders), plus a few in regular media, advertising industry hotshots, a couple of photographers and well-known artists, and I came up with my list of “pro-Duts” creatives that total 47.

 

When I toted up the names of my fellow poet-writers and journalists among my FB Friends who are evidently “anti-Duts,” they came up to 146. With other creatives, they number 168.

 

I say “evidently” because these are the writer-friends plus other creatives who have openly expressed antipathy towards Duterte. Heaven knows how many more FB Friends have opted for silence despite their convictions. But then that goes both ways; perhaps a lot of “pro-Duts” Friends also have their reasons for staying discreet.

 

But the numbers of committed communicants (in the archaic sense) have it at 47 against 168 — in a clear reversal of national poll ratings, or close to it. While it’s been impressed upon us that roughly 4 of 5 Filipinos polled are for Duterte (except during that “anti” spike late last year in the wake of Kian’s killing that took it to a rough 70% vs. 30%), my own percentages now have it at 78% against 21%, in disfavor.

 

Since I trust the professionalism of both SWS and Pulse Asia, I will not question the results of their polls. Even the possibility that Duterte’s minions have found a way to tweak those results — similar to how they manage to magnify the number of “hits” their influencers get — isn’t something I'd dare entertain.

 

But what a pleasant realization it is to be assured that my fellow writers and creatives don't abide by the supposed national sentiment. Far apart from gloating in that oft-repeated poet’s quote that writers and artists are the antennae of the race, it’s nice to know that we think and react differently from a national majority whose numbers may in large part rely on untrustworthy variables such as the bandwagon spirit, indifference, apathy, and worst, ignorance.

 

This has little to do with intellectual arrogance, or even elitism. Writers have a sense of their knowledgability and rationality, since we read much on various worlds where truth (even in the literary genre called fiction) is eventually made distinct from falsehood. There’s confidence in the ability to see through deception, red herrings, gambits of prevarication or embellishment, and arrive at the core of what’s real.

 

All that experience of sifting through speculative and mythical narratives, with the rich panoply of characters that can turn devious and villainous, as well as layers of irony, symbolism, metaphor and imagination, grants a pedigreed nose for verity.

 

Top-class creative writers and journalists also share an affinity for guarded optimism, especially when assessing governments and political leaders. Cynicism is built-in like second nature, as much as idealism is held up as the standard by which all “public servants” should strive for.

 

We know our history. That includes the cycles of temporary dominance, of the rise and fall of false gods and heroes. To trust the writer’s and artist’s view of society is to latch on to extrasensory perception of the good, true and beautiful — a far cry from material success such as in collecting shoes.

 

Initially, I had invoked quality over quantity when it came to appreciating national surveys on Duterte. With the percentages turning opposite upon confinement to an elitism of intellect — and here we should also include philosophers, scientists, academicians, students of culture and readers of books — why, hooray, now we have both quantity and quality.

 

And what quality! Whereas the insignificant numbers on my “pro-Duts” list include at best a couple of major poets whose work I admire, and a fiction writer of note, the “anti-Duts” list can only be said to suffer from an “embarrassment of riches.”

 

We can begin with Charlson Ong who authored a novel of that title, and leap from the Chinoy to the Fil-Am, to marvel at the league of superheroes among literary circles. Manhattan alone gives us a Wonder Woman in Ninotchka Rosca, whose patriotic antennae pick up daily, sharply, on the follies back home.

 

We have Luis Francia who frequently revisits Manila, but doesn’t even have to do so to render protest poetry and searing journalism. We have international award-winning novelists Gina Apostol and Miguel Syjuco, both of whose wizened journalism may be said to spell wizards’ gravy. And we have the award-returning poet-novelist-journalist Bino Realuyo (who may have been an ephemeral bully as someone’s Tomasino nemesis). Among true-blue journalists, the venerable Sheila Coronel quickly joined in recent defense of Rappler — quite expected, given her wealth of experience with first-class journalism.

 

In Long Island, NY, we have the poet Fidelito Cortes and the scholar Nerissa Balce, and elsewhere in the East Coast, for sure there are several other significant writers who may not have been as outspoken. (I was careful not to list them down as outright allies).

 

In the West Coast, my “anti-Duts” list is led by scholar-historian Vicente Rafael, with his consistent commentary on the continuing demise of our democracy. The same may be said of Benjamin Pimentel. Elsewhere in the U.S., many more Filipino writers quickly rallied behind Rappler when its voice came under fire, so that it’s turned into a cause that strikes at the very heart of “Dutertismo.” And we’ve long had the truth-telling support of outstanding U.S. publications.

 

Back home, we can start off with Rappler’s own fearsome array of exceptional journalists: Maria Ressa, Glenda Gloria, Chay Hofileña, Marites Danguilan Vitug, Patricia Evangelista, and Pia Ranada. From Vera Files, we have the courageous Ellen Tordesillas. And on her own, Raissa Robles sets intrepid standards for truth-telling.

 

Representing various organizations and publications are the following outstanding journalists and social-media “heavy hitters” against Duterte: Inday Espina-Varona, Sylvia L. Mayuga, Mae Paner, Marian Pastor Roces, Jamela Aisha Alindogan, Gang Badoy, Tina Cuyugan, Asuncion Alopez, Corito Fiel, Mandy Navasero, Ana Santos, Clara Balaguer, Grace Tumang, Ivy Liza Mendoza, Padmapani Perez, blogger Jover Laurio a.k.a. PinoyAkoBlog (PAB), Mags Z. Maglana and Jhoanna Cruz (the last two being strong and steadfast voices in the Davao community).

 

Against these formidable ladies, how can one compare the shallow ranks of false news providers in the Duterte camp?

 

May their bloggers, influencers and troll-masters also lay claim to matching the intellect, rationality, integrity and excellent articulation on social and political issues of PDI’s Randy David, John Nery, Manuel Quezon III and Solita Monsod? Could they cite as their champions The Manila Times’ veteran columnists who peddle fake news? Why, in that conflicted paper alone, the young Rachel A.G. Reyes outdoes them by her lonesome, with the truths she espouses.

 

As far as I know, our four living National Artists for Literature — F. Sionil Jose, Virgilio S. Almario, Bienvenido Lumbera and Cirilo F. Bautista — have expressed themselves in varying but like-minded shades of opposition to Duterte, from disdain to disgust.

 

Among our best poets, playwrights and creative writers who have openly railed against Duterte, some with daily frequency in social media, are Gémino H. Abad, Mila G. Aguilar, Gene Alcantara, Donato Meija Alvarez, Edna Aquino, Dana Batnag, Abdon Balde, Jr., Jun Brioso, Alma Anonas Carpio, F. Jordan Carnice, Ian Rosales Casocot, Mikael de Lara Co, Celine Cristobal, Frank Cimatu, Joel David, Putri Duyung, Elson Elizaga, J. Neil Garcia, Ramil Digal Gulle, Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo, Bonifacio Ilagan, Noelle de Jesus, Doreen Jose, Marne Kilates, Susan Lara, Felipe Mendoza de Leon, Marguerite Alcazaren de Leon, Arvin Mangohig, Dino Manrique, Ed Maranan, Jovi Miroy, Elmer Ordoñez, Jennifer Ortuoste, CP Paderna, Bj A. Patiño, Nicolas Pichay, Floy Quintos, Frank G. Rivera, Alfredo Roces, Joel Pablo Salud, Aida CF Santos, Joel Saracho, Oscar Tantoco Serquina, Angela Velasco Shaw, John Silva, Angelo Suarez, Renz Torres, Vic Torres, Rayboy Pandan Torres, Joel Vega, Rody Vera, Charlie Samuya Veric, Lourd de Veyra and Santiago Villafania. (Alpha-betically, I might have missed out on significant others.)

 

Among this roster’s collective merits may be tallied hundreds of Palanca and other national prizes and distinctions gained, over a hundred books authored let alone edited, and thousands of literature and creative writing students mentored — for a good number of them have also made their mark as professors and scholars, here and abroad, or also served journalism and the advertising, film and entertainment industries.

Throw in other notables among creatives such as National Artist for Painting BenCab, legendary filmmaker Peque Gallaga, artists Pandy Aviado, Ramoncito Cruz, Rock Drilon, Ernie Enrique, Red Mansueto and Dengcoy Miel. Then count in as well various other literati, journalists, academics, and our own set of independent (that is, unpaid) influencers, among these Florin Hilbay, Tony LaViña, Vergel O. Santos, Tonyo Cruz, Jim Paredes, Carlos Celdran, Philip Lustre, Jr., Luis V. Teodoro, Gibbs Cadiz, Spanky Enriquez, Teddy Montelibano, Ding C. Velasco, Ed Lingao, Harvey Keh, Dick Malay, Romano Cortes Jorge, Jonathan Domingo, Bong Banal, Bart Guingona, Nonoy Gallardo, Dwight Gaston, Katrina Stuart Santiago, Nash Tysmans, and the peerless Bernard Ong.

 

Oh, it’s quite a sterling roster all right. And these are only the names that appear on my FB News Feed with regularity, in bringing to light and denouncing the irreparable damage that Duterte continues to inflict on the Filipino psyche, in fact on our very history as a people.

 

No doubt these ranks would swell further if I had more FB Friends among filmmakers, musicians, visual artists and photo-journalists. But it is enough to gladden the heart, this recognition of a community of thinking Filipinos who have not been dazzled nor fazed by the numbers presently in opposition to the ideals we cherish, chief of these decency, rationality, and a passion for the truth.

 

Why are most writers against Duterte? Because to begin with, his rise to power, and continuing stay, are both founded on lies. As has been repeatedly stressed by those who are repelled by his crude verbiage, he has been the primary prevaricator and false news peddler — whom his minions try to match.

 

Then there’s his initial gambit to impress upon everyone that he means business as a populist, authoritarian, and devil-may-care thug: his words on having to kill fellow Filipinos, to the point of prideful slaughter.

Those were words he certainly meant, resulting in thousands slain without compunction, as the Philippine National Police under his chief henchman Gen. “Bato” de la Rosa took those words to heart. Er, heartlessness.

 

No need to argue on whether 3,000 or 4,000 drug users and peddlers, or as many as a reputed 12,000 or so much more, have been slain as blatant examples of extra-judicial killings or EKJ. Whatever the number, anyone with an iota of common sense should believe the accounts told by Rappler’s, ABS-CBN’s, and PDI’s reporters, buttressed as these have been by grim to grisly photo and video documentation by dozens of our best and bravest photo-journalists (plus some foreign ones).

 

Here is where the great divide marks the difference between those on my list of writers who have bewailed all of these needless deaths, and those who call themselves writers but can bilthely turn their heads and hearts away, astray, and dismiss all the reportage — the very truth on EJKs — as either a fable or a practical need without which we cannot ever forge a better society.

 

Yes, those writers who signed the manifesto of support for Duterte vs. Rappler represent the majority whose view of human rights would have them ignore it altogether because they think we need autocratic rule.

For the more numerous writers and artists who do not reflect the present national norm, one unnecessary death alone is a betrayal of the pluperfect concept of human rights.

 

The schism tells us oh-so-painfully how our society has sunk so low in its rational, not emotional, regard for proper governance, the kind we would like the next generations to expect, abide by and fight for.

 

A primary part of the initial deception conducted by Duterte’s well-entrenched army of troll masters and influencers has been the demonization of the so-called “Dilawan” — or whatever remains of the Liberal Party and/or Aquino-philes.

 

Again, it is a simplistic notion that all those who rue Duterte’s misrule are loyal followers of the erstwhile political leaders. The truth is that most writers agree that the previous president blundered away a generally favorable rating owing to the SAF-44 fiasco and his continued defense of his LP stalwarts despite the poor management of the MRT and NAIA terminals, among other questionable matters.

 

But the “Dutertards” continue to insist on dividing the nation into two camps: their own versus the “Dilawan” — an oversimplification that can only serve their own cynical purpose.

 

This tack appears to be cast in stone, so that all those who now support Rappler (even more so given the latest affront to press freedom with regards Pia Ranada’s Palace ban), as well as other dissenters among media, apart from individual libertarians, left-leaning groups, women especially of the Mindanao network, academics and students that are back on protest mode, are said to be part of the “yellow army.” How false that is!

 

A third factor has been Duterte’s unfailing choice of third-raters to prop up his imagined regime inclusive of the supposed “best and brightest.” From his selection of Congress leaders Pimentel and Alvarez to his Justice honchos Aguirre and Calida, favorite top cop “Bato,” spokespersons Panelo and Roque, down to his PCOO ladies leading the “fake-news” brigade, with their assortment of characters that make up the blog/troll/inluencers army of characteristic offensive conduct, plus the journalists known to be on his payroll, the collective image is one of a horde of ill-mannered loyalists only too willing to play dirty. Worse, they all suffer from hubris — the kind that leads to a mean streak.

 

In fairness, it must be said that the only exceptions among Duterte’s choices have been Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana. Previous to the moral turncoat that is Roque, even “anti-Duts” observers found former spokesperson Ernesto Abella decent, creditable and non-divisive.

As far as actual accomplishments are concerned, an impartial observer may credit the President with strong political will that led to PAL paying back millions in arrears, as well as moves to end the telco duopoly (albeit raising questions since it involves his favorite country partner). The grant of tuition-free education to state scholars (even if a budget still has to be found for it) can be counted among these few feats.

 

The paucity of EQ that characterized his predecessor has seen a reversal with Duterte’s populist maneuvers, as he’s spent a lot of time attending wakes and visiting wounded soldiers — ditto his constituency of OFWs who return dead or alive. Ending the “tanim-bala” scheme also proved simple enough. Ten-year validity for passports and five years for drivers’ licenses took just as simple an initiative (albeit both processes are weighed down with delays).

 

But a great number of supposed achievements being trumpeted by his cheering squad typically raise questions of credibility. The “build-build-build” mantra still has to show anything. The MRT mess has gotten worse, some say since it’s designed to grind the blame unjustly on the PNoy admin. And metropolitan traffic woes as well as the urgent matter of building a new airport remain frozen. Ditto rice self-sufficiency vis-à-vis importation.

 

On the downside in a major way, foreign investments went down by 51.8% in 2017, the peso has sunk to over P52 to the US dollar, inflation is at 4.5%, and the TRAIN ride appears to portend more bad news.

Red flags on corruption continue to wave in a steady, miasmic breeze, despite all the “firing” done (with trumpets blaring) with regards several of Duterte’s early appointees, since the same determination seems to exempt others who remain sacrosanct. The largest and reddest flags have been set in perpetual motion by his own incomprehensible “dedma” about signing a bank waiver to end all speculation as to his own and his family’s accounts.

 

And strangest of all, despite the oft-announced hard-fisted policy against drug abuse and distribution, the billion-peso shabu shipment that was alleged to have involved his son and Davao cronies, and the disappearance of all those drugs, never raised a peep out of him.

 

The theory may be advanced that the “slaughter” policy on drug users was the first big lie that won him the presidency, thence continued to mesmerize his supporters. By showing a mailed fist, the promise of an autocracy was delivered, impressing everyone who didn’t mind heinous violations of human rights in their desire to welcome an effective despot. And this despite going against the grain of universal demands for civility and a rational approach in favor of a long-discredited war on drugs.

 

His popularity continues to bank on tricks that helped him win the presidency, chief of which is the use of troll factories that have succeeded in gaming Facebook. And now he leads his irrational adherents in co-opting the “fake news” charge, even as it’s been pointed out that he himself has ever been the primary source of disinformation. And national polarization.

 

His official sub-alterns could do no less than follow his example. They began with the unnecessary demonization of Vice President Leni Robredo (inclusive of all the unfounded fake news about her, starting with a supposed state of pregnancy). They’ve also followed suit apropos his animosity towards strong women: De Lima, Sereno, Morales, Hontiveros, Licuanan, Lewis, Ressa, and now Ranada.

 

He prefers the friendship and allegiance of former president Arroyo and the Marcos family, Persida Acosta and the VACC, and compliant senators like Pacquiao, Sotto, Gordon and Zubiri, among others. Yes, he values their collaboration as against the criticism and humor dispensed by an Agot Isidro, a Mariel de Leon and an Ethel Booba.

 

Another card he plays without remorse is as China fawner, to the point of “joking” about our country possibly becoming a province of the mainland. The joke is just about as gross as his instinctive remark for soldiers to train their guns on female organs so as to incapacitate women. No joke is his preference for loans from his selected country partner, however odious the interest rates involved, nor his latest brainchild on sending our military for training under the big bad bully.

 

Finally, there’s the unremitting drive for ChaCha and Federalism (with or without salted eggs), while the status of a Muslim self-rule law has remained frozen, and the contretemps with the NPA has been on a roller-coaster ride.

 

And so the divide festers. Our country has never been this polarized. Is that to Duterte’s irredeemable credit?

On one hand, his disregard for human life and basic truths, the imagined paranoia regarding a non-existent ”yellow army,” antipathy towards strong women and all detractors, unrelieved whiffs of corruption, the constant pressure brought to bear on everyone seen as a critic or dissenter, everyone standing in the way of his slipshod plans — for dismemberment and/or virtual surrender to China, plus the braggadocio, uncouthness of mouth and ragamuffin poverty of mind, are constantly examined and evaluated by writers, artists, and all other “woke” seekers of truth.

 

And on the other side, there’s the less-informed and/or jaded Pinoy’s yearning for strongman rule.

I am glad and proud to be on the side of those with a better-informed view, who still believe that one unjustified death (out of as many as 20,322 state-sponsored killings per Malacañang’s own records) is enough to condemn Duterte’s misrule.

 

While many of us continue to hope for a sudden cessation of this travesty, it will not happen with an EDSA 3 or 4 or 5. The likely fate as I see it would be an implosion (else the call of poor health or wondrous abduction by extraterrestrials).

 

It’s hard to believe that such a mangy conduct of governance would or should last for all of six years. But even if and when it does, I trust our good/better/best writers to record its infamy for all time, as a blessing of a lesson for future generations.

 

— Krip Yuson

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