Not too long ago, respected journalist Ron Javers pointed out in Singapore during a forum on social media that while “social media has value, it is humans who would ultimately put value into it.”
That forum was 10 years ago when I was the lone Philippine delegate to the prestigious Asia Journalism Fellowship, an experience that profoundly shaped my outlook and redefined my world view.
I mentioned this at the start for two things.
First, in 2012, Facebook was being hailed as a powerful platform that could change governments and topple tyrants, with the then recent so-called democratic victories in Myanmar, the Arab Spring revolts and the Egyptian upheaval being cited as examples of Facebook-aided social movements.
Suddenly, the Information Age that was already dawning that year became less frightening as it appeared to give people real power through a digital platform.
Second, the place itself.
Singapore is a country that defies definitions and stereotypes, challenges assumptions and shatters preconceived notions.
It is a country where people, at least those I have met and talked to – both conservatives and liberals, have gone beyond the discussion of rights absent of responsibilities and civic duties.
In this land with no quakes and storms branded by our then fellowship head, professor and author Cherian George as the “airconditioned nation,” democracy became “Asian-style,” as unique as its national dish, chicken rice.
These two phenomena are worth citing amid recent developments in politics, namely: the BBM-Leni rivalry, and the Benitez-Leonardia battle royale in Bacolod City.
It is worth pointing out that we have reached what Francis Fukuyama once predicted as the “end of history” with the collapse of Communism and the Information Age that has drastically reshaped cultures and world views, giving rise to more complex and complicated problems on top of still unresolved ones like poverty and landlessness in the country.
Amid the evolution of society and along with it global problems, it seems the politic’s attitude i.e. us as a nation is stuck in the post-EDSA 1 context – the Aquino-good-Marcos-bad, we-want-our-rights-back narratives at the national level.
Locally, nothing much has changed.
Platforms and visions seem to be less important than the colors candidates wear.
Identity politics remain to be both king and queen.
“Politics today, however, is defined less by economic or ideological concerns than by questions of identity,” Fukuyama says, an observation that can very well define Philippine politics and the rise of identity-based ones like the LGBT movement, the lingering class-based (still identity-based) movements, and those created by local parties like the pulahan (red) and putian (white) groups.
The “cancel” culture that has grown popular among netizens that I define as children with too much time on their hands who live mostly in the virtual world of Twitter and Facebook, is an example of the “othering” first observed by Fukuyama.
I have to state the obvious: Philippine politics had been stuck in a time warp, in the post EDSA 1 scenario when the Aquinos were being hailed as saviors of democracy while the Marcoses were the evil ones, the family that gutted the country.
It is politics that require an enemy, an “other” that has to be the archetype of evil, an enemy that has to be destroyed, a type of politics that rests on the arrogance of self-proclaimed purity and moral superiority.
Basically a winner-take-all approach that screams: “we are good, they are evil.”
The Internet has amplified this false dichotomy through trolls who create a false sense of public opinion and alternative history.
Plainly put: elections remain to be seasonal, virtual reality episodes that punctuate the reality of our lives with most of us not bothering to take stock if the reality politicians create is what’s really in our best interest as a nation.
For instance: the Aquino versus Marcos narrative continues to this day. Are we better off taking the polar opposites?
Is it in our best interest to think that only one side is good and the other plainly evil?
Or is it time for us to realize that we were being played all along over more than 30 years and that the iniquity of the fathers should not be borne by the sons (Noynoy or BBM)?
The COVID pandemic should have jolted us into the new reality that true inclusivity is basically us surviving challenges as citizens, as a nation.
We are now two years into the pandemic and the initial quarantines have shown us that we could unite (remember scenes of overflowing food for frontliners at checkpoints).
The past two years have also shown us that the national pastime remains to be politics and that we remain to enjoy bashing each other’s brains out on a new platform that has suddenly and seemingly given everyone a false sense of power in a country that has the fifth highest number of Facebook users globally, according to Statista.
With the 90-day period for national positions now in full swing since 8 February and the local campaign set to start on 25 March, it remains to be seen if we can, as a nation and as a people, finally have a shared identity and a common vision to lift ourselves out of the economic doldrums, with 16 out of 100 Filipinos remaining poor, according to a study by the Asian Development Bank as of 2018.
Or a shared sense of history and political maturity that goes beyond surnames, colors, and the still present scourge of patronage politics.
As it stands, the discourse is dominated by fault-finding, nitpicking, atomized analyses and memes.
Thirty-six years after democracy was supposedly restored in the Philippines, we confuse it with rambunctiousness and, every now and then, mob rule.