Are you better off now than in 2016?

Published November 27, 2021, 12:05 AM

by Tonyo Cruz


Tonyo Cruz

The title of this commentary could perhaps be one of the opposition’s most stinging and truth-seeking conversation-starters as we march towards the election.

It is a question that waits to be answered by workers who despite repeated claims of economic growth or recovery have been denied regularization, wage increases, and social protection. Those who lost their jobs due to the pandemic would also be eager to answer this.

Farmers and fisherfolk too have a lot to say about this question. They include the rice farmers reeling from the double-whammy of rice tarrification and the rice cartel, or the vegetable producers forced to destroy their produce, or the fisherfolk driven away by the administration’s favorite country.

We also have to listen to the answers of families orphaned or decimated by the “war on drugs,” and the families of activists, advocates, peace negotiators, journalists and lawyers.

This conversation would not be easy both for the administration and the opposition. Because contrary to conventional wisdom, there’s logic whenever Filipinos answer political questions. Yes, they will pass judgment on the administration. But they will also have tough questions to the opposition.

Of course, apologists of the administration could be expected to hide behind COVID-19 and to use the pandemic as a convenient excuse to explain away the situation for the past 20 months. But, alas, the public now has that right and duty to assess and judge the administration’s pandemic response per se. The administration simply cannot run away from the perception of brutality, resistance to science, corruption and incompetence since March 2020.

On the issue of the administration’s claims to competence or to its options amid the pandemic, I think we could safely say that the public feels underwhelmed and underserved, to say the least. This cannot be erased by the daily Laging Handa and other briefings that aimed to drown out acts of ineptitude and corruption that marked the pandemic response.

Our people are aware that most other countries performed better and were more creative in saving the working-class and the middle class. Or that most countries considered the pandemic a public health emergency, and not a peace and order problem or an opportunity for corruption.

Would the public’s traumatic experience under Duterte, whether from 2016 or from 2020, be enough for a majority or plurality to shift their allegiance to the opposition is an altogether different matter. The opposition must do everything in its power to persuade the population to withdraw support for Duterte and opt for change.

Exactly how this could happen may be determined by the opposition’s readiness to spark conversations with the people, the package of reforms it offers, and ultimately the level of the public’s trust on them.

2021 is 35 years after EDSA and nearly 50 years after martial law. The broad opposition must also come out with a better and fuller explanation on what has happened since. I mean, it is easy to understand why a Marcos restoration and a Duterte perpetuation should be stopped. But the opposition must say and do more to regain and win the trust of the people. The frustrations and disenchantments with all post-EDSA regimes, the traditional politicians, political dynasties, neoliberal economics and militarist measures provide a social and political basis for Marcos and Duterte.

Both the anti-Marcos and anti-Duterte viewpoints that rouse the middle-class and upper class have so far failed to attract the working class and the farmers. The argument of insult, the power of public shaming, or the effects of disinformation fail to adequately explain why many of the poor seem to continue to repose their trust on the progeny of Marcos and Duterte.

Vice President Leni Robredo appears to be in a position to surmount this seemingly impossible situation. Leaping ahead of listening tours and conversations with our people, it is only fair to say that people are waiting to be impressed by a commitment to radical changes in the political, economic, social and cultural system. Perhaps if she considers as her own the problems of workers and farmers, and takes on those who oppress and exploit them, a higher level of trust could be gained.

Taking that standpoint, making that commitment and renouncing politics-as-usual would be a game-changer. That would make the choice no less stark than it should be.