If there is one distinct characteristic that the Duterte presidency will be remembered for in the years to come, that will be its relentless use of exploiting public resentment, and the dubious feat of building on that base of misdirected bitterness a political eco-system that is feral and opportunistic.
Take it from former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, as she succinctly described the ethos of the Duterte administration in her recent speech before a group of lawmakers. It would be a fatal error not to monitor the former president whose statements and moves, although made under the radar of a slumbering local media, merit careful analysis if not thorough interpretation by us lesser mortals.
To quote the reported remarks of the former president—who I sometimes think makes Lady Macbeth look like a hapless Disney princess—“Most of all, I thank you that when you became President, you provided the atmosphere in which the Court had the freedom to acquit me of the trumped up charges of my successor and your predecessor, so that the Court voted 11-4 in my favor, including half of those who were appointed by my successor.”
Those words are gold. It is a statement brimming not only with the ultimate acrimony of a rancorous president, but one that also reflects the sordid environment that allows the Philippine political culture of cynical sycophancy not only to thrive but also undermine respected institutions. GMA’s words confirm that she is, to use social media lingo, the backdoor “influencer,” the Kim Kardashian in an uncouth body politic where a subtle booty move prompts the minions to frenzied action.
Those words triggered the Supreme Court to issue a statement. Not a surprising move, despite the Supreme Court’s penchant for silence, considering La Gloria portrayed the High Tribunal in the harshest light. Her talons were out as she dished out a saber-sharp word that practically accuses the Supreme Court in the years of the Aquino administration as nothing but a bunch of magistrates held under the ransom of political patronage. The court statement although brief was laden with a hint of defensiveness; no matter, La Gloria’s words, not necessarily factual, were intended as banners or political headlines that can cut two ways.
And that double-edge saber-throwing is fodder for political commentary. Not only are her statements illogical it also mocks the checkered evolution of Philippine jurisprudence. But first, if we set that dimension of Philippine jurisprudence aside, and instead focus our sights on the verbal repartee that La Gloria is capable of, we can have a glimpse of the partisan clutter that threatens to drag all of us behind a Smokey Mountain of political retardation.
“Atmosphere” is a key word in La Gloria’s penultimate insult to the high court. Let us dissect her words in literal terms. ‘Atmosphere’ originates from the mid-17th century, from the modern Latin atmosphaera, which in turn was derived from the Greek atmos or ‘vapor’ plus ‘sphaira‘ (which literally translates to ‘ball or globe”).
The word ‘vapor’ is ironically apt when describing the Duterte administration as it is the major force in our country that creates a miasma of fears, anxieties and recriminations. From Day 1 of his presidency, Duterte was deeply engrossed in foisting his vision of the country that is veering off-track, and thus in need of a strongman’s hold at any price, including thrashing our newfound and fragile accomplishments in liberal democracy. La Gloria’s description is also spot-on as this an administration that appeals to and disseminates asinine views on the death penalty, drug rehabilitation and political accountability, among other issues that should be examined with more nuance, depth and clarity. Consider the case of Senator Bato whose “Sh*t happens,” response reflects the depths of dismal tunnel-vision.
This miasma of anxieties could be the consummate act of a leader whose power is commensurate to the paranoia of his subjects. La Gloria’s naked claims is also rife with meanings and we can coin several titles for Duterte based on Gloria’s blunt rhetoric, such as, “atmosphere facilitator,” or “atmosphere provider.” For isn’t this role as “atmosphere facilitator” that Duterte revels in, pulling out the punches to goad mindless applause from the crowd? Consider the misogynistic jokes, the fingering of housemaids, the slut-shaming of Delima, you name it, Duterte pulls the trigger even when the prey is a figment of his own dark imagination.
But atmosphere facilitators cannot operate on their own. They need the company and active engagement of atmosphere ‘enhancers,’ and here come the handy services of Mocha, Teddy Locsin, Salvador Panelo, Bong Go and Bato and a long queue of Tatay Digong defenders whose ideas can be contained in the bony folds and reach of a fist bump. They are the howling dogs in Duterte’s peninsular Atmos.
If La Gloria talks about that atmosphere that is conducive to her exoneration, she is unwittingly confirming the atmosphere of the ring-side, the circus arena, where truth is not elucidated but obfuscated and pummeled to a corner by the blunt force of a bruising fist.
In an ironic twist, La Gloria claims Pyrrhic victory as she holds high the 11-4 scorecard, claiming the weight and value of numbers, in the same way that her Camelot from Davao flaunts the survey and poll numbers as justification for his deadly drug campaign.
But what puts the sting on La Gloria’s punch is the suggestion that the High Tribunal is nothing but an adjunct of the atmosphere facilitator that calls the shots from his riverside throne in Malacañang. The Emperor wears no clothes, we all know that. But so is the Empress, standing butt naked.
That statement is more than a slap on the face of the high tribunal; in La Gloria’s parallel world what she said is an affirmation, a foregone conclusion in the minds of our political handlers. That by itself is a radical move, one that forces even the high court to counter, albeit half-heartedly, her forked tongue of hostility, and break its long-held and cherished vow of courtly omerta.
Joel Vega is a Palanca Award-winning poet. He keenly follows Philippine developments from The Netherlands, where he now lives.