Opinion: Making Sense of Change

The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of this publication.

President Rodrigo Duterte (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

President Rodrigo Duterte (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

It’s not cool to be a thinking person in our home country right now. There is this constant challenge to make sense of what is going on. We have the good and the not so good and then there’s this confounding fascination with change.

When he ran for all the marbles, the Main Man promised change and boy, are we getting it. And what a ride this is turning out to be! Knowing how tough and decisive he is, we were expecting big things to happen, but we were still blindsided by the speed and fury with which it came.

The initial salvo was straightforward and quite welcome. Addressed were some of the daily irritants that people have been griping about for years. The administration ordered speedy frontline services in government offices, launched a one-stop service center for overseas Filipino workers, set up hotlines for emergencies and citizens' complaints, streamlined operations in the airports, and many others still in the blueprint stage.

Just as rapidly, he unleashed his promised war against drug users and pushers. With a ferocity that has never been seen in this islands, law enforcers went on a killing rampage, mowing down everyone suspected of having anything to do with drugs, even some who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It all seemed so natural to the policemen; it seemed like they jumped at the chance of playing violent arcade games in real life! The object of the campaign was laudable, but the method was chilling, to say the least, violating the sensibilities of people who go about their lives peacefully.

The Man went overboard when he started to fulminate on bigger issues. One can only surmise that he is probably not capable of processing his thoughts. He spews out the first thing that comes to his mind, oblivious of the damaging implications, to the consternation of his spokesmen who scramble to modulate the pronouncements and soften the impact. They are often forced to twist the facts; a most trying exercise in damage control.

In the meantime, the killings go on unabated. Our leader is so obsessed with the war against drugs that he seems to have put aside the other evils in society that are as pernicious as the drug menace.

In one of the latest incidents, the Man clearly announced that he wanted the Philippine-US military exercises stopped, and the one scheduled this October was going to be the last. Queried by the media, his foreign affairs secretary vehemently denied that the statement was made. I certainly wouldn’t want to be in his shoes.

Local business leaders have voiced concern over the brash statements and the extrajudicial killings, saying these could negatively affect business sentiment. Their European counterparts cautioned that the same factors would make it difficult to attract new investors to the country.

As if on cue, administration officials chorused that the controversies have no effect on the business climate or investor confidence. Even as the local stock market has been taking a severe beating, and the peso has been plunging, after the slur on the US president and the ensuing offensives against the US and the UN.

Most disturbing is the announced shift from the long-running alliance with the US to new engagements with China and Russia in the areas of trade and military hardware. Political analysts were quick to advise caution. They advised the administration to tread very carefully, given that the Chinese are as shrewd as they come, they are wired to advance only their interests, and we should not be easily swayed by their friendly overtures. Neither does Russia inspire confidence in the trust department.

In the meantime, the killings go on unabated. Our leader is so obsessed with the war against drugs that he seems to have put aside the other evils in society that are as pernicious as the drug menace. The nation is waiting for similar offensives against corruption which continues to infest the bureaucracy and defrauds the government of billions. On the other end of the scale, there is illegal gambling which robs the poor of the little money they have, which should go to food for their starved families.

Throw in illegal recruitment scams that mercilessly victimize a big proportion of our overseas workers, multibillion dollar smuggling (from vehicles and gold from Mindanao to rice and garlic!), the abuse and deception suffered by our lumad brothers, index crimes and environmental abuse, among others.

The last entry would be funny if it were not adverse. The anointed environment honcho is going hammer and tongs against mining companies. It seems to be the only thing that preoccupies her time as she ignores more prevalent environmental problems – from pollution and climate change mitigation to the throwing of garbage in waterways that exacerbate flooding.

Count in the despoiling of our flagship beaches like Boracay and Alona in Bohol, the smuggling of black sand from our coastlines, and the leveling of an entire mountain in Zambales to build China’s artificial islands in disputed waters. That really hurts!

Certainly all that is not enough to turn off the faithful, just as no gaffe or wild rant can deter Trump diehards. And there lies the great divide.

One who is given to thinking, as opposed to simply following the herd, finds it tough to grapple with the way things are going. Change has indeed come, but it brings more questions than answers.

Sure, it’s fine that we now have nonstop premium buses connecting key points in Metro-Manila, but we’d rather see China allowing our poor fishermen to fish in the Panatag Shoal, like they’ve always done, before we jilt our old defense partner for the Asian behemoth.

I like that we have eradicated the infuriating tanim bala swindle, but I’d be feeling great if we were less adversarial so we can win back the respect of nations around the world and maintain our economic stability. We have finally cleared the hump and are only beginning to reap the benefits of continued positive economic growth. Let us build on it; there should be no going back.

Have you ever been in a boat that ran out of fuel in the middle of the sea and is buffeted by the waves? That’s how some of us feel. You feel like there is nothing you can do; the power of the sea is overwhelming. Not unlike the power of the new dispensation that is riding on the populist wave and is capable of doing anything it sees fit. Be it shooting a suspected drug user in cold blood or demolishing a political enemy.

The Man actually started brilliantly, addressing the basic problems and ordering his officials to work harder and with dispatch, setting the tone for no-nonsense governance. We can only hope that he can divert some of his passions back to that track.

Maybe we should not be thinking too much in the meantime. It can be bad for our health.

Manuel “EG” Hizon is a Manila-based communications specialist who has been engaged in development work projects in the areas of health, environment management, and countryside economic growth.

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