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Monday, June 24, 2019
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Abellanosa: Presidential informalities and acting

Fringes and frontiers

TATAY Digong has once again spewed unpresidential remarks when he called the Commission on Audit (COA) a “son of a b***h” and then asked what if COA personnel be kidnapped or have them tortured. This time, however, the people knew what Malacanang’s infallible explanation would be: it was just a joke.

The President’s doublespeak is not new. Even before day one of his presidency, Digong’s inconsistency has been as clear as the summer sun. Thus it is high time to unveil the truth that the President “does intend” to speak in confusing language. It’s not about his incapacity to think soundly or articulate ideas clearly. It is more of a deliberate strategy to make people lost and divided.

Such a style is old: unite people in their hate but divide them in confusion and disagreement. Where things are not understandable, people are lost. And when people are lost, nothing binds them as a community or as a nation. Truth to tell, Digong is the only winner whenever people continue to argue with each other. Focused and fixated on matters that are either unnecessary or trivial the public is distracted from focusing on the essentials of politics. Public opinion has not even scratched the surface of the more serious questions in the realm of foreign policy and the country’s economic direction.

But the essential question, however, is “why?” Why in the very first place is this kind of loose talk still acceptable for many people to the point of justifying what is obviously “informal?” The question indeed does not have an answer up to now. Still it is a mystery. It is more mysterious than the Blessed Trinity, in fact, why loyal supporters and blind trolls are deluded to just say “amen” to everything that their Tatay says.

It appears to me that Digong knows very well the importance of speaking without formalities. And he knows for a fact who Filipinos are and what they lack. He is the quintessential representation of everything abhorrent with Filipino culture. On the one hand, it is a culture of hospitality, respect, and religiosity. Unfortunately, it is also a culture of contradictions, confusion, and lack of appreciation and to a certain extent respect for formal rules and legal markers on the other.

Let’s admit it, ours is a country that has instituted and established formal institutions not by choice but by chance. Credit all the formal structures to our erstwhile colonial masters. This is not to say that pre-colonial culture was not without system, but it was not the system of the “polis” as conceived in Western and more particularly modern terms. It was a system of the “oikos,” i.e. the household. Rules in the domestic sphere are not democratic in nature, and are not designed in the spirit of liberal democracy.

The Visayan speaking regions have a term for this: “inato” (ours–ours), that is things are transacted on the basis of personal, friendly, and familial relations such that familiarity and not formality is the norm. This is even common in workplaces where policies are disregarded or set aside on the pretext that they are cold and lacking in human touch. For example, people would rather be told verbally rather than in writing. Thus, whenever their attention would be called, they would wish or prefer that it be done not in technical and transactional but rather friendly and personal terms.

Tatay Digong presents himself as the very mascot of “inato politics,” that is a “hoy-hoy” or “tayo-tayo” approach in every aspect of social transaction. When he speaks he sets aside his script, projecting that he is not just outside but rather above formalities.

Sadly, a president who goes against formalities is one who goes against his very reason for being. He betrays his office. For a good president either lives strictly within the confines of the formalities of politics and plays its rules so well or he may live a life that transcends all rules to the point of radicalizing the presidency and thus redeem politics in the most ideal sense of the term.

Between the realism of formal politics and the idealism of a radicalized servant-leadership is “acting” which I suspect is where Tatay Digong is located.


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