Addict. If the Philippines were a person instead of being a country, that is how we would be this very moment. Not only will we be addicted to drugs and violence, not only to a senseless attraction to power and profit but also in drowning ourselves in pain and poverty. Like any person suffering from addiction, we end up blaming others for our misery, yet we do not take responsibility for our own actions. We point our fingers at everyone for our problems, but we are not willing to embrace the costs that the solution entails. We criticize and complain yet we never listen or want to be corrected. We demand but we never contribute. Like any other addict, we have begun to believe in our own very lies.
Imagine this. A President, elected by sixteen million Filipinos, has started to work tirelessly on crafting those long-awaited solutions to the many problems that beset our society. In his first year in office alone, he worked to provide everyone an equal chance for a better life: free college education, access to affordable and quality healthcare, increased retirement pensions for more than two million SSS retirees, renewed focus on the long-neglected agriculture and MSME sector and finally, a vision to a national infrastructure upgrade. He has instituted a hardline approach against criminality and corruption yet remaining hopeful about peace and dialogue, especially in Mindanao. In Tacloban, for example, it was only during his administration that the relocation of internally displaced persons into permanent resettlement sites was fully carried out—almost four years after Haiyan.
But unfortunately, for some Filipinos, whatever he does never seems good enough. His rough and rugged semantics offend the diplomatic and politically correct. His war against drugs has been vilified, which makes me wonder why the clamor asking the President to stop the anti-drug operations is not as loud as the public condemnation of a multi-billion illegal drug trade that the previous administration appeared to have turned a blind eye on. Isn’t it enough that we have seen how illegal drugs trade has crept into the upper echelons of power for us to want to really want an end to it? Yet we have acted in every way an addict undergoing treatment would—utter resistance. Rehabilitating an addict is never easy. The withdrawal stage can be so painful that the easy way out is to stop the treatment altogether.
There are two other things about addiction that must be understood.
First, the best antidote for addiction is by connecting. People fall into addiction when they fail to connect with themselves and later with others. That is why people continue to stay addicted. The short-term pleasure deadens the pain and misery. The addiction our country is suffering from has become a form of societal escapism. Addiction isolates us from reality. We refuse to change because we no longer believe we can. We have started to use poverty as a reason, as the basis for our entitlement and crime as a consequence of unjust structures. We blame the rich for getting richer and the politicians for being corrupt, when we ourselves fail to make ourselves accountable or to pay the price for our own actions, wanting our lives to be a free ride all the time. We listen to the kind of truth that we want to hear and adjudge our morality by how we see fit. When all hell breaks loose, we blame others—but never our selves.
For our country to move forward, away from this addiction, we need to become even more connected with each other, with history and culture, for everything good that makes us Filipinos. This connectedness is very important because it alone can bring us together in a sense of shared destiny. The rich and the poor; men, women and the LGBTQ, Christians, and Muslims; employers and employees; the Left, the Center and the Right, must all discover this connection that weaves across our many islands, ideologies, cultures, and languages. When we become increasingly aware of this connectedness, we realize the only way forward is to be together. We do not have to agree all the time, we do not even need to like each other all the time. But we must never forget that we are all together in the same boat. So, it cannot be political bickering all the time. We must learn to listen, to understand, not to respond. We must learn to take accountability for our own actions and see our part in building the solutions. We must want the President to succeed. In the end, we cannot remain as a nation waiting for each other to fail.
The second aspect of addiction is that we always under-sell ourselves. We lock ourselves inside a cage of self-limitations, not wanting to break out of it or to see what is outside. Consequently, we limit our dreams and what we expect of ourselves and we never attempt to unleash the possibilities of what we can do together. We think little of ourselves and of what we can do. For an addict, nothing is as comforting than not having to take responsibility for anything. Sadly, in our country, poverty seems to have the same effect. Poverty becomes the ultimate cover-up for our inadequacies, wrapping many of us in negative self-entitlements. Poverty becomes a reason for criminality, ignorance, and violence because everything becomes a matter of survival. Suck in that mentality, we do not even care about the people we elect to public office, so as long as we get what we want, whether that measly hundred pesos in exchange for a vote or a favor is given quid pro quo. Like any other addiction, we end up trapped in this vicious cycle of politics and profit.
I do not agree with President Duterte in all things. I do not agree, for one, with his cursing and cussing. In conscience, I cannot support his stance on death penalty, population control and government-sponsored distribution of contraception. I also hope, he will take affirmative steps in investigating any accountability on the part of the police in relation to the deaths that have happened recently. But if I were asked what are the top reasons why I continue to believe in him, I would give them two. First, I approve of his strong sense of connectedness with the people and our history. No President has talked more about our historical past than Duterte. No President has ever visibly expressed his strong connections with the people and empathized with their daily concerns and worries. Second, his vision of greatness is noteworthy. Here is a President who is not afraid to foray into the complexities of international diplomacy. He knows for certain that s a destiny of greatness awaits our country. That is why we need to believe more in ourselves, inasmuch as President does. Here is a President that, for me, has shown such a sincere love for country, that whether I agree with him or not, I can never question.
With President Duterte at our nation’s helm, there is no other better time for us to free ourselves out of this addiction. It will never be easy. It will not be kind. It will be painful. It will demand much of us. But, in the end, the choice is ours – stay addicted or go free.