The Manila Times : In order to win, the political opposition should learn how to listen

23 September 2021

By Antonio Contreras | The Manila Times

THE real reason for the uber-negative trashing that Toni Gonzaga has gotten for interviewing former senator Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. from what can easily be surmised as the anti-Marcos, and more likely also anti-Duterte crowd, goes beyond hatred of the Marcos narrative.

It is an understandable expression of intense fear. These people are afraid of the possibility that Bongbong Marcos would run for president - and may just win, more so if he coalesces with the Duterte political dynasty, which is also a likely possibility.

For them, Marcos is the monster that needs to be cut down, free speech be damned.

And the proof of this is the manner by which these people who project themselves as liberal crusaders for rights engage in a paroxysmal peroration of rationalizations on why certain kinds of speech are to be banned, more so if they do not fit their convenient narratives. They remain holier than thou, sanctimonious guardians of morals and of untainted history.

When confronted by the fact that Kris Aquino also interviewed Marcos in the past, either they ignore it or belatedly hate Kris for doing so if only to project some kind of fairness after the fact. Some even dismiss those who raise the Aquino interview for engaging in gaslighting and "whataboutism." But worse is when they engage in verbal calisthenics, rationalizing the Aquino interview as better handled, thereby aggravating the patent bias that there are certain kinds of speech and acts that are acceptable to them, more so if these are performed by people who are safe when it comes to their interests.

This is the travesty that I openly rebel against. It is not just the failure to live up to the tenets of free speech, but the assignment of values to people and narratives that are worthy of being allowed, and those that are to be silenced, banned and canceled.

But the more vexing implication of this to our politics that really bothers me, as one who tries to grapple with the challenge of imagining a better Philippines which we can bequeath to the generation of my grandson, is that this is symptomatic of a malaise that will prevent us from healing ourselves and finding a better leader we deserve who can actually win. We are so frustrated with the kind of divisive leaders that we get, but we continue to engage in divisive rhetoric. We lament the fact that we reap irrational, flawed and sometimes unhinged leaders, and yet we easily fall for the irrational in our political behavior.

Democracy, particularly of the deliberative kind, is possible only when there is a dialogue. Otherwise, when people bury their heads like ostriches in the sand of deep divisions and hurt, the political landscape will remain polarized, and the current political configurations will be reinforced where the majority, no matter how wrong and unpalatable their views and choices, will remain to have the upper hand.

Politics may have become more complex and nuanced, but as long as we continue to rely on the power of our votes to determine our future, it will always remain to be a game of numbers we have to win. The best way to heal the wounds of toxic divisions and polarization is to move toward a middle ground, and to appeal to the tempering element of a compromise. This would require a convergence and conversion of people from both sides of the political divide willing to listen to each other in dialogue and negotiate.

The political opposition has demonized the word compromise and stood fast on their adherence to their pure narratives. Their litmus test has always been martial law and the Marcoses, like a non-negotiable line that you cannot cross, lest you be tarred and feathered as a historical revisionist, an enabler of dictators, a Toni Gonzaga worthy of being canceled. Any attempt to provide a fresh look at martial law, to provide the Marcos narrative a different reading or a Marcos an interview, is a sure way to trigger deep-seated intense reactions from a group that for all intents and purposes has become a minority.

Honestly, this is not a winning proposition if we want to work for a winnable middle ground that goes beyond the polarization between the diehard Duterte supporters on the one hand and the yellows on the other.

Most certainly, this kind of mindset is inconsistent with the current realities of Philippine society, one that is ideologically mixed. What we learn, using the results of the DigiVoice's 3rd quarter survey, which we will soon release to the public, is an electorate the majority of which favor the death penalty, the war on drugs and the anti-terrorism law but also value the rights of a free and independent media, uphold human rights, and support the idea that communists are not terrorists and should be allowed to openly contest elections. A majority oppose legalization of same-sex marriage and abortion but support the legalization of divorce.

China is mistrusted by a majority that is also not happy with the state of our politics, the economya and the way the Duterte government has handled the Covid-19 pandemic. While a majority consider their lives worse off this year than last year, Filipinos are still an optimistic lot, with a significant majority looking forward to a better next year and are hopeful about the future of the country.

We have a people who are not members of any political party, and only a third would vote for a straight ticket. And a majority support vaccinations and the ongoing investigations related to Pharmally.

This is a political landscape that is complex and mixed. It demands a middle ground. And if members of the political opposition want to capture that middle ground, they cannot afford to continue to bury their heads in the sands of historical purity and moral superiority. They have to learn how to listen to the people.