Shaking the tree

By: Radel Paredes July 14,2018 - 09:17 PM


After President Rodrigo Duterte drew public outrage over his recent comment about what he perceived to be the “stupidity” of God, he immediately tried to justify it by saying that he was merely “shaking the tree” to bring the people out of the doldrums.

He said he was deliberately using “rude” language as he was “trying to go to the boundaries” of what is “possible.”

His spokesman Harry Roque later defended the President that he was entitled to his own opinion and that he was merely exercising his right to expression.

Of course, we can question Duterte’s sense of propriety and timing given that, being the President, he is supposed to be a unifying figure, a symbol of what this nation upholds as core values.

It was for this reason that, like other presidents before him, he was sworn into the position by pledging to uphold the Constitution at all times, invoking God’s help as he made that promise to the Filipino people, putting his hand symbolically on the bible.

At the same time, we have to recognize that Durterte was right to a certain extent. Indeed, sometimes society has to be shaken from its intellectual slumber.

Criticism of even our most basic values is important to get people into rethinking them, to get them out of the boredom and comfort of blind belief.

That is mainly the role of art in society: it is both uplifting and disturbing at the same time.

Art can be transgressive.

It may use imagery that may violate our notions of decency if only to disrupt us from our indifference and lead us into what philosophers call the “revaluation of values.” Our values and beliefs need to be constantly reassessed.

That is just part of our collective pursuit of truth.

Exercising similar right to free expression, a group of people raised controversy after they hung red tarpaulins that proclaimed “Welcome to the Philippines, Province of China” from different footbridges above motor traffic in different parts of Metro Manila last Thursday to commemorate the second anniversary of the Hague’s ruling which favored the Philippines on her arbitration case against China on the latter’s claims to the West Philippine Sea.

Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque blamed enemies of government for the “absurd” act and advised them to try a “better gimmick” next time.

The authorities are now investigating who are behind this acts and vowed to arrest them on grounds that they have violated city ordinances on littering and unauthorized postings.

This is not, of course, the first time that political banners were hung on footbridges over roads in Metro Manila.

Even Duterte’s supporters had done it many times before.

It seems that the government was running out of excuses to go after these people, whom Roque calls “foolish” and “unpatriotic.”

In fact, it is clear that the banners used irony only to call attention to how China has seized our territories, installing guns and other military facilities on our islands in the West Philippine Sea, and continued to do extort on our fishermen.

China’s encroachments happen because Duterte have refused to use the decision on the arbitration case to push our claims and to protest these aggressions.

And as if to add insult to injury, Duterte have twice allowed China’s warplanes to land in Davao City.

He has taken the path that already led some African, Latin American, and Southeast Asian countries to the death trap with China, by asking huge loans to fund his massive infrastructure program.

So those red tarps remind us of where this country is heading: total Chinese domination to be facilitated by the Duterte administration.

The people who put them up dared to risk violating simple ordinances for the greater duty of making Filipinos aware of how we are not only losing our territories and marine resources in the West Philippine Sea, we are also falling into China’s deceptive use of “soft power” to influence and eventually exercise control over our own government.

Those behind them were merely repeating Duterte, who himself was first to suggest that we might as well be a province of China.

They were shaking the tree to bring us out of the doldrums and to test the limits of this administration’s tolerance to dissent and freedom of expression.

It was transgressive and provocative as it leads the country to ponder on an even worse stupidity, that of a mere mortal who thinks he is God.

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