91 percent? Not a surprise
President Duterte’s 91-percent approval rating in the latest Pulse Asia survey came as a surprise to many of his critics.
But that this was a surprise to many of them is the surprise. Living in Agusan del Norte, I have surmised from my casual conversations with everyday people caught in this pandemic that “faith” in the President and his administration can only grow stronger. When the ship is sinking, one will cling to the closest piece of debris around, even if that debris happens to be a toilet seat.
In trying to understand Mr. Duterte’s high approval ratings, we must look at how the issues in the past seven months have aided in solidifying patronage for the administration, especially when “awareness” in the Pulse Asia survey was so loosely undefined.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development’s doles and relief goods, while measly, required loyalty and deference to the lowest barangay official up to the President.
Because no one else could untangle its mess but the government, uncovering the corruption in PhilHealth required loyalty to Mr. Duterte, too.
Acquiring the hoped-for vaccine and flattening the curve are tasks only the government can execute and, therefore, also require loyalty to Mr. Duterte’s administration. And so on. Even the obvious exhibitionism in pouring white sand on Manila Bay, which became an effective way to jumpstart talks for reviving tourism in the middle of 325,000-plus cases of COVID-19, required loyalty to Mr. Duterte, because only the government could flatten a mountain in Cebu, grind the dolomite, dump it on a tiny spot along Roxas Boulevard, and then allow crowds to ogle the instant “Manila Bay Sands” in violation of its very own health protocols.
The President’s high approval ratings shouldn’t come as a shock. We have no choice.
But government needs to be reminded that opportunism is not a valid government response to the pandemic as well. There are many complex interactions serving as scaffolding to Mr. Duterte’s 91-percent approval rating. That number does not equate to winning any contest. The only thing we can be sure of is that the gap between the rich and the poor has grown even wider over the past months, and that COVID-19 has only made the inequalities more apparent.
The resumption of classes in public schools pushed through on the same day that Pulse Asia released its survey results. Education Secretary Leonor Briones convivially declared “victory over COVID,” like a priest on Easter Sunday. Worse, Briones, only 80 years old, referenced Lapu-Lapu as if they were friends, saying Lapu-Lapu himself didn’t ask if he was ready to fight Magellan but fought anyway. If there is anything this administration excels at, it’s in being brazen, unabashed.
Over the past few weeks, too, the Filipino literary community—however small it is—has been agog. Ranhilio Aquino first attempted literary theory, on the anniversary of the declaration of Marcos’ martial law, and fell miserably short. This was followed by F. Sionil Jose’s predictable and worn-out prose preaching death to all those who are caught possessing drugs.
Then came the Wattpad writers quarreling with Lualhati Bautista. They evoked Roland Barthes’ “author is dead” mantra, and pronounced Bautista irrelevant—while themselves posturing as saviors of the written word in the age of digital media.
Finally, and perhaps most tellingly, Eric Bennett, an American critic and scholar, cited Conchitina Cruz in a review for the Chronicle of Higher Education. In it, he argued how certain literary institutions were established around the world, including in the Philippines, by imperialist America to perpetuate the use of the English language for colonial ends. This claim led to many Filipino writers going on a defensive free fall, as they sought to fortify their reasons for being/writing.
The President’s 91-percent approval rating among the populace didn’t seem to mean much in the literary community. We’re good with numbers but we’d like to think that literature’s grander mission is to grant us the capacity to empathize while considering hard facts, to aid us in returning to a final resolution of right being right and wrong being wrong. It’s unfortunate that the Department of Education, for one, has strayed far away from that.
So, while this administration celebrates its stratospheric ratings, and while the public claws for ways to survive, the lot of us will carry on with our rage over civil servants congratulating themselves for being “popular” in the middle of a once-in-a-century national crisis.
DLS Pineda (@dlspineda) finished his undergraduate and master’s degrees in creative writing in UP Diliman. He mourns the passing of Rocco Prestia, bassist of Tower of Power, and the great Eddie Van Halen.
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