More than three years ago, we as a country — torn perhaps irreparably into a multitude of political fidelities, and fragmented and dissolute as we may have grown up to be — chose a path, which to some acute observers may have been our undoing.
More than three years later, more than ten thousand human lives were cut short by an unrelenting though mismanaged war on the trade and illegal use of narcotics.
More than three years later, an uncertain integrity on our precious sovereignty is held in a delicate balance with the exclusive control of several of our reefs and islands lost to the bullying of our richest neighbor.
More than three years later, an unclear future hangs over the sustainability of our Malay heritage as foreign cultures come in and out of our homeland in an unbridled encroachment, all permitted in the name of economic gain.
More than three years later, the lack of discipline and the proliferation of corruption still permeates unabated in our collective unconscious.
So much for the path we have chosen.
Needless to say, our social sanity as an Asian race is endangered while the perennial struggle for a proud Filipino identity continues.
It is sad to witness our rational senses gradually dissipating as human freedom is still willfully relinquished by us, as the price we are ready to pay for a messianic strongman who jokingly promised social order for our frivolities and fantasies.
The question of whether or not authoritarian populists like him can still manage to exist in an age of irresponsible freedom — for all its excuses and shortcomings — is still an enigma. But the deeper realization we can discern as to why such a faulty democracy can still refuse to buckle down from this peculiar era of his strangely entertaining despotism, is still a blessing.
The answer I propose simply depends entirely on what we want, not on what is. Realities are not accidents, but most of the time, are the poor results of our own foolishness. We need to change in order to deserve better realities.
Does Rodrigo Duterte exist? Do you think and feel hopeless in the suffering and cynicism that his antics will never go away? Do you think and feel hopeless that our freedom — for all its imperfections and excesses — will never come back?
How do we cope with this apparition of a leader who rationalizes his sarcastic tyranny with the undeniable fact that he won an election “fair and square”? How do we survive a chieftain who claims he can think, speak and act anyway he wants, with the blame placed on our heads, “who you voted for is what you get”?
Perhaps our most sublime response to this dilemma is to understand an essential truth — history is less of what happens to us than what we make of it. History is the compelling story of our ancestors whose deeds — as well as the implications of those deeds — are imposed on us as if it were an inevitable birthright; but history is also our compelling story that we can direct towards a brighter future, that is, if we yearn for it, and are prepared to make the sacrifices.
Indeed, history may be destined to repeat itself, but not the entire story. We can always undo the errors of the past, provided we humbly accept being capable of doing yet not repeating the same errors in the present.
We are ultimately the makers of our fate, not that our own story makes us. Our history is and should be the culmination of a continuous critical reflection on who we are and who we shouldn’t be, a deep and introspective rumination on what we think is right for all and what we should do to achieve it.
The Duterte presidency is not an accident, not a peculiar travesty nor a coincidental misfortune. It does not “simply happen.” It happened because we wanted it to happen; and for whatever happiness and sorrows it has now wrought for us, we must be responsible.
Now, let us reflect again: Is it not this same mind and heart that we possess that made or is capable of making Duterte “exist,” while is incapable — or perceives that it is incapable — of realizing the kingdom of God in our midst? What is in us that created an extant nightmare, while at the same time helpless in actualizing a dream that beckons, but could not be conceived?
Let us always remember: This same mind and heart can rid itself of oppression. This same mind and heart can rid itself of injustice; of the corruption brought about by excessive wealth; of the marginalization of the silent anonymous by the famous and privileged few; of the abuse of power whose wounds it caused, may remain unhealed for generations.
We can change, for as long as we believe it is important for us to change.
Let us always remember: This same mind and heart can make the kingdom of God exist. It is not just a dream, but a destiny awaiting fulfillment. Jesus, our Christ, lived the life dedicated to proclaiming this uncanny message, and to fulfilling this amazing reality. The reign of the cosmic Spirit over our warring yet puny spirits, is not a far cry — it will not happen by accident. It will happen because we want it to happen.
Therefore, with as much mental strength as we can muster, we must be ready to strain our prophetic voices and get our acts straight to challenge his fragile and grotesque presidency with the indestructible reality of the kingdom of God.
Brother Jess is a professed brother of the Secular Franciscan Order. He serves as minister of the St. Pio of Pietrelcina Fraternity at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Mandaluyong City, coordinator of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups of the Capuchins in the Philippines, and prison counselor and catechist for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.
The views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of UCA News.