By Marian Pastor Roces
In the surreal world the Filipinos live in, things and words are inverted, dislocated, or repurposed for dire need.
Habeus corpus, for example, seems ripe for an additional if odd angle. Written into the Constitution to guarantee that illegally arrested citizens are produced bodily — dead or alive —this writ is physical, hardly abstract.
The person in question cannot be a picture, a stand-in, a mirror, or a joke, because, the Courts are ordered, “you shall have the body”. Only the corpus will assure the truth of a situation in extremis.
More than ever, Filipinos need the straightforward original of the writ to cover the arrests and the mangled bodies following red-tagging. But in this perverse time, Filipinos can also use a deviant habeus corpus. To summon the missing President.
Show us the body.
Cadaver. Zombie Apocalypse version of human. Whichever. Come out in the open. Do not hide from the people you betrayed. And do not hide behind the infantile jokes you spurt and splatter in calculated TV apparitions.
Mr. Bong Go —factotum to end all factotums — surely sees how we see through the stale vulgarities. We are now, all together, We-the-People: presidential allies and detractors alike bound by a shared night vision: we all see the BS. We see through the sloppy ops with photoshopped Duts heads on unknown bodies.
As we breathe runaway corona virus mutants, we can’t possibility be entertained any longer by these insults. At the inanity of the factotumocracy’s efforts: not only have we lost the ability to have fun at DDS artwork, we are now beyond any humor whatsoever.
The absent president is the joke played on Filipinos, and not just now, during the pandemic. The longrunning joke began with the stunt Duterte’s handlers pulled with his candidacy. The 2016 will-he-won’the go for the presidency dramatics — already signaled absent transparency. His hiddenness behind another dubious character, or body double, pranked the public until the last joke’s-on-you minute.
Absence is the defining character of this presidency. And it is not just his exotic illnessness that necessitate vanishing acts for exotic treatmens in China, Singapore, or Davao, that are most egregious vanishings. All the energy devoted to conning the public is of course the very definition of betrayal of public trust.
But there is a much bigger and more sinister transgression, and it also concerns the vacant seat atop the national government.
It should be clear by now that this man Duterte had no intention of actually governing. (The scuttlebut is believe-able that he did not in fact think he would win.)
He began, not through reasoned policy, but through histrionic assaults against invented enemies (his droga scourge); retaliatory manuevers against people who know his number (Sen. Leila de Lima); moves to reinstate disgraced fascist families and install new ones (the Marcoses and their mini-me’s), in a frenzy of payback gestures; and pell-mell tirades against women who un-man him.
Their peers grant that the Duterte-appointed leaders at the finance and economic development departments are actually fit to govern, even if there is substantial division about the soundness of their positions in a century totally different from any precedent.
On the other hand, the President’s egomanic reactions to perceived affronts, in place of logic of any sort, cut his own men off at the knees.
While he seemed hands-on during the recent war over Marawi City, displaying bloodlust, he lost all interest in rehabilitating a city whose core was totalled. Absent any signal from the palace except to allow Chinese interest in the business of reconstruction, the refugee situation has been unchanged since the actual siege.
Absent strong, experienced leadership at the social welfare department, the Maranaw fended for themselves. Now, like the Maranaw post war, those of us who reside in the National Capital Region are fending for ourselves. Absent adequate technical capacity to handle a pandemic —the non-governing government cannot attract talent — Duterte has left survival strategy to mayors and citizens’ groups.
As for the West Philippine Sea, he simply absented Philippine interests: his own persona writ large.
Installed in the Philippine presidency through a dirty ops campaign with China’s handprints everywhere, he was only supposed to vacate the field of discussion and contestation; the military and the citizenry, with him corralled outside any big table on the single global matter in which the Philippines has a direct interest.
He only had time for the fun parts, like enjoying Chinese largesse supporting a culture war against the Philippine democratic project. Like enjoying impunity on the few nasty occassions he deigned appear, presenting only emptiness of vision, with glee. Like styling himself as as omnipresent angel of death, unseen for most part, seen only to deliver dicta, unleashing tokhang as though divine.
The pandemic has felled the Duterte Administration, of course. He was never expected to lead; not by his foreign overlord; nor by his zoo of volatile allies who thought they could rule as ventriloquists of a deranged figurehead; nor by his Mindanao cohorts whose ideas of Mindanao were perverted by non-stop experiences of violence.
But a pandemic can and did become a game-changer.
Absent any policy except dependence on China, this presidency’s bottomline response to the pandemic, thus far, is to use the donated Chinese vaccine. The ayuda was too niggardly in contrast to what private sector donated. We were attacked by this COVID-19 virus in the first place because Duterte refused to ban travel from Wuhan until it was too late.
He’s now waiting for vaccines finally purchased from other sources, because his Administration recognizes that absent anything that works to stop the unnecessary deaths, the elections will replace his calculated absence with the actual presence of a leader.
Face us, Duterte. Habeus corpus yourself. Haul your wormy body to the public agora. And recognize the judgement of a people who will survive because, in fact, we are really much better than your twisted mind could have every imagined.
Marian Pastor Roces works internationally as an independent curator, critic of institutions, and analyst of culture and politics. Through her corporation, TAOINC, she curates the establishment of museums. She is also a founding Partner of the think tank, Brain Trust, Inc.
She has long argued that governance, civil society action, and policy making in the Philippines are weakened by the absence of cultural analysis. Such analysis, in turn, needs to work with updated data. Hence Pulitikultura, Roces' platform for probing the intersection of culture and politics.