Artwork - Joshua Patrick Santillan

Juan of the Many

USA Publications

On the heat of the 2016 presidential elections, out of the many promises made to the Filipino people, a man with his words, determined to be the breaker of chain to the eternal plight of the Filipino people, has captured the heart of the voting population. Faced against a foe in empires of the country’s political dynasties, a man down south with a proud city to boast has toppled competitors to leash the Philippine power in the next six years. Such man was Rodrigo Roa Duterte, and six long years after he took control, the chain has yet to be broken and has only gained new links.

Within the first year after seizing the pinnacle of power in the political hierarchy, the Filipino people fractioned into the wing of other political parties are yet to settle, thus creating a problem for the new administration. Duterte, to fully exercise power and unite the divided Filipino people, has reached out to various political leaders for a truce to start healing and “forget about the travails of elections.” However, two years later, the sworn adversaries and critics of the Duterte regime have either recalled themselves into hiding out of fear and, for some who fought until the end, are now locked behind bars. Such example was former senator Leila de Lima.

Furthermore, the administration’s blatant attacks on known critics have only proven that what the government had wanted was an unchecked and uncriticized government. The use of social media pawns in the likes of Esther Margaux Justiniano Uson, known as “Mocha Uson,” to engage the social media community in destabilizing dominant political parties by hate propaganda plots and fake news is in itself sufficient to say that the end has not justified its means. The hopes of Juan of the many who voted for transparency and good governance were locked with its critics.

On ruling of the Hague international arbitration court in the West Philippine Sea, riding the Filipino people’s sentiments to the country’s ancestral lands, Duterte, in his height, asserted dominance to reclaim the lands belonging to the Filipino people. Brave words of riding a jetski to the Spratly Islands and planting the Philippine flag to the contested territory was perhaps a promise many Filipino had held into, and six years later, the Philippine flag has yet to reach the lands the Filipinos govern and the country’s ancestral territories wastes away in the hands of modern foreign invaders. Another choice of Juan of the many who sank within those seas.

In all of the promises of the Duterte administration, the fight against illegal drugs in the country was among the most controversial and infamous legacy the man from the south will leave behind. One of the most accomplished programs of the administration is to cleanse the Philippines in the use of illegal drugs. After six years of deadly counternarcotic operation, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency has recorded over 6,000 drug crime suspects killed during police operations. However, independent research conducted by the International Criminal Court has estimated around 12,000 to 30,000 individuals, including those of extrajudicial killings in Duterte’s war against drugs. Moreover, the so-called “clean- up” of the government in the illegal drug trade industry of the country has reaped thousands of loved ones from their family with their innocence spoiled over “nanlaban” justification by police officials. One of those was Kian delos Santos, 17, and a student who was killed in 2017 and was later proven innocent by legislative probes in 2018.

Duterte’s legacy to end the illegal drug trade in the country might be in the choice that has driven the public to vote for him as their president. Still, the killing of innocent minors and crimes against humanity of murder was a choice that never existed to be chosen by Juan of the many.

Over the six years of Duterte governance, the administration’s transparency was countlessly questioned by various journalists whose responsibility was as watchdogs of the government being the fourth estate of society. Countless times too, have these individuals and organizations have faced threats and criminal cases pressed by the government. The closure of ABS-CBN after being denied renewal of the station’s 25- year broadcast franchise has dramatically diminished the power of the press to inform the public of the critical aspects of the Duterte administration. The network called out by Duterte to have been biased on airing campaign ads during the 2016 elections and has also been a keen follower and critic of the administration’s controversial war on drugs.

Furthermore, Maria Angelita Ressa, a Filipino- American journalist and CEO of Rappler who recently been awarded as the first Filipino Nobel Prize laureate, has also faced cyber libel charges in her feat to criticize, document, and inform the public of the administration’s governance. The oppressive acts of the government towards its critics are in opposition to what Duterte has promised to the Filipino people during his election campaign of leading a government for the Filipino people. Thus, the conviction of the administration’s sworn nemesis is a threat meant to silence, a promise broken to a vote from Juan of the many.

As the end of the Duterte regime comes close, the date in the 30th of June 2022 may have been an end of an administration but not for the ballooned dept of the country into which every Filipino is obligated to pay in the following years. In the June 2021 audit, the World Bank recorded the Philippines ’ debt at 3.07 billion dollars, an equivalent of 11.92 trillion pesos, the highest among all country borrowers globally, surpassing the manageable threshold of 60 percent, considered as the manageable level among

emerging economies. A debt that will be left behind by the debtors, with the burden of repayment being passed on to future generations of Filipinos. A non-existent choice in the campaign promises but an unavoidable responsibility of Juan and the many.

In the coming elections, many of the promises by the past administration will become again in the words of a new presidential candidate. That of a different tone, and them of different faces. It may come from a candidate whose legacy denies that of the sins of his father or that of a woman who sees to continue the feats of the liberator and the many others of various political color. The difference in those promises will come in the choice of the masses. The one who will yet again claim and leash the hierarchy of the Philippines’ political power will come from the selection of the Filipino people.

And the true reform and change beyond the words that will be said will be determined by the difference in the choice that Juan of the many will make.

Published: November 15, 2022