SISOH Summary: Diverse Political Views

June 28, 2019

Faculty members from the School of Humanities held its third SISOH discussion with Dr. Antonio G.M. La Viña, which was facilitated by Dr. Philip Arnold P. Tuaño, last April 3. The conversation covered the topic of diverse political views.
Dr. La Viña clarified that there is no majority political perspective in Ateneo and that viewpoints held in the school are heterogeneous. He has encountered people who are supportive of President Rodrigo Duterte or appreciate Duterte through his work. Far from the caricature we tend to associate with trolls, these people are very much concerned about the country. Dr. La Viña said that the key to dialoguing with these people is to start by acknowledging the many problems we really have as a country and how previous administrations have also failed to address these—and then encourage these dialogue partners to explore other options. Dr. La Viña was not worried about Duterte’s popularity among the masses because this is understandable; Duterte acts like a mayor (in that he has a reputation for personally solving problems of his constituencies) and mayors tend to be popular. His ratings are similar to those of previous presidents at similar points in their respective terms in office. However, Dr. La Viña was worried about people who think they can ignore human rights issues for what they think are good ends. He does not think that we can build a better country through these means. He suggested that we shift the conversation from Duterte’s personality toward what direction we wish to bring our country.

Duterte’s alliance is formidable in the 2022 elections. He has a strong narrative and can point to his roots in Davao. On the other hand, the candidates who seek to go against Duterte do not have narratives that are as compelling. However, the political situation can change quickly. In this country, there can be sudden wings of support. We still do not know who will run for the 2022 elections.
On one hand, some of our politicians tend to avoid discussions and debates. On the other hand, some politicians are very good at engaging people, such as Chel Diokno and Neri Colmenares. They could win if they had money behind them.
A SISOH participant asked how conversations can still happen when people tend to be so polarized. Dr. La Viña suggested that it would be better to carry out discourses in face-to-face discussions and town halls, rather than on the internet and social media. We do not want a situation where everyone is in agreement; we should expect differences, but we should still be able to talk to one another despite those differences—and find constructive courses of action. Deliberative democracy is a good model for talking to one another and finding solutions facilitated through dialogue. One could facilitate a discussion easily in the early days of social media, but it has become more challenging now. Even when people are sincere, there will always be saboteurs. Now, Dr. La Viña still uses social media for discussion but prohibits shouting, attacking, and name-calling; he has blocked people who have violated these rules. The online arena has proven to be a challenging one.
An effective way to disarm Duterte supporters is to point out that there are indeed many problems in Philippine society, and that Duterte is a creature of society. Aquino’s style, which isolated other political perspectives, came off as moralistic and self-righteous. Otso Diretso were not even willing to include Neri Colmenares, and Grace Poe, just because of the flawed analysis that Mar Roxas would have won if she did not run. President Ramos’s approach of accommodating everyone around a national purpose was more effective. Should Vice President Leni Robredo become president, she would have to govern in a different way. Because politics is not simply black and white, a more accommodating approach might be more appropriate. Accountability should still be ensured, but this ought to be done through legal processes rather than political processes.
Martial law for the whole Philippines is still on the horizon, and the president is still on the lookout for an opportunity to declare this. However, the genius of the 1987 Constitution is that it removes the same powers the president has when he declares martial law. As a result, the martial law in Mindanao is different because of this. Martial law is only worse on war-torn ground, but these places were already in bad shape even without martial law. What martial law does is inflict fear and consolidate power. However, this is not attractive to the military because of the quick turnover of leadership.
Despite all this, Congress has passed good laws. Risa Hontiveros and Bam Aquino, in particular have made many contributions. Unfortunately, there are other legislators who do not pay attention to laws unless these are high profile and controversial.
At the end of the SISOH session, the participants suggested including faculty members from the School of Social Sciences in future discussions. Conversations, especially between junior faculty from SOH and SOSS, can encourage more insights, participation, and interdisciplinary collaboration.
In the end, there is just so much to talk about. Amid all the threats, difficulties, and possible changes, we must strive to survive. While surviving, we are challenged to continue carrying out conversations about the challenges we face as a country, and—even though we do not all agree—find a common purpose and work toward efforts that can result in a better Philippines.