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After all the hand-wringing and anger on FB, what next?

The people are tired. They would rather be working in their jobs, playing with their children, writing books, watching plays, eating out, meeting friends, eating, laughing, flirting.

But instead they find themselves hunched over a keyboard, pecking away combatively on the mobile phones while sitting in traffic, greeting the world with anger first thing in the morning when they get on social media, staying up late at night looking at drug war statistics.

Politically charged times

It is one of the most politically charged times in recent history, with unprecedented levels of personal investment in the political process. It is no longer enough to leave politics to the politicians: the debate, the divide, and the attempts to undermine the opposing viewpoint have become an everyday thing, played out on social media.

There is so much anger, so much resentment on both sides; but better this than its alternative, which is bleak resignation.

Our collective fatigue plays into the hands of the administration, which has declared in no uncertain terms that it would rather be left to its own machinations.

What they want from the citizens is cooperation: sit back, relax and leave the driving to us. They will knock on our doors, ring on our bells and tap on our windows; and if we see a neighbor being dragged out in the middle of the night, or see a corpse left to be cleaned up, we should be thanking the police for making our streets safer for us, rather than complaining.

The last and only thing

Which is why so many of those who disagree with some policies of the current administration are so reluctant to give up the plaintive, if at the moment futile, moaning and hand-wringing on social media. It's not just because misery loves company, but because we feel it's the last and only thing we can do.

All this anger on both sides of the fence, the online battles of bullying and the trolling and misinformation, make it appear as though the country is at war with itself. And without a legitimate avenue for release, it may well be.

Where is the opposition? The number of those who would dare to dissent in the House and the Senate are in the single digits. The Supreme Court is an unknown quantity. The system of checks and balance of the American-style three-cornered democratic institutions have been rendered inutile.

There is, simply, no opposition aside from the middle-class 'bleeding hearts,' as they have been called, moaning and fretting on social media, and in private conversations.

Dangerous situation

This is a dangerous situation by any standards in a country whose government is set up with the trappings of democracy but the willingness to tolerate authoritarianism.

Some have posited, perhaps somewhat dramatically, that the June elections were a referendum on democracy- on whether the system is broken or not.

While by numbers more people voted for a continuation of the slog along the lines of a democratic system, the vote was split; there were some people who would rather watch the world burn than give a nod to the admittedly corruption-riddled machinery of the Liberal Party.

The fissure resulted in the victory of a populist figure whose vision was for radical change. He did not have a majority, but he had a plurality; more importantly, he had zealots, who were not hesitant to use ungentlemanly tactics, both during the campaign and afterwards, to press their advantage.

Perhaps the biggest shift in the public assessment of the new President happened after his administration reached the 100-day mark and he took a trip to China that was either a blithering disaster, or the greatest trade negotiation ever reached by a strategical mastermind, depending on whom you listen to.

The truth is probably somewhere in between, but two things became clear: that the President acted on his own, without consultation with his Cabinet, and that what he said did not necessarily echo the popular sentiment (which remains steadily pro-American); and second, that he was aligned, in some way not yet fully understood or in any way provable, with the Marcoses.

Neither is an impeachable offense; some might even argue that neither is an offense at all.

Game theory

I'm not the first person to bring up game theory in relation to the political situation, specifically the Prisoner's Dilemma, which seems particularly applicable-and no, not because we're prisoners.

Most readers will be familiar with this so there is no need to review it in detail, but in summary each rational prisoner remains unaware of the other's intentions. Both will benefit if they assume that the other will act in their (the prisoners') interests rather than their individual interest. But because they are in separate cells and have no way of communicating, they can't be sure.

Despite the pessimistic name of the theory, it is widely used to explain positive outcomes: iterations of the Prisoner's Dilemma have been used to explain the flow of traffic in roundabouts, the way art is sold in auction houses, as well as voting behavior and social movements.

The crucial aspect of the analogy is that the actors (the 'prisoners') don't know what the other is thinking of doing. For instance, we don't know if the military is planning a coup, or if the CIA is planning an assassination; I choose these as examples only because the President himself has brought them up several times, not because I think they should happen.

We don't know what big business really thinks, or the police, or the far Left. We don't know what China really thought of the trade deals, or if Japan is secretly pissed at us.

In the absence of information, most are likely to do what is in their rational self-interest as individuals, which is to suck it up and kowtow, since there is no assurance that any movement against the current balance of power will be supported. As long as the public trust remains high, as reported by the surveys, a legitimate opposition is unlikely to emerge.

Limited utility

And yet emerge it must-if only because it looks good; even Lee Kuan Yew had one. Despite my skepticism about the methods of the current administration, especially the inordinate power given to the police and the lack of a clearly articulated foreign policy, I am also wary of and disinclined to mob rule or unseating by violence.

There has been too much death already. As a nation we have had a long history of having democratic instruments available to us and not using them, to the point where they rust away. One of these is debate, and for there to be meaningful public challenge, there must be a political voice of opposition.

Ranting on Facebook is very cathartic, but its utility is ultimately limited: We can go on for years developing an ulcer every time we log on to the computer while the administration continues to do what it wants. After all the hand-wringing, what's next?

We have reached the limits of the online world to channel anger and fear; but we have only begun to explore its possibilities for organizing and for expression and movement.

We should have an opposition, not because we are against the President, but because we are for the government-for a legitimate, democratic government. If there is an opposition, then both sides can talk to one another and negotiate. This is where the logic of collective action comes in: If there is to be an opposition, there has to be something to be gained by the individual actors.

This is where abstractions such as 'democracy' and 'development' fail. But a tangible reward for betting against the status quo is what will overcome the inertia of inaction. This, for better or for worse, must be identified and articulated. We are all familiar with the stick, but for the actors on the political stage to move, there must be a carrot.

Form an opposition. If the authoritarian rule we now have slides into a dictatorship, it will not have been because the President took the power, but because we gave it up by not using the avenues available to us, under a Constitution that still binds us all together-but which is already on course to be dismantled.

We should use it while we can.
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Publication:Philippines Daily Inquirer (Makati City, Philippines)
Date:Nov 6, 2016
Words:1518
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