Politics of fear

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz - The Philippine Star

The failure to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law  is a marcosian victory, a triumph for the politics of fear and division. When politicians or demagogues use fear as a driving force or motivating factor for people to support a certain policy, they are depending on the possibility that people with an alleged threat to their safety will elicit a powerful emotional response that can override reason and prevent a critical assessment of these policies.

The Peace Council led by reasonable, non-political leaders like Cardinal Tagle, businessman Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, Ambassador Howard Dee and former Chief Justice Davide presented compelling arguments for the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law. But politicians, especially the chair of the very Senate committee tasked to conduct hearings and shepherd the BBL, led by Bongbong Marcos, were able to prevent the passage of the bill.

The politics of fear also uses the politics of division, pitting different groups against each other. The opponents of the Bangsamoro Basic Law emphasized the message that there is no one Filipino people. There are Muslim Filipinos and Christian Filipinos who are two different peoples. So the spectre of terrorism and bloody conflicts is raised as a possibility if we do not exercise military control over certain segments of society.

This same politics of fear is conveniently used by politicians who want to develop a culture of fear which is supposed to lead the people to the conclusion that only a “strong man” can save the country. We see politicians saying that this country is being overrun by criminals and drug dealers. The situation is supposed to be so bad that human rights and  democracy should be put aside until the “strong man” is able to get rid of all criminal elements. In fact, there is even the notion that since the judicial system is “ broken,” we might as well set it aside and allow “justice’ to be decided and controlled by one person.

Inciting irrational fear and anger has been employed by dictators to attain absolute power and to “unite” the people but they end up persecuting their domestic opponents. Marcos declared martial law in 1972 arguing that communists and subversive were rioting in the streets and preparing to take over the government. He declared it was time to restore law and order to prevent anarchy. Many people, including business leaders, believed him. Marcos presented  the growing anti-Marcos student protests as evidence  of anarchy in the streets.

He announced that dissidents, revolutionaries and rebels would be jailed and order restored in the country. He then begun to jail political opponents like Ninoy Aquino, Jose Diokno and Lorenzo Tañada. He also imprisoned leading journalists and media leaders like Chino Roces, newscaster Jose Mari Velez, Teodoro Locsin Sr., Max Soliven, Nap Rama and thousands of social and civic leaders.

Adolf Hitler was supported by the German people because he was able to incite fear against the Jews, Communists and other “outsiders.” He was also famous for building massive infrastructure projects including the famous superhighways or autobahns of Germany. Mussolini, the fascist dictator of Italy, always boasted that during his reign the trains always ran on time.

The politics of fear tries to paint a scenario that we are living in a dangerous country and that these dangerous times needs immediate, radical solutions such as martial law, a revolutionary government, suspending human rights and vigilante justice. In order to become believable, visible and tangible symbols are developed.

One example is the message that  drugs and drug lords are overwhelming our society to the extent that vigilante justice is the only recourse. There is no question that the drug menace must be stopped. But the question is whether the only way to stop this menace is by using dictatorial methods and vigilantism.

It may not be exciting reading, but it is important to always place the proper perspective when discussing national issues. First, the illegal drug trade is not confined to the Philippines but is a global black market. A United Nations report has stated that “the global drug trade generated an estimated $321.6 billion in 2003. This was 12 years ago and the value must be higher by now. In Mexico, more than 500 towns and cities are directly engaged in drug trafficking. An estimated  450,000 people are employed by drug cartels and  3.2 million  are believed to be dependent on the drug trade as a means of livelihood.

But the United States is the single largest customer base of illegal drugs worldwide. The estimate for US drug expenditures is more than $110 billion a year. Colombian and Mexican drug cartels take in an estimated $39 billion from US sale each year.

In countries like the United States and Mexico, the drug menace is so much worst. Even the much vaunted American judicial system has not been able to eradicate known organized crime groups like the Mafia or the Mexican Siniloa cartel. But we do not hear any serious proposal that the American judicial system should be put aside and the drug menace be solved through vigilante justice.

The politics of fear tries to convince the Filipino people that the Philippines is not ready for democracy. And yet it is the streets of cities like Paris and Brussels that have been totally closed for several days due to terrorist threats but no call for martial law or dictatorship.

In this coming election, Filipinos should not be swayed by the politics of fear. Instead, we need to look for candidates who will understand and address the root causes of the social ills of this country – income inequality, corruption, social justice, equal opportunity for education and health care and the preservation of freedom.

For those preach the siren song of the politics of division, they should be reminded that Ninoy Aquino said that the Filipino (all Filipinos ) is worth dying for.

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