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Opinion

Plot and character

HINDSIGHT - JOSE DALISAY - The Philippine Star

With the counting all but over – setting aside some issues not likely to change the outcome – it’s clear that our people have spoken and that, by a 2-to-1 majority, they have chosen Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to lead this country for the next six years.

It’s no huge secret that I, among many others, voted for somebody else. Of course I’m unhappy, but what I feel doesn’t really matter much in the scheme of things. Given that the life expectancy of the Filipino male is 67.26 years, I’m already on borrowed time at 68 and would be lucky to see the end of this next administration, let alone the one after that. I’ve told my mom Emy – who voted at age 94 and who shed tears of dismay and disbelief when the results rolled in – that living for six more years to vote one more time should now be her goal. Just surviving will be her best revenge.

I wonder how it is, however, for the young people who took to the streets for Leni and Kiko, believing that they would make a difference. They did, although not in the way they expected, to ride a pink wave all the way to Malacañang. They realized, as we ourselves did ages ago, that money and machinery are always heavy favorites over hope and idealism, and that issues, ideas and the truth itself can be made to look far less important than image and message, if you can buy the right PR consultant.

They will also have learned, as has been pointed out by other commentators from both sides, that it wasn’t all disinformation – that Marcos Jr. appealed to the genuine desperation of the poor with a promise of relief, however illusory. Since most of Leni’s young supporters were visibly middle-class, first-time voters, it was a rude but necessary awakening to the realities of class politics in this country, which politicians of all kinds – none of whom have to worry about where their next litson baka is coming from – have learned to negotiate and manipulate.

Defeat, it’s been said, can offer more lessons than victory, and while we may have metaphorically won in some significant respects – chiefly the aggregation of “middle” forces not tied to any traditional political party into a burgeoning progressive movement – there will be much to review and refine in the years ahead. This very dissociation of the Kakampinks from the old parties and their command structures, for example, was a blast of fresh air for many volunteers, but also a liability for operators used to the old ways.

Understandably, there’s been much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth in the trenches, in the desire to meld seething resistance with grudging acceptance. I see it in both young and old activists – the young, because they’re heartbroken for the first time, and the old, because they didn’t expect to find themselves facing a Marcos all over again. The bashing and taunting they’re getting online from galleries of screeching monkeys doesn’t help.

Being one of those old fogeys, I tend to be more subdued in my reaction to Marcos Jr.’s victory, and advise my young friends to cool down, ignore the bashers and steel themselves for a complicated and challenging future. As someone who went through and survived martial law – I was 18 when I was arrested and imprisoned for alleged subversion (although I was never charged or tried in court, just locked up for the state’s peace of mind) – I can offer them living proof that we can survive dictators and despots, with faith, resourcefulness and courage. My parents survived the Second World War, and many other people have gone through worse.

I’m neither predicting nor wishing that a Marcos presidency will be bound to fail. I’d hate for the country to suffer just to prove a point. Besides, whatever I think today won’t matter one bit to what will happen. Whatever Marcos does, he will do so of his own will, by his own nature, out of his own character. What that character really is will emerge in the crucible of crisis – and crisis is the only thing the future guarantees, whoever the president happens to be. Beyond and regardless of the propaganda for and against him, Mr. Marcos Jr. will have ample opportunity to display what he would not have us glimpse in a public debate, and that revelation will do more than a million tweets calling him a thief or praising his acumen.

Speaking of character, I had an interesting discussion last week with an old friend, a renowned professor of Business Administration, who brought up the possibility of “luck or destiny” to account for the Marcos victory. He added that luck was an important factor in business, and that he would flunk a student who thought otherwise.

I disagreed; as a teacher of creative writing, I said that I wouldn’t accept “luck or destiny” as a resolution for a student story. We’d call it deus ex machina – a helping hand – which thwarts the logic of the narrative with an artificial and improbable ending. I know: it happens in real life, but not in good fiction. As Mark Twain says in one of my favorite quotations, “Of course fact is stranger than fiction. Fiction, after all, has to make sense.”

Whether factual or fictional, stories are really less about events – the plot – than character. The plot is simply there to enable character development. Things happen for a reason: to test and reveal our character, to show ourselves and others what kind of people we really are, with dramatic clarity and inevitability.

If you’re wondering why I strayed from the May 9 election to a mini-lecture on writing, it’s because we can look at that election and its aftermath as a long and continuing narrative that will establish our character as citizens, and as leaders. The next crises – the post-pandemic economy, China’s ambitions, a crackdown on civil liberties, getting deeper in debt – will come to try us. That’s the plot. And when that happens, Bongbong will be Bongbong, and all Filipinos – 31 million of them, especially – will see exactly what they bargained for.

So if you’re still smarting, just chill, recuperate, get back to something you enjoy doing, and let this drama take its course. Like my mom Emy, endure and survive. Give Marcos Jr. a chance to achieve his “destiny,” which could yet be everyone’s best education.

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Email me at [email protected] and visit my blog at www.penmanila.ph.

FERDINAND MARCOS JR.

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