‘Snakes and leaders’

BAR NONE - Ian Manticajon - The Freeman

Bear with me for the play on words in the title, obviously a reference to the popular childhood game of 'Snakes and Ladders.’

By 'snakes,' I’m referring to the king cobra whose sightings have become prevalent in Cebu in recent months. It is not dangerous to humans per se, as experts have explained, unless you accidentally or intentionally provoke it.

By 'leaders,' I mean the other kind of 'snake' --the scheming politicians who hinder society’s progress with their venomous traditions. They are the figurative snakes that coil within the corridors of power, constantly attempting to deceive the people.

Let's talk about the first 'snake,' the king cobra. Suddenly, they are within our midst. I was born and raised in Cebu, and this is the first time I've heard of frequent sightings of king cobras on the island. I mean, I have seen snakes --the non-venomous type, including pythons. In our 34-year-old house in Banilad, I've encountered some of these non-venomous snakes. Knowing better, I just let them be, waiting until they pass from the open and back into the crevices of the yard and garden. They help control the population of rats, so their presence is welcome.

But king cobras? Who wouldn't be alarmed by frequent sightings of them? Yes, they are dangerous due to their potent venom, which can be fatal if a person is bitten and not treated promptly. However, experts have explained that cobras generally avoid humans and only attack in self-defense if they feel threatened or provoked. It is, therefore, just a matter of understanding their behavior and taking precautions in areas where they are known to live.

But what if we are already intruding into their usual habitats, or they are already intruding into places we frequent? I read in the paper yesterday that these recent sightings can be attributed to extreme climate events, such as El Niño, coinciding with the mating season for these animals. This situation is exacerbated by human activities like deforestation and the encroachment of residential areas into natural habitats.

Yet, more disconcerting is the presence of another kind of 'snake' among us --leaders whose promises of unity and progress are anchored in self-interest and self-preservation. Recently, we've observed them at political rallies. One offers a 'Bagong Pilipinas' (New Philippines), coupled with scheming moves to change the Constitution. Another is seen in a political stronghold in Mindanao, riding on popular opposition against charter change.

In reality, the latter essentially represents a thinly-disguised campaign for redemption, spurred by the threat of a warrant of arrest from the International Criminal Court, coupled with the loss of customary political largesse. Recently, we have witnessed such politicians behaving petulantly, having grown accustomed to their so-called survey popularity and the previously-unchecked use of taxpayers' money for “confidential funds” and allocations to congressional districts.

Social media is filled with memes highlighting another kind of 'drug war,' that of 'fentanyl versus polvoron' (polvoron being a euphemism for cocaine) --referring to the tit-for-tat between former president Rodrigo Duterte and President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., with the latter uncharacteristically hitting back at Duterte.

If I may digress a bit, the thing with former president Duterte is that he had used the drug war as a pretext to position himself as a strongman, ostensibly ready to rescue the nation from the clutches of crime. However, what the former president seemed to overlook is that the nation has a memory of a goldfish --we easily forget our problems and can swiftly jump from one issue to the next, with the previous one becoming passé. The notion of saving the nation from illegal drugs, once a rallying cry, has now faded in its appeal. People have come to realize that, despite the thousands of deaths among petty drug users and dealers, whether suspected or innocent, the situation has remained more or less unchanged. Furthermore, this approach has laid bare the corruption within law enforcement.

The issue now is that these political intramurals merely distract us from the real problems, such as the urgent need to address poverty, high inflation, and the lack of jobs. While my expectations are not high, given that he has been granted a six-year mandate to lead the country and with the vast resources of the government at his command, President Marcos now has the opportunity to prove to the people that they made the right choice.

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