The direct collision between President Rodrigo Duterte and Vice-President Maria Leonor Robredo appears to be nothing more than the clash between an irritable, aging president, who may already be experiencing older moments of emotional incontinence, and a politically immature Robredo with her mean girl, passive-aggressive attitudes . But it might as well be viewed as just another moment when elite and masa narratives collide as well.
Those who belong to the so-called masa appreciate authenticity. The more authentic the politician, the more they become magnets that ordinary citizens tend to be. And nobody can be more authentic than the president. He doesn’t hide his mistakes. He doesn’t gloss over his words and doesn’t pay attention to his manners. His speechwriters try to structure his public statements, right down to the recording of his press conferences, but he ultimately insists on his own words, from the meandering thoughts to the vulgar, from the incomplete sentences to the curses and misogyny. His crank even tried to work on him, to no avail. You have to take him for what he is. He is such a transparent person that it would be fatal to deodorize his image.
And the political and intellectual elites shy away from his rudeness and rudeness. Under a common rubric for judging the conduct of elected officials, Duterte’s manners are simply an abomination for what we would ordinarily tolerate. We expect polished, well-mannered people from our politicians who are good at presenting themselves as coherent, learned, and classy. But somewhere along the way, these cultured and well-mannered people have bled our land to death, and many of them simply wear decency as a facade, their cloak, to hide their lies and thefts. We call them honorable; They wear their barong and suits properly and behave so well that they effectively hide the vulgarity of their incompetence and corruption.
Against this background, Duterte fascinated the Masa. He is seen as so plain and ordinary that while he also has his flaws and his own kind of incompetence and corruption, he is at least not that good-natured hypocrite who speaks in perfect, coherent, grammatically correct sentences. For a people so used to corruption and incompetence, people are ready to be content with someone who is relatable, close and not far away. Duterte is tolerated, even loved by ordinary people, simply because he is very much like that raw, cursing, misogynistic, crazy uncle who may be imperfect, but they know he is one of them.
In stark contrast, Robredo exists in a world of plasticity and pretense, the very same traits of elitism that the common people in the Masa abhor. And their handlers force them to relate to the Masa with very little success. In her natural state, she shares with Duterte a tendency to become incoherent in that she is usually unable to articulate her thoughts well when invaded with complex questions. She was recently invited to a meeting to discuss liberal politics, and her speechwriters attempted to label her as learned only to reveal her inauthenticity.
Nothing could be more pretentious and inauthentic than to shoot a Leni Robredo who tells the Asian liberals to “bow down to the ground, participate in the struggle of the people”. She cast a not so subtle shadow on the President when she asserted in her prepared speech: “… This process requires the removal of the idea that we always know what is best with our position papers and doctoral theses. This loophole in humility is, in fact, what demagogues are so capable of armed forces: they make their blatant utterances and sleep in mosquito nets to signal an equality with the frustrated. “Yet their handlers simply committed the main sin of making it contradict their own message in the speech they wrote for them. They made her seem so inauthentic, despite criticizing inauthenticity. They let them speak words that are so obviously not them and so obviously made up.
Robredo criticized presumption and inauthenticity, but she is the epitome of the invented and staged. We can’t imagine the real Robredo saying, “But while populism dresses in cosmetic affinity, the liberal answer has to be to pursue authentic human engagement.” Anyone genuinely following her career and taking her advice to “listen” would know these words are not theirs.
Robredo struggled with politicians sleeping in mosquito nets to appear just one with people, but forgot how her runmate in 2016 tried all the tricks from carrying ice to being a street barker to look ordinary. Worse, she even forgot how she repeatedly posed for the camera, which at times made it seem like it was natural – who can forget her staged exit from the Batasan boardroom and her staged waiting for a bus in one place Not stopping the penance, caught everything in front of the camera? And recently she wore glasses not only to read her speech, but also to look unnaturally intellectual.
Robredo should be said. The audience she spoke to – the Asian liberals, the political party whose interests are at the forefront of its politics and very political existence – actually needed to be asked to appreciate authenticity, simply because they largely come from the detached political elite class.
This is not intended to excuse the president for his vulgarity, which has become too aggressively predictable for people to get tired of. But if the political opposition wants to use authenticity as a political lever, it should rethink its strategy of painting Robredo as its figurehead. No amount of photoshopping, fictional shots, prepared speeches and visits to people and hugging children during a pandemic can hide the real Robredo that many in Naga City know.