“Make Orwell fiction again”: Deconstructing the Arroyo Charter

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It was one of those rare occasions where I took some time off politics to delve into that one thing I’ve nearly forgotten: the writing of short fiction.

The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. My fingers had already grown numb from beating numerous deadlines. My head, for all that it had been busy tinkering with ideas and ideologies big and small, already weighed a ton. I felt like struggling out of a cocoon made of barbed wire. My body ached in all the wrong places so much that I was already beginning to consider having a the rapist walk me ‘round the house.

The ‘silence’ offered by the writing of fiction allowed me to take a few steps backward and get a better vista of the social and political landscape. Suffice it that in the weeks that went by I felt strangely out of place on the very planet I was born on.

The world has changed drastically. It’s like taking a tour of an alien constellation. I used to think I could sense and grasp the movements of society and civilization with the ease of a hardcourt dribble.

Nowadays, it’s like straining to understand a tattered page riddled with a language that had long since died out. Most everyone seemed to have gone bonkers, politicians above all. There seems to be a concerted effort by these officials to confuse the public, or worse, frighten the latter into submission.

Truth-telling, as journalist Inday Espina-Varona had put it, has become a subversive act, and so is the writing of literature. And what about the presumption of innocence? It went the way of Voltes V.

The little that’s left of human rights had taken a nosedive somewhere between the President’s Charter Change and his expensive chartered flights. That’s 20,000 dead—from suspected drug addicts to mayors and court judges—without the benefit of due process.

As for this administration’s forays abroad, Rappler pegged the toll at “P386.2 million ($7.72 million) on foreign trips during Duterte’s first year in power. In one trip, expenses shoot up to P31.8 million ($636,000) a day”. The report appeared sometime June 2017.

You know what’s exasperating about all this wastage? This administration actually insists that it is the public that needs discipline and not them.

The Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines have gone out of their way to tag more than 10 universities as hotbeds for communist recruitment. Their pet peeve? The showing of anti-Marcos films. It’s like Marcos’ New Society all over again but triple the reek of excrement.

To make matters more spine-tingling, what was initially flaunted as a sociopolitical victory—State-sponsored free education—is now being wielded as a weapon against academic freedom and against college and university free speech by controlling school publications.

Hardly did I know that the worst was yet to come.

The country is besieged enough as it is from all corners by a run-amuck inflation (6.7%) without politicians making further nuisances of themselves by muddling the issues.

However, we’ve got to hand it to former President and incumbent House Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to be the unwelcome exception in this regard.

On 08 Oct. 2018, the Speaker and 19 of her company released their version of the Charter—aptly called the Arroyo Charter (Resolution of Both Houses No. 15)—which proposes, among other things, purging the Constitution of lawmakers’ term limits, and rerouting Presidential succession to the Senate President (and not the Vice President) should the President end up incapacitated due to serious health issues.

Many have noticed, upon first glance, how Arroyo may have twisted the section on succession to also include the House Speaker as candidate for the presidential post. This, of course, is not new to those who charge Arroyo with seizing the Presidency in the past.

Tagged as the “Resolution of Both Houses Proposing the Revision of the 1987 Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines,” the proposed revisions were approved consideration by the Senate, together with Arroyo, by Reps. Vicente S.E. Veloso, Rolando G. Andaya Jr., Fredenil H. Castro, Arthur C. Yap, Rodante T. Marcoleta, Corazon T. Nuñez-Malanyaon, Alfredo B. Benitez, Tricia Nicole Q. Velasco-Catera, Deogracias Savellano, Lianda B. Bolilia, Aurelio D. Gonzales Jr., Eugene Michael B. De Vera, Romeo M. Acop, Michaela S. Violago, Wilter Wee Palma II, Ron P. Salo, Anthony M. Bravo, Makmod D. Mending Jr., Arnolfo A. Teves Jr., Celso L. Lobregat, and Bernadette C. Herrera-Dy.

The more crucial point in the proposed amendments, I believe, is the entry tagged Article IV, Sections 1-4, intriguingly named “The Bill of Duties”. It comes right after Article III: Bill of Rights.

“ARTICLE IV: Bill of Duties. Section 1: It shall be the duty of every citizen to be loyal to the Republic of the Philippines, honor the Philippine flag, defend the State, contribute to its development and welfare, uphold the Constitution and obey the laws, pay taxes, and cooperate with the duly constituted authorities in the attainment and maintenance of the rule of law and of a peaceful, just, humane and orderly society.

“Sec. 2: The rights of the individual impose upon him or her the correlative duty to exercise them responsibly and with due regard to the rights of others.

“Sec. 3: Citizens shall at all times respect the life and dignity of every person and uphold human rights.

“Sec. 4: Citizens shall participate actively in public and civic affairs, contribute to good governance, honesty and integrity in the public service, and the vitality and viability of democracy.”

I would’ve loved to further deconstruct the rhetoric of Article IV of the Arroyo Charter. I believe it’s enough for this essay to say that it was meant to confuse the public’s freedom with the State’s moral and legal responsibilities to its constituents, putting the burden more on our shoulders than on theirs.

The seeming purpose for this revision is for government to enjoy its swathe of power and authority without the necessary accountability for them.

Thanks to Senate President Vicente Sotto III and minority leader Franklin Drilon, the Arroyo Charter did not see the light of day. The Senate made the right decision to quash it.

Top these with the 12-year margin given by scientists to curb global warming and the brewing tensions along the West Philippine Sea between the United States and China, to say nothing of the spread of Trumpism, Dutertismo, and Church child abuse, it got me wondering: what’s the end game to all this?

The real mind-numbing question is: what kind of world would my children be facing ten-twenty years from now? Something stranger than fiction, I’m sure, or perhaps even scarier than fiction. Suffice it that I will not wish this attempt to turn an Orwellian dystopian fiction into reality on anyone.

So, how can the next generation make Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 fiction again (saw this on a baseball cap)?

I grew up in a generation where some topics were taboo. Politics. Religion. Sex. Corruption in high places. These subject matters were off-limits to children and teenagers.

Martial Law made sure that dinner table discussions centered only on the “safe” side of the political divide, to talk only of Marcos’ accomplishments than his crimes.

For the most part, children were refused any shape and form of discussion for the mere fact that parents and the elderly did not have the time to discuss these topics at length with their little ones.

This open refusal by parents to stimulate interests on these subjects, I believe, forms a huge part of the general ignorance of the population nowadays as regards crucial issues. The “politics of incuriosity,” as I call it, is still pretty much alive among households today.

The silence of those who ought to know better empowered, though unwittingly, an underground community dedicated to the crimes of corruption, wholesale thievery, drug abuse, the acceptance of imperialist mindset, and exploitation by means of religious authority.

The silence set the stage for the world to lurch towards totalitarian and imperialist ideologies, exemplified today by Trumpism and Dutertismo.

No more concealed behind a cacophony of well-devised rhetoric, this openness we see among totalitarian leaders makes up the New World Order, one that had finally reared its ugly head without shame.

I have long since held to the notion that real education can only begin at home, under the guidance of parents. Parents who’d take the time to learn what is out there and be brave enough and intelligent enough to impart the same to their children.

With information at their fingertips, children are easy targets for those who might wish them harm. Parents today have very little choice but to seize time away from their schedules in order for them to be able to impart some context or wisdom to their young.

I do not fear the future any more than I fear a glass of clean, innocent water. I am doubly certain my children can and will cope with the dystopia lying in wait for them at every turn. Simple said, I have taught them well. I have instilled in them a flair for words, and the ability to look at a situation from varying perspectives.

To never be swayed by mere public opinion, more so by public outrage: this is the key to surviving Orwell’s dystopian prediction.

In a world where lies are in vogue and thinking accurately may soon be a crime, this training may be perilous. No matter the cost, I always tell them to never underestimate the power of one person to change the world.

Pointless idealism? Perhaps. But isn’t totalitarianism and despotism a form of idealism? With its twisted sense of patriotism and nationalism? Society’s cultic view of its leaders and ‘heroes’ of change?

The world, it seems, is starving for the idyllic and the superlative. The icon is its symbol of strength, the paradigm its goal. It searches for the exemplar, the epitome of its aspirations. Society, with its run-amuck ignorance, will grab hold of anything to make these aspirations real and sustainable, even if their only choice for an icon is a criminal.

As parents, we have only two choices: to silence the minds of our children by continuing on the culture of taboos, or open their minds to the reality in the midst under our close guidance. Believe me the latter is time well spent. G





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