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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Inventing the enemy

 
 
Noted semiotician, philosopher, medievalist and author of The Prague Cemetery, The Name of the Rose and Foucault’s Pendulum, Umberto Eco once wrote: “When there is no enemy, we have to invent one.”
 
Eco considers the enemy as important in defining our identity and in providing us with an obstacle to test our value system, because in seeking to overcome it, we demonstrate our own worth. He further writes that identifying the enemy is almost a natural phenomenon, so with the process of creating and demonizing the enemy.
 
We can cite some examples why Eco’s words carry more than an iota of truth. When the great Soviet enemy faded away during the end of the Cold War in the 1990s, the United States appeared in danger of losing its identity. But thanks to Osama Bin Laden, who fought the Soviet Union on behalf of his former benefactor, the United States, he gave George W. Bush the opportunity to create new enemies and to strengthen American feelings of national identity and exceptionalism as well as his power and image as the war president. 

Great enemies - former US President George W. Bush and
Al Qaeda founder Osama Bin Laden
 
The great destruction that 9/11 brought on New York would always be the historic signal of America’s taking on the new enemy of the 21st century: the war on terror, whether the attacks are on homeland or on foreign soil like Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet, the ghost of the old Cold War is again being resuscitated by Russia’s incursion into Crimea in Ukraine and by China’s aggressive ambitions on the South China Sea. Thus, what America has once called the Evil Empire appears re-uprooted and is growing again, not just with the likes of Iran and North Korea but with nomadic terrorist organizations as well.
 
In the United States, the Republican Party and America’s ultraconservatives have demonized President Obama as their sworn enemy because of Obamacare, which they would like to undo at every opportunity even if it was an exercise in futility. To the extreme fundamentalist right wing of the Republican Party, Obama even represents the image of the anti-Christ.
 
The idea or figure of the enemy seems ubiquitous and we cannot manage without it. It is almost second nature to us. The image of the enemy is not necessarily a human object as it could be a natural or social force so threatening that it must be defeated.
 
Quebec’s recent provincial elections demonstrate that the passion of the Parti Quebecois for a separate and distinct identity from the rest of Canada could turn into a nightmare, which exactly caused their defeat after a short stint as a minority government. Separation from Canada became the Parti Quebecois’ bane of its debacle and its innermost enemy.
 
The same could be said of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford whose greatest enemy is his own self-destructing identity. With heavy drinking and infatuation to crack cocaine, Ford doesn’t have to be more creative in defining his own enemy.
 
Inventing the enemy is not only true in the politics of the nation. It is ever-present everywhere. The Filipino community in Toronto is a fine example of our predisposition in bringing down and preventing others so they don’t succeed. Call it part of our culture or something else, but it’s almost in our nature to pin down someone as our enemy because we don’t want them to succeed. This is self-evident among our local community journalists. Whether the mounting bickering was simply a ploy to boost readership of one community newspaper doesn’t detract us from the fact that the lack of civility in the language used by these so-called or self-acclaimed local journalists only amps up the truism that making enemies is easier than making friends.
 
But back to politics, this natural inclination to invent or identify one’s enemies is clearly part of the arsenal or toolbox of President Noynoy Aquino’s brain trust. Knowing one’s enemies, popularized by Mao Zedong from an ancient military treatise on the Art of War attributed to Sun Tzu, is a basic shibboleth among Aquino’s inner sanctum of advisers.
 
Because he was perceived from the start as weak and lacking the wherewithal to become a strong and robust leader of the nation compared to his predecessors, his advisers have had to invent Aquino’s enemies to strengthen his image and to define him as a tough crusader against corruption. This was so disconnected from the earlier image he had carved for himself as a quiet and do-nothing member of Congress, both as a representative and senator. As a legislator, Aquino did not have enemies, at least not in the public eye. He was the scion of two democratic icons, and perhaps at the time he was simply content with his fate.
 
After winning the presidency, the Aquino administration had to invent the person he replaced, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, as his greatest enemy: she who was the mother of all corruptions and the primary stumbling block to reform. They tightly built up the case against Arroyo, put her in jail, denied her bail, and currently keep her in detention while Aquino sits as president.
President Noynoy Aquino's arch enemies - former President
Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and former Supreme Court Chief
Justice Renato Corona 

Then they trained their sights on the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Renato Corona, Arroyo’s choice to lead the high court and who was once her lawyer during her presidency. After impeaching Corona, the Aquino government now targets its enemies in Congress, Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr., while it coddles the queen of pork barrel, Janet Napoles, in a secured first-class detention facility.
 
All have been branded as enemies of the state, all culpable of corruption and plunder of the government. If there is to be a lasting legacy of the Aquino administration, this is it, the prosecution and persecution of the enemies of the people. Except that after his term as president is over, Aquino could be his successor’s next enemy. This is the simple truth from the pattern of succession: as a friend of the people (or the people he works for and who adore him in return for the favours he gives them) for six years, then as an enemy of the same people who salivated for him like he was a pop idol.
 
Inventing one’s enemies is almost like second nature because of its predestination. Fate works this way, and not in strange or other ways. We tend to bifurcate society into friends on one side, enemies on the other.
 
But the irony in all of this is the stubbornness of President Aquino to accept that he would end his career in no other fashion but in the same fate that befell his predecessor. He has invented so many enemies, both from within the government (not necessarily within his party affiliation) and outside of the nation.
 
Aquino has to use all the incentives and carrots he could squeeze from the congressional and presidential pork barrels to make Congress toe his line, replicating exactly what Arroyo did during her presidency. Even the mayor of Tacloban became his enemy in the aftermath of typhoon Haiyan because the government was so inept and slow in responding to the typhoon’s victims. He has ordered the military to arrest the leaders of the communist insurgency despite guarantees of free passage issued to them while the negotiations for peace are going on. He has kept the belligerent Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) at bay while Congress deliberate on the necessary legislation that will establish a free Bangsamoro nation, which is not a foregone conclusion because the framework for peace with the MILF is wrought with constitutional landmines.
 
Meanwhile, the Aquino government continues to dare and draw the powerful Chinese government into a possible military confrontation on the South China Sea when the Chinese threat is merely an illusion. But China is one big enemy the Philippines must invent to secure America’s military involvement again in Asia and the Pacific, and the return of US military bases in the Philippines which the current government believes is important in defending its territory against foreign invasion.
 
President Aquino must confront all his enemies, real or imagined, but he is forgetting one virtual enemy within. Hasn’t he realized that in all the years that he is president, he has also become the enemy of the people? The poor masses and toiling labourers, the landless peasants of Hacienda Luisita and everywhere where the old feudal system prevails, the restless youth who are struggling against rising tuition fees and joblessness after college, discriminated women and mothers, the urban poor, and tribal minorities who continue being victims of an uncaring government—could President BS Aquino be their recurring enemy?
Philippine President Noynoy Aquino - a friend or an enemy of the people?
This reminds me of Henrik Ibsen’s play, An Enemy of the People, where the relationship between the personal and political are too closely tangled up while an apathetic public lays the path to its downfall.
 
In the play, Dr. Thomas Stockman discovered that the town's spa waters are contaminated and causing illness among his patients and the local residents. He called the mayor—his brother—about the necessity of gutting the town's plumbing and re-laying the pipes in a more sanitary way. He believed he would be hailed as the town hero for his discovery.
 
But the mayor balked at Stockman’s suggestion because it would drive away visitors to the spa and leave the town destitute. He agonized between choosing the well-being of his family by keeping quiet and keeping his job, or losing both for the sake of his civic duty to the entire town.
 
However, Stockman was determined to make his finding public but he was waylaid by the mayor’s influence on the townspeople. Chaos erupted during the ensuing town hall meeting where Stockman was declared an enemy of the people.
 
With all the resources of government at his disposal, whether it be pork barrel, priority development programs, disbursement acceleration or presidential social assistance, President Noynoy Aquino has created a Frankenstein of a mindless majority in Congress who would be too willing to follow his direction of politics. For the time being, they hail Aquino as their hero but wait until his term is over.
 
What goes around comes around; it is the law of nature.

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