The grand-daughter of the late Miriam Defensor-Santiago sent me a direct message this morning on Twitter. She asked me if could take down one of my tweets against her late grand-mother’s choices in 2016 when she chose Ferdinand Marcos Jr. as her Vice President.
One of the most decorated lawyers of her time (having been elected as judge of the International Criminal Court), Miriam Defensor-Santiago (MDS) ran for President in 2016. She was an easy choice among the other candidates: she was a politician who has served in all three branches of the Philippine government: Judicial, Executive, and Legislative. She had charisma, brains, and an iron fist when called for.
She even gained national attention during the Martial Law of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr. when she issued one of the first decisions to rule against the Martial Law. She had all the right credentials and reasons to be the next President of the Republic of the Philippines.
Except she chose the dictator’s son as her running mate.
Six years later, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. is running for the highest post as the front-runner: the final step in the family’s attempt to revise history and clean their name of the atrocities during the Martial Law.
It’s easy to assume Defensor-Santiago was complicit. If she didn’t give him the opportunity to run in 2016, we wouldn’t be dealing with a very critical fight for our democracy. That’s what I wrote in my tweet last night: putting all the blame on her. It was easy and it was obvious.
Except when it’s something personal — something that has never crossed my mind until this morning.
The grand-daughter wasn’t angry or mad that I posted something against her late grand-mother. She politely asked me to take down the tweet: a plea perhaps to let her lola rest in peace.
My first instinct was to apologize. Compared to how easy it was to tweet something against a stranger, I could only imagine how difficult the effect it has, at a personal level, on someone as close as a grand-child. Apo din ako. I am also one.
I was embarrassed and admittedly, I felt guilty that I was impulsive with an opinion I could have kept to myself. Was my tweet necessary? What were the values of tweeting it? These were just some of the questions that flashed before me this morning when I read her message.
We had a little chat; she shared how their family reacted to MDS’s choice in 2016. How she was close to supporting Marcos as well but ultimately made a last minute switch; she was also in disagreement with her grand-mother’s choice in 2016.
We talked about where she was coming from. She sent me a message not as a stranger who can easily post comments online against someone, but as a grand-daughter. She apologized on her behalf. I told her not to. It wasn’t her fault.
Her apology caught me off-guard. I was supposed to be the one apologizing. I was the one who, out of impulse, tweeted against someone who has already passed. I tweeted out of spite. I needed someone to blame.
I shared with her what happened to my side of the family in 2016, when Rodrigo Duterte won as the 16th President of the Republic of the Philippines. Her message brought me back to 2016.
Six years ago, I wrote this little article detailing my experiences of having my entire family vote for Duterte. I also talked about my lola back then. I felt she was brainwashed. Everyone else felt that I disrespected her. Looking back, I was never really proud of that essay.
I was old enough to know bullet points of what was good and what was bad for the country, but I was also very young to understand that anger wasn’t really the right tool to have a dialogue.
I know that if I had just been more compassionate and understanding of my family’s choices back then, it could have been a healthier and more productive chance for us to listen.
Back then, we didn’t know what to do or say. Everyone was angry. We all had something to fight for, and anger became the default. Everyone wanted to speak but no one wanted to listen.
I didn’t speak to my family for a couple of months after that. They were angry I wrote the essay. I was angry that they got angry at me for writing that essay. And then we just made it the biggest elephant in the room. I don’t particularly remember the exact moment when, but one day, we just didn’t talk about it. We never looked back.
That was six years ago. Me and my family now have a healthier way of arguing for our chosen candidates. If only I had gotten the message back then, I would have had a chance to reflect on how to approach that essay better, and perhaps how to approach a conversation through compassion more.
She acknowledged the faults of her lola, but also ached from the direct experience of seeing comments of online strangers against her lola, something that I was unfortunately part of.
I was humbled by this experience and it made me realize that this fight is always bigger than us.
The last six years, whether it’s in the Philippines, or in the USA, or even in Europe, has made politics so polarizing to the extent of destroying relationships. There were no longer debates. Just angry people thinking they’re at a moral high ground — myself included.
In two weeks, we will have another chance of electing a new President, one that is very symbolic. It will decide how much we remember from our history, and how much we’re willing to sacrifice for our democracy. I am optimistic to see a chance of hope — a movement of people from various sectors. But also a little bit scared. Numbers don’t lie, and it’s still a long fight.
I’m not here to promote my candidate, but rather to reflect on how being human can do so much more than just being angry. I am guilty of calling people who don’t share my opinion as stupid, or even paid. That was my mistake in 2016.
We’ve seen stories of people jumping ship because people listened to them. Of people having conversations instead of attacks. Of house-to-house campaigns. Of stories proving that this fight is also for them.
Everyone has a valid reason why they’re voting for someone, and we need to listen more to them. Anger is never productive. So I am grateful she opened my eyes even more this morning. I am thankful she reached out.
After all, we are all partially to be blamed for whatever is happening in our country. Our responsibility is to continue fighting without forgetting that we are still human. If we want to win this fight, we need to fight with reasons and compassion. We need to go beyond. Tao sa tao. Puso sa puso.
Our goal is not to defeat one candidate (or to elect one), but to defeat the culture of evil that we have allowed to thrive in ourselves. Our goal is to rebuild our sense of community. Our goal is to realize we have the power in number and we have to use that to listen. Radikal magmahal.
Ipanalo na natin ito.