I’ve tangled with a lot of friends on the topic of going out with “supporters” of the President. Many of them say it is a deal-breaker, because they cannot stomach being seen or dating “apologists” of extrajudicial killings, treason, corruption, ineptitude, and tyranny.

I don’t and cannot blame them. Many remain captive of the dominant narratives of what ails the nation: black versus white, DDS versus “Dilawan,” DDS versus “komonesta.” In such narratives, there’s no room for compromise and for gray areas. One is only either for us or against us.

The trouble is that these narratives don’t make for good politics, as we have seen in the results of the 2019 midterms and the nonstop parade of largely-unchallenged scandals and humiliations starting in 2016. Neither do they serve as guides for good citizenship and even dating.

What’s more troubling is that such a mindset openly discards other persons who may in fact be witting or unwitting victims of a system designed to confuse, to corrupt and to crush people. The regime treats all pushers, runners, activists and revolutionaries as terrorists, beyond redemption. No due process needed. Efforts to investigate and to change them, if necessary, are a waste of time.

Make no mistake: It is admirable if one is aware of Philippine social realities, reads history, detects and corrects revisionism, keeps tabs on developments, resists the allure of political superheroes and icons, takes part in the mass movements, offers one’s skills for the common good, and goes on immersions to back the struggles of our people, especially the workers, farmers, and the Lumad.

Make no mistake: It is a joy to read posts about rising consciousness among LGBTs about the revolutionary roots of Stonewall, the resistance needed to win reforms, the championing and defense of brothers and sisters facing homophobia and transphobia, and putting bigots (including mayors) in their proper places.

The thing is, the politically aware, especially the politically advanced, were not born that way. They developed into the beautiful beings that they are — open-minded, forward-looking, and always pushing the boundaries — so that more of our people would enjoy the fruits of democracy. They read widely and voraciously. They studied alone and in discussion groups, educational sessions, workshops, and forums. And whatever they learned, they tested it in actual struggles at school, office, factory, farm, community, and organization. They were not born; they were made.

In the same way that we as a people outlived Ferdinand Marcos, we would also outlast Rodrigo Duterte. The deep partisanship and division cannot fester for so long. The traditional politicians are going to change their parties when a new president takes over. Same goes for the oligarchs, big landlords and big businessmen. Like Marcos, Duterte will eventually be gone and leave his supporters behind.

Which brings me to my point: We cannot allow political partisanship to fully define us and others as persons and as a people, especially under a rotten system which views us merely as pawns. We must subvert the narrative of perpetual division between colors, and overcome the dehumanization of others that goes along with it. And those involved in the movements for change know this too well: We need every single voice and every single person in building a new world, in forming new alliances and coalitions, and in winning the causes we hold dear.

Those who profess belief in liberal democracy are obligated to uphold the rights of everyone, not just those who agree with them. And that includes those who believe the unbelievable. We cannot discard them, we must enlighten and correct them. Those who profess in national democracy should be true to their belief that everyone is called to be patriots and democrats, and that consciousness-raising is a process, not a single Eureka moment.

Yes, folks, there’s a world to win under and especially beyond Duterte. When the president leaves his supporters, they would be orphaned of their adopted “tatay”, whether their belief is right or wrong. What’s more important is how we win them over in the great struggles for national and social emancipation where they are the motive forces and ultimately the chief beneficiaries.

A cardinal rule in any democracy is accountability, and we assign both trust and accountability on those who use and wield power on our behalf after they win in an election. It is thus correct to charge the President in the International Criminal Court, and, on the day he leaves office, in local courts. His cohorts and henchmen too should be hailed to court.

But what do we do with many of our own people who were conned by fake news and disinformation, and captured by the embrace of traditional politics and its hysterical relative called fascism? Are they equally responsible? Or are they victims of this system which we condemn and seek to reform and to replace?

Are we going to discard and abandon them to be misled yet again by the next strongman, demagogue, or political con artist? Or are we going to reach out to them, show them who really fights for them, raise their political awareness, and start the process of molding better citizens resistant to tyrants, murderers, charlatans, and thieves?

We cannot be just different from traditional politicians, for that matter. We must challenge and overcome their narrow-minded narratives, and find a new one that addresses our aspirations, the same aspirations being hijacked by the tyrant and ignored by his traditional political opponents. Those aspirations — land reform, industrialization, full employment, shelter for all, social welfare, inclusion, fairness, full equality under the law, broadly-shared prosperity, pro-people economics, support for science, and others — are waiting to be the basis for coming together, fighting together and winning together. New lines would have to be drawn. At every instance, we form the broadest array of friends and allies against the narrowest target.

In that broad array, may those who seek, be found. That’s the place to be. We discard the enemies, never their victims.

Published in Manila Bulletin, March 7, 2020