Before he rolls over from his grave, my apologies to former MIT science professor Edward Lorenz for this tongue and cheek “Butterfly Effect” topic that has nothing to do with chaos theory or predicting the weather. Dr. Lorenz popularized the theory with his work on weather prediction positing that small flapping elsewhere of a butterfly could have an impact in tornado formation in Texas or anywhere in the Midwest. His theory has also found resonance outside the science community and has become the staple for understanding how nature works that small changes can have large consequences.
This column is simplistic and has more to do with superstition, if you believe such a thing.
During Philippine Vice President Leonor “Leni” Robredo’s recent visit to Los Angeles over a week ago, she revealed something about a butterfly that showed up while she was giving a speech. It was clearly a clever adlib on her part to spice up an otherwise boring speech. Her speech was about her life as a housewife while running a family and working in the shadows of the late DILG Secretary and former mayor of Naga City, Jesse Robredo.
Most of the folks there of some one hundred people, who graced this occasion, were quite familiar with her bio given that most of us in the audience were Bicolanos. You can’t know Jesse Robredo’s bio without knowing also about Leni’s. Anyway, she told us how she was able to pursue law while attending to her family and doing some advocacy works on the sides. As a lawyer, she championed advocacies advancing women’s rights and protecting or helping the poor.
Many, including this writer were expecting her to provide updates or some insights regarding the declaration of Martial Law in Mindanao and how it was being implemented. Philippine dailies quoted her early on of her support for President Rody Duterte’s declaration and even asked for prayers for the Marawi people who were caught in the battle between the Maute group of bandits and the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Perhaps, some were also waiting for her to say something about the ongoing drug war. Both topics are hot buttons and her words would have given reassurance to the folks there who might have some concerns because of familial ties in the Philippines.
Truthfully, her appearance in the United State was surprising given what has happening in the Philippines: the battle between the Mautes’ and government forces was raging in Marawi with the ongoing aerial bombings by government forces and terroristic mayhem in the beleaguered city, while the president has been conspicuously absent from the public eye. There were rumors that the president was seriously ill owing to his hectic schedule of shuttling back and forth between Manila and Mindanao and undisclosed health issues requiring some serious medications. It was an honest supposition that there was uncertainty in the top leadership when the president missed the Independence Day celebration at the Luneta Park. VP Robredo was there and stood for the president by default being the second highest ranking official in the administration. Any moment she could find herself being president if something happens to the president such as succumbing to illness or has been removed extra-judicially.
She was forthright though in saying that her two-day trip was rather short due to the “situation” in the Philippines and apologized for being unable to spend more time. She was really in the US to help her daughter with her move to Boston, Massachusetts where she will be attending Harvard University.
But back to that rather big black-yellow butterfly that gate-crashed the backyard event in such an opportune time while the VP was speaking. “Don’t be surprised by the presence of this butterfly,” Robredo teased. “This is really Jesse checking up on me.” Apparently, this was not the first time that a butterfly appeared while Robredo was making speeches during the campaign. She opined that this was her husband’s way of keeping track of her. “He’s probably upset that I’m wearing the Marcos colors of red and blue,” as she jokingly explained. Her joke made the crowd look at her outfit to see the colors she was alluding to especially knowing that some of the ladies were wearing yellow. Robredo was wearing a casual dress of what looked like blue denim material with red “V” lining her neck and down to her chest and dotted white/blue seams on the front and back bottoms. There was also a small red flower adorned on the left side of her chest. It had a conservative look but not trendy.
Butterflies in Philippine politics are turncoats who take advantage of political affiliations and patronage. Her use of the butterfly as a metaphor conjures superstitious meanings (like reincarnation for one). Butterfly metaphors often speak of change literally from a caterpillar metamorphosing into a butterfly. The symbolism is very powerful if used in the context of change and there are plenty of examples in her case, if she dug deeper. But reinforcing superstitious beliefs through such metaphor use caters to a campaign crowd in the Philippines only eager for entertainment – unlike the crowd she had last week.
Her popularity is sagging and in a downward trajectory according to recent popularity surveys in the Philippines. A butterfly metaphor could have been a new approach in public relations to arrest such decline. Or, a reminder for her to do better and regain the public trust after getting embroiled in that UN video brouhaha for which she got pilloried by administration lackeys.
Another metaphor could have to do with her often antagonistic approach to the Duterte administration where she features in multiple news outlets and used such platforms to attack the president or his programs. This time she is more supportive as in her statement regarding the implementation of Martial Law in Mindanao. Although other opposition LP leaders took up the cudgels at the Supreme Court trying to invalidate Duterte’s proclamation, Robredo’s stand was unclear. Was she supporting ML or supporting the administration’s declaration but not ML itself as justified to Congress? The subtlety is nuanced but her clever statement of support was probably smart given that Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre’s NBI order to investigate destabilization moves by LP lawmakers in connection with the Marawi siege excluded Robredo.
Perhaps the most appropriate use of the butterfly metaphor would have been a change in attitude by Filipinos to move on for the sake of the young generation. The extent of the drug problem in the Philippines clearly indicts several administrations including the last one for not arresting such critical decay of society and social mooring, she could have taken responsibility for not addressing the issue more vocally either during the campaign or while she was a legislator. The fact that millions are involved in one way or another with the drug menace – whether as a user or supplier, politicians, judges, law enforcement people or members of the clergy who were receiving drug monies – will lead one to conclude that the leaders have failed the Filipino people whether through their own culpability or indifference but nevertheless, still owe it to the people to help redirect such moral compass. People cannot and should not accept corruption as a way of life and Robredo has the bully pulpit to magnify such message if
only to give more value to the human life. She could embark on such lofty advocacy by helping find solutions and not just criticisms. Accepting the fact that the Filipinos entrusted Duterte to lead such change movement given his perceived strengths behooves everyone including her to find a middle ground for such cooperation.