Dutertismo: New Filipino, or anti-Filipino?
Rodrigo Duterte ran on a simple promise; it is in the nature of political slogans to be conveniently vague, and “Change is coming” was short-term specific (get ready for an untraditional politician) but long-term ambiguous (change was however one defined it). He did stand for something in the public mind: He would be tough against crime and drugs, ready to fill Manila Bay with 100,000 corpses; he would be firm against China, flying the Philippine flag in the Chinese coast guard’s face while riding on a jet ski; he would take care of his people, the same way he paternalistically took care of Davao City; he would negotiate an honorable peace with communist insurgents and with Moro separatists, because he understood their struggle; not least, he would be decisive, unlike President Noynoy Aquino.
Today we can say that the President has kept his promise: Change is here. And it is soaked in blood, submerged in uncertainty, saturated in the brine of betrayal. (I have previously noted that the three main changes under “Dutertismo” were the unprecedented wave of extrajudicial killings, the underprepared pivot to China and the unjust rehabilitation of the Marcoses.)
There is some debate about whether those who voted for him voted for these specific changes; the reasonable answer, I would think, is that some did. It is certainly not true that none of his voters imagined the bloodbath that was to come; the Davao Death Squad was an open secret, and some of those who voted for him took him at his violent word and brutal record. Some of his voters campaigned for the Marcoses’ return to national power. And while the embrace of China must have taken many of his voters by surprise, after the fact, some of them must have voted for him because his anti-Americanism was already a known, if underplayed, quality. Besides, the debate about voters misses the point; more people say they approve of him now than voted for him.
But beyond the anti-American (or anti-Western) and pro-Chinese labels, the first year of the Duterte era must force us to ask ourselves: Is “Dutertismo” the herald of a New Filipino or is it rather anti-Filipino?
I always try to keep in mind something that Duterte campaign strategist Pompee La Viña once wrote, that the key to understanding the President was that he was a patriot, first and last. I am prepared to concede his point, even if I may have to disagree with him about definitions of patriotism. But intention is one thing; consequence is another.
President Duterte may have had the country’s welfare in mind when he decided to adopt a strategy of appeasement in relation to Beijing and its expansive claims to the South China Sea. He started with a directive to offer the Chinese a “soft landing” after the extraordinarily sweeping victory the Philippines won at the arbitral tribunal, 12 days after he took office; today, Philippine policy regarding its own sovereign rights and jurisdiction in the West Philippine Sea is summed up in Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano’s defeatist position, that “we react too much” to China.
Hundreds of thousands of Filipinos died to gain our independence or to protect it — for this? Our own history teaches us that appeasement never works with bullies, because bullies feed on vulnerabilities. In what way is this defeatism, this bending over backward to accommodate an expansionist power, representative of the Filipino nation? Dutertismo’s embrace of China is ultimately anti-Filipino, because it undermines our sovereignty, risks our territory — and shames our spirit.
Or consider Dutertismo’s embrace of the Marcoses. As I have argued before, the Marcoses presided over the “fourth occupation” of the Philippines. In what way is giving them a pass, because of “a few gold bars” offered belatedly and without remorse or repentance, representative of the Filipino nation? It is ultimately anti-Filipino, because it mocks both our sense of right and wrong and our traditions of generosity.
Not least, consider the killings. In what way is the President’s unscientific notion that drug addicts cannot be rehabilitated representative of the Filipino nation? Dutertismo’s embrace of the cruel idea that there are no second chances is ultimately anti-Filipino, because it violates our collective faith in redemption, kills our sense of possibility.
This is not who we are.
On Twitter: @jnery_newsstand
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