The Duterte revolution
We are at the start of a revolution that is uniquely Filipino in the same way that Edsa I was. The past decades that were a slow drift to an implosion due to rampant corruption, weakened institutions and the apathy of Filipinos have finally been arrested—not by a man on a white horse, or a soldier atop a tank, but through the ballot by a foul-mouthed Indio, the first politician courageous enough to challenge the Catholic Church and the powerful, arrogant and, yes, unclean media. His ideology in its basic simplicity is love of country and people, and a willingness to sacrifice for it.
The ramifications of Mr. Duterte’s assault on the rotten status quo, which has begun with the war on drugs, will go deeper into the matrix of our society and government as police, politicians and powerful Filipinos are subjected to the harsh scrutiny of the revolution. Eventually the highest enclaves of privilege will feel its impact for the simple reason that rampant corruption also afflicts our business and banking sectors.
Many of our problems are due to the irresponsibility of the oligarchs; they are the No. 1 culprit of our economic and moral decline. They argue and make decisions from comfortable positions. The revolution is happening, and they cannot see it. Perhaps, when it reaches them, they will be forced to be more socially involved and invest in enterprises that will “spread money like fertilizer.” They may even bring home the money they have stashed or invested abroad, and participate in the resurgence of ethics and patriotism.
Populist programs particularly in education, in health and in housing are an absolute necessity, but they should not cultivate mendicancy. It is important that many jobs are created as President Roosevelt did during America’s Great Depression. The monetary aid being dispensed to the very poor under the past administration should be stopped and jobs put in its place.
Populist programs should not bankrupt the economy and result in dire shortages of food and medicines, as is happening in oil-rich Venezuela. Apart from creating jobs and therefore increasing production, the Duterte administration should also widen the tax base and intensify tax collection. As in the United States, tax evasion should be dealt with severely by imprisonment and confiscation of assets. There is hardly anyone in this country that is put in jail for tax evasion. It will take a lot of courage to do this, but President Duterte has tons of it.
His massive support cuts across ethnicities, across social, economic and generational divides. All sorts of people supported his election, among them those who saw where the wind was blowing. Even the Moros did. The Left did not; as in Edsa I, their feet were not on the ground. They supported Grace Poe, unmindful of the big money that was behind her.
Yet, upon occupying office, President Duterte took the high moral ground by accommodating the communist left and extending a hand to the Moro rebels. The response of these rebel movements to his offer of a unilateral ceasefire and peace will validate—or invalidate—their sincerity. It is only with peace that we can have real development.
The first weeks of the Duterte administration have given us hope in several sectors—in agriculture, in the welfare of our overseas Filipino workers, in transportation, education, housing, telecommunications and services. And most of all, access to the very top for the aggrieved, and transparency of government transactions, long withheld by politicians and the powerful with secrets to hide.
His major failing, as I see it, is his accommodation of the Marcos dictatorship. Why? He is fully aware of its evil, its immoral excesses, and its singular role in impoverishing our country. For that reason it is too early to be euphoric.
Make no mistake, though. This revolution is rooted in ethics and patriotism, as were most revolutions in the past.
It will not be a quick fix. The Mexican and Vietnamese revolutions lasted one generation; we must be prepared for the painful process, the collateral damage, the emotional travail.
Yet there is no certitude, no guarantee, that this revolution will create a free and just society. Remember how the French revolution devoured its own children, Madame Roland exclaiming before the guillotine, “Oh liberty, what crimes are committed in your name!”
That revolution ushered in Napoleon, just like the American revolutionary war preceded the civil war, the Chinese revolution brought about the great proletarian cultural revolution that decimated hundreds of thousands, and the Iranian revolution brought about Islamic fundamentalism. But the revolutions changed these countries forever. For this is what every revolution does: It alters society, and transfers power from the oppressor to the oppressed.
It is a risk that all people must take to be free of oppression, to have justice. It is up to the survivors of any revolution to realize that it does not bring immediate social benefits to the people. At its conclusion, it is precisely at this opportune time that revolutionaries have to work harder to make that cataclysmic change bear fruit. It is the time when they should depart to be replaced by excellent administrators who have the technical knowledge and expertise for development. The sword must now be forged into a plowshare.
In ushering in meaningful change for the Philippines, President Duterte has incurred the wrath of so many in all levels of society, from the slums to the perfumed precincts of the very rich who feel that their status and privileges are threatened. It is very possible that this very day, conspiracies are being hatched to assassinate him. If such plans succeed, they may well halt the revolution although several changes have been made permanent.
But our past has shown how Filipinos easily forget and are not all that vigilant. Soon, the baser side of our nature, our instincts, will prevail. President Magsaysay brought about a clean government but upon his death in 1957, in that airplane crash which up to this very day is considered by many as sabotage, corruption returned instantly. And the very stalwarts who supported Magsaysay could do little to stop the resurgence of this evil.
Whatever good the Duterte revolution succeeds in implanting in the Filipino consciousness must therefore be made permanent, institutionalized. This can be made possible by constant testing under stress, as metals are tested and strengthened by fire, and by also ingesting in our hearts the ideal of love of country and people—and the willingness to sacrifice for it—so that we can redeem this unhappy country at last.
F. Sionil Jose is a national artist for literature.