8 ways to protect Filipinos from Duterte

/ 05:09 AM December 18, 2018

When I taught opinion journalism at the University of the Philippines, I assigned Randy David’s “Civic duty and national renewal” as must reading. I thought then, and still think now, that this column summing up the responsibilities of democratic citizenship was both an elegant example of a difficult kind of opinion writing (the kind I called, schematically, “professorial” or “analytic”) and a teeming template for the kind of opinion the public discourse needed.

The January 2008 column started magisterially: “Civic duty in our time, I submit, consists mainly of three tasks. The first is to seek to understand the demands of a modern society and to participate responsibly in its collective life. The second is to help lessen the suffering of others in our midst. And the third is to make accountable those who make decisions in our name.”


But there was another three-part list in the column that caught my attention, and the imagination of the students. “The modern society that is upon us demands that we abide by its most basic rules. They are not difficult to understand. What are these? Three things, basically: (1) Fall in line and wait for your turn; (2) Know the rules and follow them; (3) Come on time. These simple rules will permit us to navigate the complex terrain of the modern world with ease. There is not a single modern society in the world today that does not strictly enforce these rules.” Here, in three short sentences, is a flash card that is also a placard, a lesson that is also a call to action.

The column was written eight years before Rodrigo Duterte — courteous in private, foulmouthed and antidemocratic and violent in public — became president. It may be best understood as a commentary on Philippine society under the Arroyo presidency; yet reading it again, I find that it helps set the Duterte era in sharper relief. I have written before on the war “Dutertismo” is waging on the Filipino nation: the mass murder of mere suspects, the corruption at the core, the betrayal of the public’s highest interests, the attacks on the institutions of democracy, the willful attempt to turn a nation of martyrs into a country of killers.


As it turns out, Dutertismo — that miasma of impulses, of old and unexamined assumptions, of inordinate greed and grievances, all bound together by an appeal to personal charisma and impersonal force — is not only reshaping what it means to be Filipino; it is forcing the Filipino to retreat from modernity.

The three basic rules of modern society that David described are the same ones that Dutertismo actively undermines. The ascent to power and privilege of the new cronies, many of them raised to their position through their connection to Davao City, has redefined entitlement. The administration’s repeated flouting of the rules is breathtaking; the rule of law has been turned into both a weapon against perceived critics and a shield to protect one-half of the Marcos conjugal dictatorship from the indignity of arrest. And the President’s own obvious lack of discipline is manifest not only in his repeated failure to arrive at presidential functions on time but also his high-profile absences in international conferences.

What do these three basic rules have in common? “The fundamental premise of these rules is equality — a premise that is hard to accept in a traditional society with its entrenched hierarchies,” David wrote. We see more clearly now that the change the candidate Duterte promised is not greater equality, but only a new elite, one ready to rip the Constitution itself to shreds.

Given the three tasks of civic duty, then, what can we do to protect ourselves, our countrymen, our nation, from Mr. Duterte’s scourging? Mindful of Alex Lacson’s “12 Little Things Every Filipino Can Do to Help Our Country,” I would like to suggest the following ways to help us recover from Dutertismo, after the Duterte era:

Call out every abuse, or every attempted abuse, of power. Do not fall silent.

Attend to the victims.

Talk back to anyone who makes a misogynistic, “rapey,” or violence-justifying joke.


Ridicule every attempt to pass disinformation, starting with the president. Collective derision is therapeutic.

Inspire one another. Resisting the new normal can be exhausting; reminders of solidarity and the need for self-care are vital.

Offer counterexamples of the true nature of the Filipino. Remember.

Network with the professionals in government, especially the independent voices in the judiciary.

Articulate resistance without resorting to cursing or hate speech. That way lies the dark side.

On Twitter: @jnery_newsstand. E-mail: [email protected]

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TAGS: Civic Duty and National Renewal, Dutertistmo, john Nery, Newsstand, public discourse, Randy Davidy, Rodrigo Duterte
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