Mayor Isko: The antidote to Duterte?
In Carl Jung’s magnum opus “Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious,” one of the greatest psychologists of the modern era discussed the presence of “archaic and mythological thought-forms” common across cultures and time. Jung argued that in as much as we have personal unconscious, namely all the traumas, pains and impulses that escape our conscious grasp, there is also a “collective unconscious,” which is “identical in all men and thus constitutes a common psychic substrate of a suprapersonal nature which is present in every one of us.”
The contents of the collective unconscious, largely a product of our evolutionary biology, are the “archetypes.” According to Jung and American mythologist Joseph Campbell, they encompass our shared intercivilizational notions of Mother Nature, rebirth and transformation, dragons, tricksters and jokers, the dark underworld and an all-powerful male deity. There is also the archetype of the hero (think of Odysseus in Greek Homeric poems, or Rostam in the Persian Shahnameh), who overcomes a plethora of impossible challenges through sheer determination and strength of character.
These archetypes, I argue, also apply in the realm of politics, where citizens search for a hero-like figure for national salvation, especially in times of turbulence and transition. And it’s precisely within this context that one should understand the “Isko phenomenon,” which I predicted ahead of our latest elections.
In an April column for the South China Morning Post, I underscored the clash between two archetypes, both presenting themselves as “outsiders,” who have come to increasingly dominate the global democratic landscape.
On one hand, you have the patrimonial-authoritarian populists, ranging from Prime Ministers Narendra Modi (India) and Viktor Orbán (Hungary) to Presidents Donald Trump (America) and Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Turkey). They present themselves as “the” alternative to deracinated and feckless liberal elites who have overseen the supposed declension of great societies. Through their iron will and single-minded leadership, these leaders promise that they can make their respective countries “great again.” President Duterte, who once said he was the Philippines’ “last card” (“huling baraha ng Pilipino”) squarely belongs to this first group of political outsiders.
Yet, these charismatic leaders may be about to meet their match. As I noted earlier, “recent years have also seen the meteoric rise of young, energetic and progressive leaders, many in their mid-30s and early 40s, who are advocating diametrically opposed visions for their societies.”
I call them the “alt-populists”—leaders with populist rhetoric who, while presenting themselves as agents of change and transformation against an uncaring and dissimulated ruling class, instead adopt broadly reform-minded policies and progressive-liberal values in their actual governance. Think of the likes of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Slovakian hipster-President Zuzana Caputova, Iceland’s environmentalist Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir and Canada’s “politically correct” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. What they bring to the table is freshness of perspective, compassionate engagement with the electorate, and embodiment of personal discipline as part of a dedication to a greater cause.
In archetypical terms, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno fits into this second group of “alt-populists.” So far, he has shown a commitment to literally clean things up in his city and reemphasize its storied heritage. At least that’s what I felt during a recent evening visit to the Andres Bonifacio Monument, now shining with uncharacteristic cleanliness and historic resonance.
Mr. Duterte has palpably showed the power of “masa appeal,” though hailing from a political dynasty himself. Moreno, however, authentically embodies the masa spirit, having sprung from the slums and, with undaunted determination, transformed himself into a paragon of self-discipline and self-improvement.
Like Mr. Duterte, he projects conviction politics with verve and vigor. But unlike the President, he seems—so far—to be a fundamentally reform-oriented progressive. When asked about human rights, he made it clear that he “will respect human rights” and “will not allow the abuse of individuals” by security forces. In another clear juxtaposition with
Mr. Duterte, Isko has also made it clear it’s the leaders’ “moral obligation” to have responsible and decent self-projection in the public realm, considering the children in the audience, “when you are addressing the country.”
It’s too early to say where Isko’s personal journey will lead, but he represents an archetype of good leadership desperately needed in these dark times.
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