Brexit and bigotry in Philippine democracy | Inquirer Opinion
Sisyphus’ Lament

Brexit and bigotry in Philippine democracy

SINGAPORE—Are Filipinos vulnerable to Brexit’s extremes of democracy?

A week later, Britain still tries to explain how 51.9 percent voted to leave the European Union, the world’s largest economy. British voters cited sovereignty, frowning on supranational regulations and less control over immigration. Former London mayor Boris Johnson asked to make the referendum Britain’s independence day.


Around 9 a.m. our time, after the referendum, a “Remain” friend was frantically refreshing a map showing each area’s votes. He bewailed how the pound had dropped by about 7 percent. It dropped another 7 percent by the afternoon.

By 6 p.m., a “Leave” friend confessed he had no more money to buy us drinks. Global stock markets lost about $2 trillion. Scotland mulled leaving the United Kingdom in order to stay in the


European Union.

“Leave” leaders soon disavowed their central premises. Britain would need to conform to EU policies to retain market access. The budgetary savings painted on the side of Johnson’s big red campaign bus were denied. Prof. Michael Dougan, in a viral video, decried “dishonesty on an industrial scale.”

The turbulent drama continues. Johnson suddenly announced last June 30 that he would not run for prime minister, two hours after his key lieutenant, Michael Gove, announced his own candidacy. Over 4 million signed a petition for a second referendum. Thousands marched through London to protest Brexit last Saturday, mostly younger Brits who disproportionately voted “Remain.”

We might have missed less reported scenes. Some argued Brexit legitimized a spike in “celebratory racism.” People with foreign roots, from Sweden to Bangladesh, were told to go home by strangers in the street.

A video of a teenager shouting “go back to Africa” in a Manchester tram went viral. A  halal  butcher shop in Walsall was firebombed. Dog

feces were planted in a Rugby Eastern European family’s mailbox.

Some further argued that Brexit legitimized anti-intellectualism. Gove prominently downplayed the warnings of 10 Nobel Prize winners with, “I think the people in this country have had enough of experts.” Johnson likened the European Union to a Nazi Reich.


International media and comedian John Oliver, fairly or unfairly, now cast the Philippines in a bizarre trinity with Britain and a United States that may be led by Donald Trump. We are cited against the likes of French populist Marine Le Pen, no matter how, for example, I previously protested that foreign media must be skewed if they missed how the last election’s heated controversy was Sen.

Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s near-win as vice president.

Can the demagoguery, anti-intellectualism and naked racism Brexit is accused of erupt in the Philippines, given our younger and less mature democratic institutions?

I can never forget, for example, how my country ignored the blatant anti-Chinese-Filipino, racist article that National Artist F. Sionil José published all the way to the Inquirer’s front page. Friends, even lawyers, tried to argue that it is not racist to call for Filipino citizens with any Chinese blood to proclaim their loyalty given our maritime dispute. Like ethnic Romanian schoolchildren in Britain, Chinese-Filipino students read José’s call for them to return to China and protested that they had never even set foot there.

When Tiffy Uy set the University of the Philippines grade record, countless online trolls said she was not a real Filipino and even threatened violence against ethnic Chinese. I found myself publicly wondering if it would take a shooting in San Juan’s Mary the Queen Church to draw attention to the problem.

In her final column last June 5, Manila Times’ Nicole CuUnjieng recalled one of her themes was “a dangerously growing hypernationalism that at times erupted into anti-Chinese racism.”

Discrimination against Muslim Filipinos is far worse. Women periodically publish essays on feeling uncomfortable walking in Manila with a  hijab  (headscarf). A candidate unconsciously said “Muslim   na mananakop” in a presidential debate and a police sketch of a Zamboanga City bomber featured a note, “Muslim type.”

Implicit racism probably colored the stillborn Bangsamoro Basic Law more than we care to admit. The proposed law’s many points were never publicly debated in-depth, beyond headcounts where perceived experts were on each side.

Gov. Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao nearly cried in a 2015 Senate hearing, bewailing Muslim stereotypes.

Brexit is, beyond politics, a legal Gordian knot that will keep international law firms busy for years. Media, the academe and courts themselves have yet to curb anti-intellectualism in Philippine legal discourse, as most recently demonstrated by the out-of-this-world charge of homicide— through criminal negligence!—of the SAF 44 against former president Benigno Aquino III.

Supreme Court hearings and headline news consistently feature legal arguments that contradict freshman textbooks. Teenagers who protested the Cybercrime Act in 2012, by turning their Facebook profile pics black, were clueless that internet libel was long punishable under a 1930 law. The Supreme Court case was argued in part by a leftist congressman who repeatedly told justices he was not familiar with the internet. The same congressman sued the entire power sector and told justices he was not familiar with our electricity law.

The case against the Reproductive Health Act opened with the Pope quoted against Supreme Court justices. The petitioner against the Torre de Manila opened his Supreme Court case by admitting repeatedly it had no legal, only moral, basis.

Right on July 1, Congress called for Charter change to allow a shift to a federal system. How will we do better than Brexit?

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React: [email protected], Twitter @oscarfbtan,

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