Duterte’s radicalism

These are the headiest of sociopolitical times for we are living under a Rodrigo Duterte radicalism. The professional observer of societal change ought to be avidly aware: Our times are the kind on which political historians concentrate. We must study President Duterte for what he is—a man making history, and being made by history into an institution. The crucial point is that it is our history that he is making.

Attempting to show how free individuals are bound by historical necessity, Plekhanov in “The Role of Individual in History” (1940) claimed: “If I know in what direction social relations are changing owing to given change in the social economic process of production, I also know in what direction social mentality is changing. Hence, I can make history and there is no need for me to wait while it is being made.”


Doubtless, the masses cry for liberty, equality and fraternity, perhaps not thinking of themselves as radical, or even new. Instead, they hark back to some pristine condition of the past which the present has debased, and which must be restored in the immediate future; or they insist upon the recognition of a humanism supposedly implicit and immanent in the condition of man, and which the status quo has debased in its dungeons.

This political romanticism of Rousseau constitutes the mass appeal of radicalism. In understanding the phenomenon of sociopolitical change, we seek not simply knowledge but also insight—after gaining insight into the forces that generate change. We can ride and direct them to our preconceived goals of the good. And claim the Promethean privilege of participating consciously in forging our destiny instead of being buried in volcanic debris, like Pompeii, unaware.


By now, the tao in the remotest hamlet of our land has learned that Mr. Duterte neither smokes nor drinks; works long and hard and wakes up at a regular hour; acts on the basis of thoroughly prepared reports; speaks with an acidic tongue that expresses his deepest conviction; improves the lot, yet disciplines without fear, the very forces by which he rules; and anticipates problems by quietly developing factors for their solution now.

Criticisms leveled by partisan enemies have been transmuted in the minds of the people into elements that confirm his strength as a lider and ensure his selfless devotion in their service. Nine out of ten or 91 percent of Filipinos trust him, according to the Pulse Asia survey taken days after he took his oath of office on June 30. In brief, we are witnessing the transfiguration of a man into a folk hero. To my mind, a substantial rise in real income coupled with national peace and order will make the process complete in the souls of our people.

The conceptual framework of “radicalism” is in “Radicalism revisited” (Opinion, 9/10/16), In brief, Mr. Duterte is a radical because, as empirically defined, he opposes an established political structure wholly or partly; he has a vision of a better order; he acts to achieve what he envisions. His participation in the process of historical change is ipso facto radicalism.

In its welter of objectives, entities and means, only the constant of political opposition to some sociopolitical status quo remains. Mr. Duterte’s radicalism then is: a deliberate and persistent thrust toward a qualitative change in the sociopolitical status quo, with violence against person or property sought or actualized upon the system constituting the status quo.

He opposes a unitary and highly centralized political structure of “imperial Manila” that had crafted myopic public policies—allocating national resources more for private interest controlled by oligarchs. Elitist democracy has led to exclusive growth at the expense of public services through laws and regulations manipulated by the rich. Widespread poverty and endemic criminality are its bane rewards—reinforced by a hypocritical Church opposing reproductive health: We are poor because overpopulation devours economic growth. Lastly, US neocolonial demands subvert our sovereignty for true democracy.

Mr. Duterte’s vision of a better order consists of a homeland free from the scourge of illegal drugs, corruption and criminality. Oligarchic greed is the enemy to be overcome. And a foreign policy that negates a Yankee ward in the Asean and the world stage must be achieved as a break from the past.

The strategic calculus of the antidrug campaign is to break the grip of narcopolitics—to reverse the corruption of local executives and cops on the payroll of the syndicates, and the violence of the drug cartel to get its way. A relentless war on drugs must be won as it distorts public peace and order by its crimes against person and property. It is a test of political will. Mr. Duterte is prepared to lose his life or the presidency to do what must be done. If he wins, the extensive networks of collusion against the public interest will fall like dominos, and lead to more effective governance.


He acts to achieve what he envisions. Amending the 1987 Constitution to change the government from a unitary, bicameral form to a federal, parliamentary form is a major thrust of his administration. A supermajority in Congress will be ready with a formal proposal by January for the people’s approval in a national plebiscite.

Mr. Duterte has declared drug lords and narcopoliticians as public enemy No. 1, and named 160 mayors, judges and police officers involved in illegal drugs. From June 30 to Sept. 14, some 3,500 suspected drug victims have been killed against 3.7 million pushers, users and addicts. US President Barack Obama urged him to conduct the antidrug war the “right way” to protect human rights. Mr. Duterte tersely replied it was none of his business.

He took a bold risk with his peace efforts with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Moro National Liberation Front, and the lumad, and to exterminate the Abu Sayyaf without mercy.

The rebellion in Mindanao must be firmly met with might, but in the spirit of containment, his final solution is to reconcile them into the body politic, pardon (economic benefits from which they have felt excluded), and accept them as honorable partners in shared political power.

He seems to have hazarded his political stability on mass prosperity—a rise in real income comfortingly discernible to income earners—through an efficient tax system, more investments and job creation. He will provide the necessary infrastructures for agriculture, tourism, transportation and communication.

Mr. Duterte strikes, but is ready to conciliate; he consults even as he commands. To the men of words he addresses his own—to make them see a common vision and objective.

But as always, only time and performance can truly judge us. If it ends with him, then great will be our people’s sorrow.

Reynaldo V. Silvestre is former chief of the Office of Strategic and Special Studies of the Armed Forces, retired Army colonel and multiawarded writer. He taught political science at UP Manila prior to a 30-year military duty.

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