«

»

May 07

False Messiahs enfeebling institutions

The burden of history is solely on your shoulders now.

So we are where we are. The man to beat is a demagogue:
dem·a·gogue?dem???ä?/noun
  1. a political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument.synonyms:rabble-rouser, agitator, political agitator, soapbox orator, firebrand, fomenter, provocateur”he was drawn into a circle of campus demagogues”
    • (in ancient Greece and Rome) a leader or orator who espoused the cause of the common people.
He has, as editorials have pointed out, promoted a Death squad culture and promoted A slide to mob rule. All the while engaging in legal stonewalling.

Any time a demagogic candidate wins a nomination, it suggests a potential failure of political institutions, including (but not limited to) the media. Nate Silver, analyzing the Republican primary victories of Donald Trump.

And yes, as Leon Ma. Guerrero long ago observed, “today began yesterday.”
In February, 2009, I wrote (“The end of social mobility”) that we risked a revival of fascism because the core constituency of liberal democracy, the Old Middle Class, had been gutted, and that the New Middle Class came into being without the institutions of church, club, and school, to foster the civic sense necessary for positive engagement for the citizenry. At the same time, we faced the problem of a permanent underclass of citizens trapped in poverty without prospects of escaping it. In 2010, a great effort began to liberate the very poor –but so intensive was this effort, that, upon reflection, it may be that the New Middle Class –or, to be precise, a significant but not major, chunk of it– has become even more alienated as to provide the legions for a fascist movement.
I don’t agree with Julio Teehankee on many things (we support different candidates after all) but when he observed, that Duterte is the candidate of the elite that has been left out by other elite he makes a good point. And this is where Duterte is cast from the same mold as Ferdinand Marcos. I first discussed the concept of the decline of the institutions that molded –even held together– the social structure, namely churches, clubs, and schools, in 2004; as I mentioned above, it seemed to me in 2009 that unless something happened, things were headed in a direction ripe for fascism.

Friends for now.

A kind of validation of this thesis of mine, for me, is this post by Susan Quimpo, a member of a team campaigning against Marcos revisionism, and her experience talking to students in Baguio, Pangasinan, Cabantuan, Metro Manila, Cebu, Iloilo, General Santos City, Cagayan de Oro, Iligan City, and Zamboanga.
So we see the result of a generation that has come of age in the absence of the formative, including cultural, socialization by these institutions. A generation who, together with their elders nostalgic for the dictatorship, have formed the constituency for the National Socialism –how else to wed the Left and Right?– of Rodrigo Duterte and Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
Now we are where we are. While the Middle is not out for the count, still, the alliance of the Left and Right is delighted. Let’s begin with a big vocabulary-building word.

The famous editorial cartoon of Hitler and Stalin exchanging complements over the corpse of Poland

Schadenfreude: schadenfreude |????d(?)n?fr??d?, German ????d?n?fr?yd?| noun [ mass noun ] pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune. a business that thrives on Schadenfreude. a frisson of Schadenfreude. ORIGIN German Schadenfreude, from Schaden ‘harm’ + Freude ‘joy’.
That’s the theme of Heneral Lunacy speaking for the schadenfreude crowd, taking delight in the growing unease –to put it mildly– over the possibility of a Duterte presidency (a more thoughtful variation is here, my only comment, in terms of the historical analogies presented, being the findings of this study).
To both articles, a good rebuttal here, but I would go further and say what these essays reveals is how the Left and the Right are in mouthwatering alliance. This carries its own internal contradictions, but also, the basis for an alliance. Both sides can confidently claim they not only have the candidate’s ear, but that they will be able to prevail once their candidate is in office. An impassioned examination of the base of support of the candidate can be found in this Facebook entry.
As we approach decision day, it is well worth looking deeper into who Duterte is, and what he is not.
The man, the legend:

““Q. What would your government do, if you won? A. I would establish a military dictatorship. Q. What would happen to the politicians of the republic? A. Nothing, except they would have to go to work. Q. Why were you able to collaborate with the government in apparent loyalty for so long? A. I collaborated loyally as long as I thought the Republic represented the national will. Q. What about the February elections? Don’t they represent the national will? A. Elections never do.” —Generalissimo Francisco Franco, interview, during the Spanish Civil War

What Rodrigo Duterte is: firmly a member of the establishment, the kind one would call a provincial baron; or a “Boss”: See Capital, Coercion, and Crime: Bossism in the Philippines by John Thayer Sidel.
  • Vicente G. Duterte: Father of Rodrigo Duterte
    • Cebu Danao Mayor (1946); Davao Governor (1958) [Moved to Davao]; Cabinet Secretary of Ferdinand Marcos Sr. for General Services (1967)
  • Ramon Durano Sr. “Mano Amon”: Cousin of Rodrigo Duterte (Rodrigo’s cousin, Beatriz Duterte married Ramon Durano Sr.)
  • Ramon Duterte: Uncle of Rodrigo Duterte
    • Vice-Mayor of Sergio Osmeña Jr.; became Mayor of Cebu City (Sept. 13, 1957-Dec. 31, 1959) when Serging ran for the House of Representatives. Was also a Judge of the Court of First Instance.
  • Ronald Duterte: Cousin of Rodrigo Duterte
    • Mayor of Cebu City (1983-86)
  • The Dutertes are only one of two families where a “father and son” served as Cebu City Mayor –Ramon Duterte and his son Ronald Duterte. The other family are the Osmeñas- with Sergio Osmeña, Jr. and Tomas Osmeña. Rodrigo Duterte himself maintained quite friendly ties with Senator Sergio Osmeña III.
  • But if the elder Duterte and their Cebu relatives were Marcos Loyalists, what then of Mayor Duterte himself? In the purge of local officials after EDSA, Rodrigo Duterte, together with Jejomar Binay, became a mayor under the auspices of the Minister (later Secretary) of the Interior, Aquilino Pimentel, Jr. While the Binays and Pimentels have parted ways, the Dutertes and Pimentels remain allies —though perhaps not in the true inner circle of Duterte. Here, three factions seem to be more relevant: the GMAFVR Combine (Sonny Dominguez, General Esperon, Nur Misuari, etc.) and the Marcoses (Romualdezes too); the CPP-NPA-NDF; and his own faction of benefactors and allies in business circles (aside from Dominguez, there’s Floirendo, and unnamed others as well as “offers of support”). And when he delivers his speeches, whether before the Makati Business Club or The Lyceum of the Philippines, he has his fair share of upper class support.
His appeal is based on a pre-modern view of our society and our country; the most he is willing to do is reduce the complexity of our evolving society and force it into an obsolete straitjacket, much as Marcos attempted.

“Marcos sees the Philippines as a society of tribes… And he sees himself as the great tribal chief, the ‘datu’ of pre-Spanish times. He destroyed much of the old network of family and regional loyalties to become the one and only patron, the king of Maharlika.” –Adrian Cristobal

The parallelisms with Ferdinand Marcos, while not exact, are striking. Products of the provincial gentry, glorying in the violent political culture of their places of origin, cultivating the Metropolitan elite to whom he has proven useful over the decades, demagogic in his addressing upper- and middle-class resentments and fears –in the case of Marcos, by means of projecting himself as a philosopher-king, and in the case of Duterte, by adopting the language of the streets (a transitional figure between the two would be Joseph Estrada, another inheritor of the Marcos machine and who attracted eager academicians who thought they could write policy and imprint it on his tabula rasa brain). With Fidel Ramos, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and the Marcoses on the Right, and the CPP-NPA-NDF of Jose Ma. Sison on the Left, he can count on various ethnic loyalties but what holds everything together is of course fear. Which as its own rewards. Forget efforts to level the playing field.

Editorial cartoon by EZ Izon in The Philippines Free Press. Older readers can identify those surrounding Marcos.

While Marcos cloaked his ruthlessness in what he himself dismissively called “technical legalism,” Duterte’s public personality belongs to a different tradition –one created by Arsenio Lacson of Manila, who belonged to Bacolod gentry, was clever and cultured, but who adopted a rugged persona as a columnist then politician. But he was a rugged reformist through-and-through; for all their limitations, it is striking that two seeming opposites, the old party man Amang Rodriguez and the brash Lacson, both served as the most committed obstacles to the presidential ambitions of Ferdinand Marcos, who however had the good fortune of death claiming both leaders just when he, Marcos, was gunning for the presidency.

Eulogio “Amang” Rodriguez, with a beaming Arsenio Lacson (in trademark shades) and a cap-wearing Lorenzo Tañada, at a Plaza Miranda rally. Each represented a different style of leadership; all three bitterly opposed Marcos.

So there is an element of fate, or luck –or misfortune– too. There is already plenty of analysis of this (see the start of this piece); there will be more to come. Back in 1996, I wrote this lengthy recounting of the period between Martial Law and Edsa, and this snippet serves to flesh out the parallels I see: “Here was a grotesque combination of mailed fist, military inexorability, and characteristic disregard for details. A regime capable of displaying unbeatable cunning but prey to a self-destructive contempt for its opponents, and a tendency to botch things up.”
But remaining on topic:
This is what Rodrigo Duterte is not: He is neither a reformer nor a visionary. He is a representative of that portion of the elite for whom the accumulation of power and the enjoyment of its perks takes precedence over anything else, the latest incarnation of might-makes-right, the most prominent exponent of government-as-mafia. Thoughts on the 2016 Election makes for insightful reading on the trends in the election, the possible developments on election day, and the question of the economy (so please read the whole thing!). But let me excerpt this summation of Rodrigo Duterte from that article:

One of the ‘darker’ notes surrounding the Duterte compulsion is what his candidacy really means. Yes, he is running on a ‘platform’ (such that it is) of anti-criminality, but the methods he has utilized and is espousing are terrifying in their implications. This is a man who has no qualms about using extrajudicial means to eliminate ‘petty’ criminals. He has promised to empower the military and the police to do just that, at their whim. With his broad support in the A/B/C categories, this can only be interpreted in one way: A war on the impoverished. This is class warfare at its most brutal and depressing. Rather than seeing the impoverished (those who are forced into a life of crime because of a lack of opportunity) as partners in development, men like Duterte (and those who support him) see these ‘criminals’ as something to be exterminated — sub-human and beyond redemption. Duterte has become the avatar of our collective worst impulses. We are faced with the reality of a blood-thirsty misogynist as our next president. That reflects on us collectively. Funnily enough, his straight shooting tough guy image only goes so far – He’ll insult and antagonize our allies (USA, Australia, India, Singapore), but will roll over and show his belly for countries like China. He’ll demand transaction histories and open accounts from his competitors, but will resort to legal trickery and obfuscation to evade answering questions transparently of his own alleged malfeasance.

For more on Duterte’s style, see Duterte in 1989: “Shoot-to-kill can never be shoot-to-live” in MindaNews.
What he is, then, is merely a product. See: They Created An Environment of Hate and Anger To Win The Presidency. Who are “they”? See Phil Bombita and Annelle Gumihid-Sabanal. An instrument to turn back the clock.
The Battle
We must, as Ed Garcia writes, make a Choice of conscience. Our collective decision, if made uncritically, is Betting the future, as Edilberto de Jesus warns. We can appeal to the moderate supporters of Duterte, and also appeal to the supporters of Grace Poe. But the basis of this must be knowing what is at stake.

In the coming days, the Philippines is set to elect its new leaders….Will the Philippines fall into a Machiavellian cyclical history as it did in the 20th century or, instead, embark on a Hegelian march towards the terminus of genuine democracy? Richard Heyderian, in Philippines at a Crossroads: “Iron Fist” vs. “Straight Path 2.0”?

Peachy Paderna, in a Facebook posts, points out:
The assumption seems to be that Duterte’s defeat can only be possible if other candidates cheat. We presume him to be invincible, due to survey results that consistently put him in the lead.
But election surveys–as helpful as they are–never claim to be predictive. They can help us make educated guesses, but no further. Recall that in the 2010 Vice Presidential race, Mar Roxas was long and far ahead of his opponents. In the run-up to the elections (as of 19 April 2010), 39% of SWS respondents were in favor of him. At far second was Jejomar Binay, who lagged by 14 sorry points at 25%. Sure and certain victory was foreseen for Roxas.
Then Binay stunned us all by winning. In the end, he cornered nearly 42% of the votes, with Roxas second at close to 40%.
Let’s zoom back to the present. In the last few weeks, numerous accounts of electoral fraud–specifically overseas–have surfaced. The story usually goes like this: “I voted for Duterte-Cayetano here in Siberia, but when the receipt came out, it showed that I voted for Mar-Leni. [email protected]#%@ niyo LP, grabe pandaraya niyo!”
Many of these stories have already been discredited, and the COMELEC has vowed to file charges against those who make false claims on polling fraud. Altogether, however, it looks like the electorate–particularly the pro-Duterte bloc–are being conditioned to believe that if Duterte loses, it’s because Mar cheated him of the Presidency.
This is of course a preemptive move, but it’s also a move that eagerly courts civil unrest. Because while many Duterte supporters are possessed of reason, a vast majority of them have shown extreme savagery towards those who criticize or oppose their beloved candidate. Should Duterte lose, it’s not difficult to imagine their displeasure to manifest in discourse–or worse, action–of the same viciousness.
This isn’t a doomsday pronouncement. It’s only a possibility we must be mindful of. After all, the electoral exercise is, among many things, a frank acknowledgment of the breadth of possibility. This is why we troop to the polling booths in hopes that our candidate will pull through, never mind what the surveys say. In exercising our right to vote, we honor the fact of possibility offered to us by our democracy.
Anything can happen on May 9. Virtually anything can.
And there’s the rub.
As my aunt said in a video message, this is the most crucial election since the end of Martial Law. She was a veteran of the Parliament of the Streets. For those who did not live through the dictatorship, who lack a similar frame of reference, this may be hard to believe. But the signs are all there.
It will be a close fight, many say; as many say it won’t. We will only know after the polls close, what the popular verdict will be.
Let me close with this:

To all those backing Duterte, just remember, when the killings start, you should be beside him. All the way. Even after the river of blood overflows. Stand by him and tell yourself, you helped the blood flow. You are very much a part of it. Don’t wash your hands off it. Be proud of what you’ve done.Raissa Robles, journalist

More Readings:
This article is an extended postscript to my entry, What’s at stake: A Modernizing Nation, or a Never-Never Land?.
The splitting of the Reform Constituency: See Tina Cuyugan and Mikael de Lara Co.
On Church, club, and schools as institutions for formation and their decline: see my articles, Circle to Circle (2004); Elections are Like Water (also 2004); An Abnormal Return to Normality (2007); The Perpetual Avoidance of Opportunity (also 2007).

Leave a Reply