The two choices of “Remain” or “Leave” have roiled the Philippine Left for so long that the bitter, disruptive parting of cohesion and union, such as the Brexit, no longer surprise us. The Philippine Left just phrased it differently – Reaffirm and Rejectionists – to demarcate the line between those pursuing Mao’s dream of encircling the city from the countryside from those offering other paths to gaining political power, a parliamentary option not ruled out.
“Remain” or “Leave” has been a long-running, vexing dilemma of the Philippine Left, now mostly fought by the various factions’ above-ground organizations. The Rejectionists have mostly seen the decimation of their underground armies so they have to fight the mainstream Left through their above-ground mass organizations.
The Brexit vote, first announced in 2014 by a now-humbled David Cameron, was different from our version of “Remain” or “Leave” in the sense that it had a schedule. Either you vote for remaining within the EU in June of 2016 to preserve the ordained stability of the postwar order. Or leave to plunge that arrangement, the relatively stability offered by the postwar order, into great uncertainty. The UK voters went for uncertainty. The stock market plunge is child play in comparison with the larger political and security shocks dealt by the “Leave” vote.
It was a demonstration of voters rage pure and simple. The economic reasons for the breakup are not that powerful and compelling. Rational minds looking for really solid reasons for the “ Leave” vote have found out that xenophobia and nativism just drowned out the other economic and political rationales, and security reasons too, for remaining within the EU.
Voters’ rage against the Establishment? Sounds familiar.
The fact is we had one like that in May. Voters shunned the Establishment candidates, the safe bets that were expected to work within the established order and parameters from Day One after the inaugural, and opted for Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.
Who were rejected in favor of Mr. Duterte? The vice president (Mr. Binay), the co-president (Mr. Roxas), and two senators (Ms. Poe and Ms. Santiago). The rejected were all – and still remain – pillars of the Establishment. Yet voters overwhelmingly went for an outsider whose main promise was different from the usual line of promoting economic growth and providing political stability. Mr. Duterte simply promised to kill criminals and end what he termed was the “optional” obedience to the law.
Mr. Duterte waged a presidential campaign never seen in the history of Philippine politics. He campaigned in neither prose nor poetry but via crackling expletives. Just a simple pledge to end the anarchy and chaos that have plagued Philippine society, a state of anarchy that has been a tangential issue to past administrations. Mr. Duterte mocked and taunted the established order during the campaign, from the Church that truly deserved a flagellation, to the Big Media and the national guardians of the national morals and etiquette.
We, the outsiders who never had any big ambition in life, the outsiders who just wanted to remain peons and faceless and voiceless blue collar workers, just watched with amusement as the candidate called “The Digong” mocked the hypocrisy of the Church and the Wharton degree of Mr. Roxas. And cuss his way into a 16-million plus votes.
The more he taunted, the more the voters loved him. The more he violated the established parameters of presidential campaigns, the more he gained voters’ adulation. In the blighted rural areas and the gritty urban slums, Duterte fans framed their own crude posters for their candidate. What undergirded the Duterte fanaticism was anti-establishment rage.
Each to his own. What drives the rage of voters from setting to setting may be different. It was essentially xenophobia in the Brexit vote. It was the unorthodox appeal and anti-establishment call of Mr. Duterte that propelled him to the presidency. It was Donald Trump’s messages to the baser instincts of white Americans that made him the presumptive Republican presidential candidate in November.
As Europe ponders on its future without the United Kingdom, as the Republican establishment assesses its November chances with Mr. Trump on the ballot, the Philippine Establishment is having sleepless nights as it ponders upon the next six years with Mr. Duterte as president. Big Business, Big Media, the Church and their civil society acolytes are not getting the usual pro-establishment assurances from Mr. Duterte.
One certified blue blood was recently named to the Cabinet, one webbed to the political and economic elite from time immemorial. But she herself has telegraphed strong messages of environmental activism that has spooked mining stocks.
To what uncharted course will Mr. Duterte take the nation?
We, the outcasts and outsiders, do not really know. What we know is that we do not share the angst, anxieties and worries of the Establishment. After six years of getting most-favored status under Mr. Aquino, the Establishment, from our view, deserves its current worries and anxieties.