First of 2 Parts
YOU won’t read it in the headlines, but President Rodrigo Duterte has been drastically recasting the Philippines, and he has reached a crossroads in his battle against age-old cultures and structures.
The battles he wages are not just against drug lords and terrorists, or the strictures of democracy and due process. The real recasting targets far bigger and more entrenched interests, institutions and inculcations.
In brief, Duterte, whether he realizes it or not, has been challenging three entrenched, pernicious realities long bedeviling the Philippines.
First, the rule of the lawless. Whether by money, power, connections or arms, self-serving segments of society—from the gilded business and political elite, to corruption cabals, crime syndicates, terrorists and rebels—have their ways and wishes, bending, manipulating or disregarding laws enacted for the common good and peace in society.
Second, the dominance of colonizers. Despite 71 years of formal independence in 1946, the Philippines has in fact been under the thumb of the American-led geopolitical and cultural hegemony. Under these overarching ideological, political, security, economic and media parameters, Western ideas and rules govern human rights, financial and trading systems, media and culture, and the conduct of global affairs.
Third and most subtle, President Duterte is putting what’s acceptable or necessary in the view of ordinary folk, above what’s legal and politically correct. Take the rape jokes. They are offensive and hurtful to women, but ask people on the street, even women, if they think President Duterte really meant to encourage rape or disrespect women, and most, if not all, will say that he was kidding to give soldiers a lift as they prepare for war.
Putting the people above the law
These three emerging paradigm shifts in our nation are now coming to a major turning point, which may well decide whether the recasting goes forward or reverts.
In the Mindanao campaign, buttressed by martial law, President Duterte is taking on not just the Maute and Abu Sayyaf terrorists and their Islamic State backers, but also the political establishment, spooked by the prospect of a sworn enemy of oligarchic rule and corrupt politics, wielding immense new powers.
In the war on drugs, deadly force is used as never before, again challenging the establishment’s legal edifice of law and due process. Duterte has argued that the rights, welfare and lives of law-abiding citizens must be protected more than those of those accused of threatening the people and undermining law and order.
Rights advocates here and abroad object, but most Filipinos are glad for the safer streets, and accept the harsh and sometimes illegal means employed to fight crime and narcotics.
Moving to the fight against sleaze, Duterte’s name-and-shame tack and his instant firing of officials who lose his trust, have also raised hackles among sticklers for due process and the rights of the accused.
This rapid campaign to clean up government is set for an even bigger sweep with the President’s call to postpone barangay elections and let him appoint a new set of leaders nationwide.
As for Duterte’s fight against elite power and privilege, he served the oligarchs notice with his early takedown of gaming billionaire Roberto Ongpin, followed by tax evasion cases against Mighty Corp. to collect some P13 billion.
The struggle against oligarchy suffered a setback of sorts with the ouster of Environment Secretary Gina Lopez, which her erstwhile boss attributed to “lobby money.” But if the full tax reform measure clears Congress, it will give bigger legislative teeth to Duterte’s push to shift more wealth from the rich to the poor. And federalism will further transfer power from Imperial Manila to provincial communities.
In sum, segments of the nation which had long gamed the system of laws, rights, and state institutions, are now feeling the heat from a leader who will not hesitate to set aside those manipulated structures and processes of the Philippine state, to bring down those threatening, oppressing, and harming our people.
At last, liberation from the West
Along with the struggle against the rich, the corrupt, and the lawless, President Duterte is standing up to the global dominance of the West. First, he took on the United States, cussing then-President Barack Obama, then declaring “separation” from the longtime ally and “alliance” with its geopolitical rivals China and Russia.
Western media, governments and leaders then rose in a chorus of criticism against Duterte, in glaring contrast to silence among the rest of the world. The West’s geopolitical bias showed, as Duterte was attacked while leaders strategically crucial to the West, like Egyptian strongman Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who brutally deposed an elected Islamic government, was largely tolerated.
The struggle to break free of Western dominance, long imposed by aid and loans, took a giant stride forward when President Duterte recently rejected European Union aid if it unduly restricted national policies and governance.
What helped the Philippines to set such conditions for EU aid is the unprecedented billions of dollars in assistance, credit and investment from China, Japan and the Middle East, with more coming from Russia. Plainly, while the West lambasted Duterte, much of the rest of the world took his side, even lifting him to the top of Time magazine’s poll for its Most Influential People issue.
So, now the Philippines under the Duterte presidency is finally breaking free from colonial dominance, and the non-Western world’s governments, people and media are nodding somewhat by refusing to join the hue and cry in America and Europe. And even the West isn’t solid against Duterte, as US President Donald Trump has shown.
With dominant powers here and abroad challenged by Duterte, with clear gains for ordinary Filipinos, his trust, approval and satisfaction ratings have stayed lofty. And that has brought on a third phenomenon revolutionizing Philippine society: the people’s sense of right and wrong clashing with elite values and political correctness.
On Thursday, we look at this third revolution of culture, and where Duterte’s national recasting is going.
(The last part will be published on Thursday.)