CURRENT signs tell me that we might suffer Myanmar’s fate rather than end up like Thailand.
Rigoberto Tiglao’s November 24 column (“Thailand has had a revolutionary government since 2014: No problem”) offered an alluring example of a revolutionary government that didn’t end up in a tragedy—yet: Thailand.
This Southeast Asian kingdom is currently ruled by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), a military junta established after a coup d’etat against the democratically elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra.
Citing a report by the World Bank, Tiglao pointed out that under the military junta, Thailand’s economic growth didn’t suffer but is actually “gaining momentum.”
Fascinatingly, though some civil liberties are currently curtailed in Thailand, the United States and the European Union “hardly criticized” the junta, Tiglao observed.
He identified the major reason why this is so: Thailand’s beloved late-King Bhumibol Adulyadej endorsing the junta’s leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha to become Prime Minister. Since the monarchy is a revered voice in Thai political culture, the king’s endorsement lends internal and external legitimacy to the junta.
I’m not sure whether Tiglao is supportive of the calls for a revolutionary government in our country right now. I can nonetheless sense that by reflecting on the Thai example, Tiglao is entertaining the idea, especially if it would help end oligarchic rule.
As an international relations scholar, I’m deeply concerned about the international backlash the Duterte administration would invite once our beloved Old Man concentrate all the power to himself and the military.
One critical factor why I think Duterte wouldn’t enjoy the relative tolerance Thailand’s junta is experiencing from the international community, especially from Western powers, is his current image in the West.
Before assuming revolutionary powers, General Prayuth wasn’t vilified in the international scene. Amazingly, Amnesty International didn’t even include him in their commercial featuring “evil” leaders the world must stop, while Duterte is among them.
Actually, Duterte had been vilified even before he won. When the Yellow cult’s leader, Benigno Aquino 3rd, tagged him a Hitler during the miting de avance of the Liberal Party, it was quickly picked up by international press. Duterte sarcastically comparing himself to Hitler slaughtering millions of Jews cemented that notion.
Mass murderer—that’s Duterte’s image. An image his communications team finds so hard to change. And his supporters? They’re now also being vilified as “paid trolls,” fanatics who worship a “poon,” thereby implanting the idea that the massive support Duterte has is a manufactured one or coming from deranged folks blinded by their idolatrous devotion.
Now, imagine this “mass murderer” concentrating power to himself. Would this scenario elate or alarm Western powers?
Think about what happened to Myanmar, a country ruled by the military far longer than Thailand.
Soon after Duterte declares a revolutionary government, anti-Duterte forces would coalesce and present themselves to the international community as the pro-democracy forces. They could launch an armed resistance, but that’s only the next best thing to this more powerful option: Hold consistent “pro-democracy” peaceful protests and stage acts of civil disobedience nationwide against a murderous regime.
The protests would hold the same sway with the West as the 8888 nationwide popular pro-democracy protests in Myanmar in 1988.
These protests will surely prominently feature underage girls from a Catholic school holding placards pleading to the world to stop Duterte the “mass murderer.”
Leni Robredo, who has a stellar international PR, would become an Aung San Suu Kyi, representing the “pro-democracy” forces. She has already been portrayed as someone who ran in 2016 to stop the return to power of another anti-democratic political figure in the international scene: Marcos. After Duterte assumes absolute control, she would be turned into a global icon against tyranny. And what a powerful narrative arc she would have! First she “defeated” the son of a dictator in an election; during the revolutionary government, she would be presented as someone who would like to restore Philippine democracy and save the country from a tyrannical murderous regime.
Meanwhile, drug cartels will surely intensify their violent propaganda against the government. Why shouldn’t they? The Philippines is one of the key transshipment points in the international narcotics trade.
How many Kian de los Santoses do you think drug cartels need to kill, which would surely be blamed on Duterte, before citizens of the West launch a massive campaign calling upon corporations based in their countries to withdraw from the Philippines? How do you think these businesses would handle a massive PR disaster once they increasingly get branded as supporters of a murderous, tyrannical regime?
A farfetched idea? No. Some corporations doing business in Myanmar left the country due to that kind of pressure. Free Burma activists in the West successfully pressured a lot of corporations to stop sourcing from Myanmar, such as Levi’s, Wal-mart, and Liz Claiborne.
I don’t doubt the good intentions of the proponents of revolutionary government. But as history has shown, the road to perdition is often paved by noble aims. As a political realist, I hope for the best but prepare for the worst. The #RevGov euphoria gives me the impression that there’s so much hope that the situation would be like Thailand. I hope they are also prepared to face a Myanmar-like situation.