ONE of the weapons of the ruling class is to impose obedience upon its subjects. The highest form of power is what we in the discipline of political science label as its third dimension, which is when the dominant is able to manipulate the consciousness of the dominated for the latter to obey as if it is natural, and without any resentment nor resistance. Italian Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci labeled this as hegemony, where ruling is no longer by coercion but by consent by the dominated.
For centuries under colonial rule, Filipinos have been told to be obedient and polite to their colonial masters, and the elites which served colonial interests. The Spanish conquistadores entrenched a religion that celebrated obedience and forgiveness as virtues.
And the Americans brought democracy but ruled in such a way where resistance was seen as a destructive force. They celebrated a system of government where contestations are allowed within the domain of institutions that were dominated by the elites. While political participation was elevated into an ideal for democracy, structured barriers abound to prevent ordinary people from meaningfully taking part in politics. They brought education, but not to enlighten and cultivate critical thinking but to program people to become obedient, law-abiding citizens.
Marginalized at the sidelines, the ordinary citizens were expected to follow even the unjust laws which the government passed, and to be servile to the elites which dominated such government. We were taught patriotism and respect for our government even if its officials betrayed our interests.
Thus, we have a political system that appropriated the virtues of humility, forgiveness, service, loyalty, obedience and gratefulness, not to celebrate what is human, but as tools to extract acquiescence and servility from the governed.
We raise our children not to ask questions because we have been made to believe that asking questions is impolite. We value team players, we give premium to cooperation, and we admonish and avoid independent thinkers and mavericks because we have been conditioned to see them as troublemakers. And we have always been told not to raise our voices, not to be honest about our thoughts, and not to be brutally frank.
We were asked to be nice, and hospitable and to bow down to the inequities brought about by a political economy at the hands of the elite oligarchs, the landed, the capitalists, and the Western-educated intellectuals.
Our colonial masters and the elites who inherited their powers have installed a culture and moral ethos of acquiescence, one that celebrated the subservient, the servile, the polite. And the elite oligarchs and the predatory caciques all benefited from this.
This is the norm. And the elites have continued to impose this into a society whose frustrations over years of misrule, corruption and failure to serve have intensified.
The ordinary Pinoys have just had it. And we found our anger being expressed in one man.
Rodrigo Duterte came to precisely offend the sensibilities and transgress the privileges of those who have exploited the people. He is defiant, crass and vulgar, cursing not only the elites but the remnants of the imperial and colonial powers of which we have long been the active bearers through our foreign policy behavior as America’s proxy.
Far from the fine-mannered leader that elite templates were trying to mold him into, President Duterte is raw and vulgar. He makes his words as the battering ram to signal to those who benefited from people’s politeness and obedience that their happy days are over. And he has matched this with action. He dismantles oligarchic power not only by the sharpness of his words, but also with the swiftness by which he exacts accountability from those who have abused their privileges to avoid taxes, flout the law and commit offenses.
Through his impolite words, the President becomes his own revolutionary. He unsettled the settled, and assaulted the comfortably entrenched politicians and oligarchs, even the church, the mainstream media and the West.
The President is criticized by the left, yet these are the forces which espouse the use of actual physical violence against oppressive power through an armed struggle. President Duterte uses the violence of words to articulate his assault on established institutions that have victimized the people. He has been very effective in making powerful people squirm. This, even as the armed left continues to inflict actual violence, with a limited record of success in actually creating change.
The President has also offended the sensibility of the pedigreed elite intellectuals and artists who remain imprisoned in their theories and their academic and creative prose. This crowd is at the forefront in castigating him for his rudeness. It is ironic that these people who use words to destabilize and criticize, sometimes with audacity, through their writings and performances, and defend this as creative license, could fail to understand and grant the President the license to be the bearer of our collective rage.
Our colonial experiences have inflicted so much damage on our collective psyche, and this is further affirmed by the corrupt, exploitative and predatory post-colonial landscape dominated by elites. If there is one thing that those who have preyed upon and exploited the kindness of the Filipino people should be thankful for, it is the fact that despite our anger, our collective violence is simply discursive, and not physical.
President Duterte embodies this collective rage. He personifies the anger that seethes through the Filipino people when our elections are stolen, our leaders do not bear our burdens, and our narratives are distorted to advance the agenda of those who would like to maintain their political mythologies.
Thus, all this talk about the President’s vulgarity, his lack of diplomatic skills, his being crude and rude, will never resonate among people who celebrate such as the embodiment of what they also express when they curse and condemn those who have never had the people’s interest in their hearts.
And there are Filipinos who are still trapped in the obligations to be nice, perhaps because of their stature, but who support the President despite his cursing and his vulgarity, simply because he articulates for them the curses which they cannot express.