Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Dreamers

There are approximately 5,000 to 10,000 Filipinos currently residing in the United States who will have to defend their right to remain in the country like never before. This is due to President Donald Trump’s controversial decision to annul the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. 

Firmly rooted in the US since they were considered minors, the “Dreamers” as the DACA aspirants are called, may not be Americans technically speaking. But when skeptical or suspicious others ask who they are, the Dreamers have every other right to call themselves “Americans” for the vast majority of them have been honest, hard-working or studying, law-abiding individuals in the United States.

An empathetic mind cannot blame the Filipino Dreamers for commiserating with Filipino American writer Carlos Bulosan and his experiences as he related them in his Depression-era novel “America Is in the Heart.” Bulosan wrote in the novel, “I feel like a criminal running away from a crime I did not commit. And this crime is that I am a Filipino in America.” It is a disgrace that any Filipino would have to call to mind this sentiment in 21st century America. 

Bulosan’s real-world experiences convinced him that America, both physically and culturally, was virulently and rabidly racist against Filipino immigrants---not to mention against other Asian immigrants---during his time. While there has been great progress in race relations since the Great Depression, much of the racial politics of today is not that far of a cry from that of Bulosan’s milieu. 

Repeatedly making it a point to be an apologist for white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and other anti-immigrant movements, President Donald Trump---who Ta-Nehisi Coates has called America’s “First White President”---has twisted the facts on the immigration issue. In a campaign of sheer intellectual dishonesty, Trump has bolstered his “America First” credentials with his obtuse supporters by espousing what he asserts is an unsparing truth: that non-Caucasian immigrants---particularly from right across the border in Mexico---have abused their stay in the United States at the expense of primarily white Americans. Overlaying Trump’s xenophobic perception of reality is a burgeoning racist narrative that reflects the fraught nature of life in America for immigrants. 

We as Americans have not yet been able to flesh out the idea of a post-racial era which was supposed to have begun with the election of the first African-American president, Barack Obama, in 2008. We have not reached a post-racial ethos any more than we have made peace with North Korea. Racism, both in its blatant and subtle forms and expressions, is alive and unfortunately well in 21st century America. Donald Trump has exploited this atmosphere of racial resentment to strengthen and solidify his support among his followers who are hardly the definition of diverse thinking. 

In is within this framework of racism that Trump has influenced his followers into supporting the revocation of the DACA program. The Dreamers did not sign up for being unfairly stigmatized in a country where it was thought that anyone who was willing to study or work hard, obey the laws of the land, and be proud to be Americans---in all intents and purposes if not legally---would be welcome. 

The Dreamers instead find themselves having to justify their place in an ever-changing, increasingly-chaotic America that is seeing an upturn in racist rhetoric and the abasement of immigrants for political purposes. More of the world around us is having less regard for the status of non-European immigrants, not least of all for the Dreamers and the American values they devotedly adhere to. Better to be safe by deporting Dreamers and other immigrants than be sorry by letting them stay and “disrupt society” the anti-immigrant insurrectionists cry out. 

For both Filipino and non-Filipino Dreamers time is running out. Using nativist arguments as a means to drive out immigrants, Trump has given the US Congress only a few months in which to develop a new DACA program that will allow the Dreamers to remain in the US without fear of deportation. In face of the increased risks of displacement, the Dreamers will be on pins and needles until a final decision is made. 

Their worry is that a negative decision will be made by self-serving politicians with no or little consideration for extenuating moral circumstances.


Thursday, August 31, 2017

Andres Bautista: A Reflection of the Philippine Elite 's Dysfunctional Relationship with Society

Allow me to preface this piece by stating that I am the first cousin of Patricia Bautista, the estranged wife of Philippine Commission on Elections (COMELEC) chief Andres Bautista. Although we are cousins, Patricia and I have not been in touch for several years now although this is not due to any acrimony between us. As fate would have it, we simply drifted apart over the years as can unfortunately happen to familial relations, particularly when they have resided half a world away from each other for most of their lives. 

The fact that Patricia and I are related as first cousins could cause some to question the objectivity of what I have written below. Indeed, some could mistake me for being prejudiced by my blood connection to Patricia for I express views that I will admit, are sympathetic to her and critical of her husband. All I can say to that is, each reader will have to decide for themselves how much they are willing to take to heart and mind from what I have written. If readers cast doubt on my words because of my relation to Patricia Bautista then let that be their conclusion. 

But I happen to believe that everything I have written here has suffered the wrath of my desire to always speak truth to power. The ideal reader should look for reason and logic in my comments and observations and not for glaring lapses of sentimentality for a beleaguered relation. For what it’s worth, I am supporting Patricia’s audacious move as something that is most certainly in the best interests of the Filipino nation. 


I have to say that I'm not entirely surprised by the revelations of alleged corruption on the part of Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista. Rumors of his suspected financial malpractice—not to mention the hearsay on what has been described to me as his “compulsive” marital infidelities—have made the rounds over the past few years.

But merely discussing and spreading the rumors about Andres amounted to not much more than the dissemination of unsubstantiated tsimis. In other words, it was always intriguing to talk about the corruption and infidelity speculation, but there was never anything resembling hard evidence to prove either one. That is until now, what with the stunning discovery of suspicious financial documents by Andres’s wife, Patricia (Tisha), in their conjugal home.

Upon hearing the jaw-dropping news, I communicated my support to Tisha by way of Facebook. I told her that I was behind her one-hundred percent in coming forth in front of the media. In the presence of her interviewers, Tisha appeared composed and persuasive enough to convincingly raise the specter of her husband’s financial malfeasance.

Conversely, I knew her skeptics would question Tisha’s motives as they called to mind how tangled and contentious her marriage settlement negotiations with Andy had gotten. Some thought Tisha’s gambit to be a maneuver to extract a fortune from Andy who claimed he had no such fortune. This is an oversimplification in light of everything that has happened.

Whatever her motives were, Tisha did the right thing. She put her well-being, and conceivably her physical safety, on the line by verbally highlighting glaring details of her husband’s purportedly illicit activity. Tisha’s decision goes to show that what I believe is Andy Bautista’s arrogance, perhaps as much as the corruption allegations now besetting him, is what has him in hot water right now. It is a good bet that he never expected his outwardly soft-spoken and mild-mannered wife to rat him out.

Ironically, Andy’s smugness in regards to what he expected of his wife has made all the difference in upending and potentially destroying his professional life and his individual freedom.

One might surmise this arrogance stems from what could be an old-school Filipino attitude on the part of Andy, an attitude about marriage that bestows upon the husband the carte blanche to engage in any sort of sordid escapade he desires while the wife is consigned to the position of the silent, acquiescent bystander.

Having met and conversed with Andy a few times in the past, I was always struck by what I perceived to be his paradoxical disposition: he never failed to display an easy, down-to-earth temperament. But at the same time he evinced a subtle sense of conceit, an allusive air of superiority to anyone he was talking to. After taking these observations into account, we can deconstruct them and discover for ourselves how like a proverbial Machiavellian politician, Andy Bautista has worked his respectable public image so as to shroud the shadier reality behind it.

In a wider context, the Bautista scandal calls attention to the ongoing, dysfunctional relationship that the political and economic elites have had with the rest of Philippine society. Instead of unity and cooperation between the classes, the elite and their equally amoral, hypocritical lackeys—a deplorable list of sycophants and parasites that may include Andres Bautista—have devalued the legacy of national solidarity and consensus that was realized during EDSA I in 1986.

The lofty vision of the AmBisyon Natin 2040 public plan states that by 2040, “the Philippines shall be a prosperous, predominantly middle-class society where no one is poor.” However, the way things are looking right now—especially under the murderous Duterte administration—that vision is more likely to be dashed as a result of the unremitting errors of judgment and failure of leadership on the part of the political and economic elite.

The legal predicament Andy Bautista finds himself in is just one of the latest illustrations of the modern, top-heavy structure of corruption, cronyism, and criminality that has crowned Philippine politics and economy since the advent of American colonialism at the turn of the 20th century. Keeping that in mind, the dogged pursuit of justice in the case of Andres Bautista provides no guarantee that it will be served.

But for the millions of Filipinos who have experienced enough shame, guilt, and anger at the hands of the elite in almost complete anonymity, the process of bringing about lasting social justice, empowerment, and accountability in their country will get a huge lift by making sure that with Andres Bautista, any inexcusable misdeeds are dealt with firmly and fairly.


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Duterte: Foe of Liberal Democracy

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is known for being one of those rare leaders who speak their mind without hesitation but more importantly, without regard to either domestic or international norms or sensitivities. This propensity towards blunt candor is pronounced when Duterte seethes against the entrenched structures of liberal democracy. Coming to power in what are unsettled political times around the globe, the last things that Duterte has expressed any sympathy for are the once-seemingly predestined universalism and absolutism of liberal democracy.
President Duterte has been an exemplar of the populist strongman narrative that has taken hold in several countries around the world including the Philippines. His approach to liberal democracy has been fused with nothing less than willful disdain and contempt. Fed up with liberal democracy’s qualitative and quantitative flaws and failures in the Philippines, Duterte has treated democracy as no more than a regrettable experiment, some of the elements of which are being manipulated by him in the service of his creeping authoritarianism.
Duterte is following the standard of other anti-democratic figures and leaders such as Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and Recep Tayyip Erdo─čan. No matter what they say in their public assurances to uphold the rule of law, these authoritarians if given enough opportunity, will strip democracy in their respective countries to the bone if they haven’t already.
Why such widespread antipathy for democracy? Some 25 years ago, it was easy for one to have thought that liberal democracy was the premium socio-political and economic path left to mankind after the collapse of communism at the end of the Cold War. Political scientist Francis Fukuyama triumphantly told us so back then what with his judgment that we had reached the figurative “End of History.”
But Fukuyama’s End of History, while ushering in an era of tremendous benefits for millions around the planet, would also drag a comparable number over the precipice of deprivation and disillusionment. Liberal democracy and post-Cold War capitalism have proven to be what Plato might have called a “pharmakon”: something that is both a cure and a poison at the same time. While the liberal democratic and capitalist ethos has brought democracy and prosperity to so many who previously could never have dreamed of such ideals coming to fruition, it failed to take into account the swathes of populations that would be left behind socially, economically, and politically.
The presidency of Rodrigo Duterte is a political product of that monumental failure as it expanded its scope in the Philippines. Duterte emerged as a viable presidential candidate amidst the interminable despoiling of the Philippine economy and political system. The 1986 EDSA phenomenon was supposed to put an end to rampant economic corruption and fundamental abuse of the political system, as well as pull lower class Filipinos out of poverty and give them a chance for a better future.
But the lofty promise of EDSA 1986 was outrun by the hard realities on the ground. For one thing, self-identified defenders of freedom and equality among the Philippine elite showed their true colors by working to preserve and strengthen their economic and political monopoly throughout the whole post-EDSA 1986 process leading up to Duterte’s election.

As a result, whatever advantages that emerged out of the popular revolt were tilted heavily towards the elite. Inevitably, the Filipino masses would find it hard to believe the EDSA reformers whenever the the pledges of February 1986 were invoked. In reflecting the disenchantment of the masses, Duterte stated that EDSA did restore democracy but that today, more than a quarter century after the fact, “the economic and social structure remains a lopsided equation in favor of the few and the many are poor and neglected.”
Therefore those among the intelligentsia and educated segments of Philippine society should not have been astonished by Duterte’s rise to the pinnacle of Philippine politics. Open to the influence of a big-talking, expletive-laden, recalcitrant autocrat whose political career has been defined by blood and murder, millions of Filipinos have formulated some general socio-political truths about their lives, truths about how their Job-like patience in their leaders has gone for naught. Or truths that say the game of life in the Philippines is perpetually rigged against them, the needy and underprivileged of society. Or truths that conclude that their political leaders never have and never will come clean for them.
In looking through the magnifying glass, it’s easier to see how that simply asserting that many ignorant and uneducated Filipinos voted Rodrigo Duterte into the presidency does not get to the deeper issues surrounding the foundation of his ascendancy. The magnifying glass tells us that it was ultimately the mistakes, the neglect, and the exploitation on the part of the Philippine elite that spawned the vain and sadistic overlord Filipinos now see at the helm before them. Now it is too late: all Filipinos will have to reap the real world consequences of his anti-democratic and dictatorial message and actions.


Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Fraud and Folly of Duterte's Drug War

President Rodrigo Duterte’s extrajudicial killings (EJK) of drug dealers and addicts are becoming an emotionally-charged undertaking but not necessarily for the reasons many think. Supporters of Duterte’s explicitly violent anti-drug campaign focus on how savagely effective it has been in ostensibly emancipating Philippine society from the scourge of the illegal drug industry. It must be a highly emotional thing for Filipinos to think that they have finally begun retiring drug crime to the ash heap of history. 
Except that this conclusion is as fallacious as it is contemptible. But I will get back to the contemptible aspect of it later. I first want to tackle the notion that the EJK killings—which are tantamount to “act(s) of terrorism” according to James Fenton of the New York Review of Books—are in no small part an emotionally-charged phenomena, a phenomena that is running both political cover and interference for Rodrigo Duterte as he boastfully plays the role of the merciless, take-no-prisoners president.
It’s not hard to see why so many Filipinos have turned a blind eye towards the cruelty and illegality of the drug killings. On the surface, the killings appear to have dealt a severe blow to the illegal drug industry. Duterte supporters point to the growing absence of drug dealers and users on the streets. Those same dealers and users used to be able to conduct their illicit business and behavior on the streets with impunity. The Duterte faithful have presumed that—on the basis of that observable absence along with the all too familiar scenes of dead bodies sprawled out for all to see—the drug dealers and users have been permanently dissuaded from practicing their dark trade and from feeding their addictions.
Nothing could be farther from reality. The absence can be explained by the likelihood that the drug dealers and users have simply gone underground. More and more, dealers and users are avoiding the murderous police forces and vigilantes by going behind closed doors and engaging in other forms of concealment, thereby becoming invisible to the extent where people think they have been put out of commission for good. This is the bogus line that Duterte is trying to push onto Filipinos. It is folly to believe that the killings, as pitiless as they are, have persuaded drug pushers and users to suddenly stop on a dime what they have been doing for so long. It goes without saying that just because you cannot see something doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. Like with terrorism, you cannot eradicate or even diminish the drug trade solely by the barrel of a gun no matter how high you ratchet up the body count.
Drug usage and distribution are symptoms not causes. While not the lone cause, extreme poverty has long been associated with the prevalence of drugs in a society and for good reason. Anyone living an impoverished existence as millions of Filipinos do will desperately seek some kind of escape, however temporary, from that harsh reality. Drugs provide such an escape for those unfortunate souls. The undeniable fact that Duterte has concentrated his drug war primarily on the easiest targets—the lower classes—only adds salt to the wound.
This is not to justify drug trafficking or consumption in any way. But Duterte’s unwillingness to comprehend and address the roots of drug crime and abuse—and instead pursue a disproportionate, short-sighted policy that principally targets the manifestations of the drug trade rather than its cardinal underpinnings—is the product of a grievously unaccountable, undemocratic, and distressingly facile strategy. Its repercussions lead to greater human suffering, something the Philippines doesn’t need any more of.

Right up to the latest drop of blood spilled as a result of his pigheaded crusade, it is in Rodrigo Duterte’s political interests to keep the spotlight on his war against the drug trade. That is why I wrote above that there is something contemptible about Duterte’s anti-drug campaign other than the carnage that it has generated. That there is something contemptible with Duterte’s campaign shouldn’t be so surprising as murder and politics have intersected each other more than once in his controversial past. 

For one thing, the president is far too clever not to know that sending drug dealers and users to meet their maker is not a deterrent. For Duterte, the drug killings are the means to a more expedient end. He is using his drug war as a cover for his private lack of confidence about being able to implement far-reaching socio-economic reform, long overdue reform that would necessitate major poverty alleviation programs for the benefit of the lower classes. 
Why would Duterte be uneasy about effectuating fundamental anti-poverty initiatives, "fundamental" being the key word here? Drastically improving the lives of the masses was after all, a primary theme of his presidential campaign. He is reluctant because he perceives that anti-poverty initiatives—initiatives that should begin to take on the Philippines’ socio-economic structural deficiencies—will be too difficult to engender in a top-heavy, highly stratified society in which an elite class essentially monopolizes the country’s financial and natural resources. The entrenched Philippine elite would almost certainly oppose progressive reform initiatives that could threaten their historical dominance.

In making a cold political calculation, Duterte has determined that the bringing about of game changing anti-poverty initiatives is not worth the large expenditures of time, energy, and political capital that would be required to counterbalance the economic and political elite. Based on his actions or lack thereof, to say that Duterte’s bark is worse than his bite when it comes to the entrenched elite is no exaggeration.

Accordingly, Duterte needs his illegitimate drug war to conceal his political cowardice in doing what is best in the long run for the Filipino people. Duterte is utilizing a tried-and-tested strategy of mass distraction for as long as he can get away with it. The tragedy of it all is that according to Amnesty International, more than a thousand people are being killed every month under the aegis of Rodrigo Duterte’s homicidal anti-drug push. Overall, some 7,000 have been dispatched since its inception, the vast majority of them having been denied due process of law.
There’s no use running away from these disturbing numbers. They lie at the heart of Rodrigo Duterte’s hellish version of peace and order and his Machiavellian leadership. It remains unknown how long the Philippines can continue on this treacherous path. That is to say, when will the powerless stop paying for the sins and ambitions of Rodrigo Duterte?




Thursday, December 22, 2016

Christmas: Fighting for its Life

While hearts and minds continue to fall in love with the spiritual and humanistic ideal of Christmas (peace and joy to all men; to give is better than to receive; the cherished birth of the savior; etc.,), in thought and practice this revered holiday has exceeded those high-minded boundaries to encompass several jurisdictions of human deliberation and behavior. One of the age-old purposes of Christmas—even more so today what with wars, terrorism, the fear of others, Shakespearean insecurities, socio-economic uncertainty, the intoxication of self-indulgent consumerism, and political disarticulation dominating the global scene—is to help people drift off for a time from their temporal setting and reconnect with their spiritual selves. The personal intimacy that is attained with faith, family, and friends is the result of this communing with the Christmas spirit. When people are respectful in body and soul to the Christmas spirit as it should be imagined, there is nothing like it in the human experience. However, an objective portrait renders the Christmas period as a slowly crumbling landscape where frivolous “malling” and product purchasing has superseded spiritual faith, where the song and poetry celebrating the birth of Christ is being drowned out by the chronic stresses of a capitalist existence, and where progressive conceptions of unity and harmony are becoming harder and harder to grasp. When the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said that God was dead some three centuries ago, he meant that God as a transcendent ideal had been decisively rebuffed by man. Sort of the same can be said for Christmas in the 21st century. The winter holiday and all that it solemnly and beautifully symbolizes is fighting for life in the face of an increasingly dangerous and fragmented world. Despondents everywhere are being made to feel that Christmas in the grand scheme of things, is all about being a noble lie. Every December 25 and the weeks and days around it are supposed to represent all that is still good and decent about mankind. Instead, a gigantic “For Sale” sign has been hung on that lofty representation, thus turning Christmas for many into an essentially false call in terms of its themes of love, charity, and brotherhood. In reality, far too many attempt to square their materialistic attitudes with the sublime vision of Christmas by mechanically and perfunctorily performing the customary religious and other ceremonial rituals so as to reinforce the image of nothing being amiss with their moral life and direction. Nothing infuriates me more than to be subjected to the smug sounds and images that spew forth from these holiday dissemblers as they proudly brag about being good Christians and being devoted followers of the Christmas spirit.

Don’t let them fool you. It’s all for show. There is really no feeling or meaning behind their outward expression of faith and fidelity to what Christmas has traditionally been presumed to stand for. You can bet almost anything that these frauds would secretly rather be at the ubiquitous shopping mall or retail outlet rather than engage in serious and concerted self-reflection as we all should every Christmas. For those of you who think that Christmas is still the chaste holiday that it was always meant to be and not the mock spiritual phenomenon that it is being reduced to, hold on tight to the Christmas ideal. Never let it go for the reverberating mania of commercialism and possessiveness is threatening to uproot the everlasting purity of the season. In a world seemingly on the brink, Christmas—as it was conceived by right and honorable mortals so long ago—is struggling to survive as an island of benevolence, togetherness, and serenity in an ocean of polarization and turmoil.


Monday, November 14, 2016

Back to the Future: Rodrigo Duterte

A common thread that I am finding in the responses to my criticisms of Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte is that I should give the man a chance before I drive hard against his words and actions. Respondents have suggested instead that I reallocate my energies for a much later time when we would be better able to assess and evaluate Duterte’s performance.
The reasoning that has been put forth by these respondents as they take issue with my criticism of the Philippine president converges on a frame of reference which is centered around the overdue need for reform. However, the way the respondents have defended that frame of reference is incompatible with one of the important lessons of analyzing political leaders: ignore the past at your peril for it is ever-present in the ways and means of how rulers will exercise power.
The last thing Duterte supporters want to hear is that the most vociferous in their praise of him run the risk of becoming the most vociferous in their disapproval of the president down the road. As they applaud him for his ruthlessly violent stance against drug-related crime—as if in and of itself killing suspected drug users and dealers alone will stop drug crime in the country—Duterte supporters constantly remind us that “change” is what it’s all about and that only he can carry out that change as a leader who is tough and strong and who will do what is in the best interests of the Filipino people. But what the Duterte supporters ignore is the historical truism that how someone comes to power will be exactly the way they will rule once in power. To put it differently, the past is a valuable resource in prognosticating the future with Duterte at the helm of the country.
Duterte’s political past raises many eyebrows for his alleged involvement in the so-called Davao death squads which are believed to have extrajudicially taken the lives of hundreds of people in the city for crimes, real and imagined. Duterte has freely and without remorse admitted his complicity in the killings and has even bragged about their bloody effectiveness in reducing crime in Davao.
But in using excessive lethal force without due process of law undermines the very notion of law and order that forms Duterte’s political center of gravity. To circumvent the rule of law in order to enforce law and order is an example of the narrow sophistry and rationalizing that is a trademark of President Duterte’s governing style. Maintaining law and order by breaking it is the height of hypocrisy and the absence of common sense and reason. Duterte however, has parlayed this into a winning narrative among his voters.
There is something to be said for the overall conclusion that Duterte has reached on the U.S.-Philippine relationship. Since its genesis in the turn-of-the-century American colonization of the archipelago, it has been a hegemonic patron-client relationship to be sure and on that account Filipino nationalists have said that Duterte is justified in reliving the painful memories of how it has—materially, physically, culturally, and psychologically—highlighted American strength and at the same time underscored Philippine weakness and dependency. A singular take-home for Duterte from the history of the US-Philippine relationship is his near-scathing indignation at a specific episode in America’s historically-checkered role in the islands. It involved a 2002 explosion in the Davao hotel room of Michael Terrence Meiring, a US citizen who had been indicted for possessing explosives. Before any case could be pursued, Meiring mysteriously disappeared. Davao mayor Duterte believed that the US government had somehow wielded its magical wand of neo-colonial machinations in enabling Meiring to escape justice. Duterte has understandably never forgotten that incident. Indeed, what has become a ritual response for Duterte in his critical scrutiny of America’s constructive yet controversial history in the Philippines has been laced with defiance and bitterness and filled with invective towards the former colonizer and long-time patron.
A far more distant historical event that Duterte talks about with rancor is the massacre of 600 Moros at the hands of American soldiers in 1906. Hardly one to expound upon the necessity of forgiveness when acting as the protagonist, Duterte has demanded an apology from the United States for the massacre which took place on Jolo Island in the southernmost reaches of the Philippine island chain. What became known as the Bud Dajo massacre occurred against the backdrop of America’s counterinsurgency operations against Moro rebels who resisted the colonial occupation of their land. Duterte has tried to sear these two historical moments—along with his general enmity towards the United States—into the contemporary Filipino consciousness to the same pathological extent he has carved it into his own. And yet, Duterte does so with great irony. About the president and his insights on the United States, novelist Gina Apostol writes: “An abuser condemned an earlier abuser of the nation in order to sanction his own abuse.”
Duterte has been able to project his antipathy towards the US government’s neo-colonial policies into a national policy of his own. It is a policy that is slowly turning US-Philippine relations on their head. It is also a policy loaded with a range of unintended consequences not the least of which is the appeasement of a repressive dictatorship in China. China, with its exertive ambitions on maritime territories in the South China Sea—some of which are legally under Philippine sovereignty—potentially represents a clear and present danger to the Philippines.
One only has to open their eyes to Duterte’s political past as a brutally honest, uncompromising mayor and presidential aspirant to see how it informs his thought processes as president. The atrocious acts of guilty-until-proven-innocent violence perpetrated against thousands of suspected drug dealers and users and his precipitous disruption of vital US-Philippine ties both arise out of the recesses of his public past. The problem with the Duterte defenders that I have heard from is that they disregard what his past has to say about how he would conduct himself as president. It was Duterte after all, who as a mayor and presidential candidate advocated extrajudicial killings—irrespective of any human collateral damage—to fight the drug trade. It was mayor Duterte who shouted from the mountaintop his aversion towards America and who as presidential candidate telegraphed that he was willing to jeopardize relations with the United States—an impeachable but indispensable ally nevertheless—for both historical and personal affronts. It was candidate Duterte who threatened to abolish the Philippine Congress if its members did not facilitate the passage of his policies. And it was first as mayor and then as presidential candidate that Duterte unconscionably called for the burial of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos as an undeserved national hero.
Nothing that Duterte says and does consequentially as president, now and in the future, cannot be traced back to the record of his dubious, pseudo-democratic public past, a past that has been glossed over with his populist, anti-establishment, everyman image by his hordes of disaffected supporters.
The respondents’ sentiment that at any rate—his contentious past notwithstanding—Duterte is an agent of change so therefore he’s better than no change at all is the definition of self-deception. Change has to be implemented responsibly, compassionately, and sensibly. To implement it thoughtlessly and full speed ahead simply for the sake of change itself is going too far, too fast. In other words, the cure should not be worse than the disease. Change is only a salutary preoccupation if it is sown with unmistakable empathy and judiciously maximized to such a fundamental level as to be truly meaningful.

When the regrets start pouring in over the course of time with Rodrigo Duterte, it will be too late. The damage will have been done. Then Filipinos will hit themselves over the head as they ask themselves, as they did with Marcos, Estrada, and Macapagal-Arroyo, and with countless other politicians, why they enabled these individuals, individuals they knew in their hearts to have questionable ethics and morals, to rise to the pinnacle of power.

ALLEN GABORRO                                                             

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Martial Law Anniversary: A Reflection

It is easy to miss the cost of scaling back the magnitude of the martial law period in the Philippines and the roles of the iconic figures who cleared the way for it. Filipinos have so developed a taste for remaining moot at the farthest end of the accounting of history, the end farthest from the past, that they have jettisoned much of the significance of martial law.

There are disconcerting numbers of Filipinos who are reluctant to tackle the past and who are more concerned about how they will confront the future. That these Filipinos have “larger” things to worry about than the shoulder-deep reflections on martial law goes a long way in explaining the ambivalence that has spoiled their accompanying zeitgeist. For them, the martial law experience does not cause much alarm or suspicion of it falling upon the Philippines again.

Indeed, it has been quite disappointing to see Filipinos distracted from what was the institutionalization of martial law under Ferdinand Marcos, and from how it was callously structured around theoretical depictions of social foundation and normalization.

To be sure, discerning and conscientious Filipinos have rendered the cautionary tale of martial law as drawn from a society that never wanted to forget what it was supposed to bring to the table of democracy in its corner of the world.

Filipinos though have little patience for the past. They keep up the appearances of speaking to the past, of communing with it. However, Filipinos under this cover, to source a postmodernist’s response, “devour its absence”. When are Filipinos going to realize that their democracy was not exactly created equal with others, that this precarious state would cast the country forward into the shadow of something as barren of righteousness and freedom as Marcos’s one-man rule?

It was more than forty years ago that a gambit butchered Filipinos’ sunlit democracy and splintered it into the cavernous depths of a dictatorship. The Philippines contracted then as its moral and democratic circumference became no longer possible to ascertain. How easy it has been for Filipinos to move on without fully absorbing that well-chronicled history.

A lot has been said and written about martial law and how it dehumanized everyday life in the Philippines. This is telling because it allows one to plead the case that the memory of martial law has not been prima facie left by Filipinos to twist in the wind, that the remembrance of it by Filipinos of all stripes has not entirely abated thanks to the flowing pens and fearless voices of writers, artists, thinkers, and dissident activists who defied the regime.

Cradled however in a broad, mesmerizing ideal— a modern ideal that estranges them from yesterday and raises expectations of something better over the horizon— Filipinos to a large extent rarely pause to make out the contempt that the illustrious cast of the martial law initiative continue to have for their rights and liberties.

After freedom reigned again in the Philippines, Filipinos descended into complacency and instead of leading them to repent, allowed the villains of martial law to receive the political and economic rewards of evading punishment for their crimes. Now as a result, many of the martial law perpetrators are in positions of power today, putting their political successors up to the same machinations that filled their own careers with ulterior intent.

That the memory of martial law hasn’t inextricably lodged itself into the minds of Filipinos has less to do perhaps with shutting down an unguarded, sobering view of a traumatic myth of balance and order than it does with Filipinos afraid of having to, as Nietzsche held, stare into the abyss because it would stare back. Maybe Filipinos should stare into the historical abyss of martial law more often so that they won’t have any reason to be caught unawares when it rears its head once again.