By SARAH RAYMUNDO
As early as the night of May 7, the presidential race no longer seemed an unintelligible, aimless exercise. Not for Rodrigo Duterte’s supporters and those who witnessed their huge numbers. Of course the “decent” ones complained, “how stupid, how crass, how unintelligent, how strange! You must not vote for him.” These expressions came with a strong warning about the end of the world with Rodrigo Duterte in Malacañang. But such advice was no longer theirs to give. But they weren’t just tripping. They were sowing fear to give the Liberal Party and its Daang Matuwid a way out of the unspeakable horrors it inflicted upon the majority.
Still a puzzle?
Duterte’s miting de avance speech made it clear that nobody is supposed to be left in peace. His rage was far bigger than the biggest that I have mustered for a rotten system that has been heavily guarded by the Aquino regime for six years. It seemed that way to me. His demeanor was an intrusion that had me retreating into silence. It was a kind of situation that compelled me to say something friendly and compassionate as though someone was dying right before my very eyes.
Almost three months ago, I met an old Lumad woman in Valencia, Bukidnon selling woven bands made of native leaves. I bought as many as my surplus money can afford to bring home and give away. In the car, as I was inspecting them one by one, I realized that almost 3/4 of the bands bear the name “Duterte.”
Not a single band ever never reached Manila. It was a conscious effort on my part. But the Duterte bands facilitated my interaction with farmers, young and old, and habal-habal drivers I mingled with in that area. They believed in him unreservedly. And at that point, the sociologist in me noted the significance of the inexplicable.
Is change really coming? From how the ruling elite and US Imperialism have conceded to a Duterte victory, it seems that Duterte and the Duterte vote (which was supposed to be for change) have taken in a modification, quite different from their initial projection, what with the release of his 8-point economic program for the Philippines. The so-called Duterte vote needs clarification. It is less the actual votes or the act of voting for Duterte than the Duterte camp’s efforts at constructing and disseminating what Digong “stands for.”
Nothing is new in terms of the mechanisms that brought about a Duterte win. But what about Duterte, the “oppositional force”? Duterte, the “real deal”? Duterte who challenged the dominance of the Aquino regime’s Matuwid Na Daan?
The Duterte campaign was one of the most grounded and smart of all political advertisements in the Post-Marcos era. It began with the drama of an able Mayor, whose folksy and unconventional approach to leadership was strange to Manila’s pundits, declaring that he would not run for president despite calls from PDP-Laban party to do so, then finally agreeing before the deadline for candidate substitution.. For the laboring poor, who live in a chronic state of emergency, Digong’s projected attributes as a strong man with a soft spot for the protesting poor of Mindanao may have been all too familiar yet fresh at the same time.
Familiar in the sense that acts of solidarity in places too far from Manila’s elites and elite wannabes are unmistakably folksy and characterized by blunt banter, of which Digong is an expert. Needless to say, he often goes too far. Digong was and perhaps remains to be a fresh option. It is the kind of fresh that combines hazard and idiosyncrasy. After all, the fatal state of affairs under the Aquino regime can have many people believe that we might be able to live with both things—hazard and idiosyncrasy—simultaneously.
The more progressive believers and political gamblers wanted that image projected by the Digong campaign team in Malacañang so bad. Doesn’t the selling of ‘the image’ nowhere more pertinent than in politics? But does this mean that people have been duped yet again? Is this a suggestion that Digong voters merely fell for the Duterte ad campaign? Are they stupid? No.
It means that at this socio-political juncture, where neoliberal solutions are not working to solve the crisis of the global capitalist system, a client state of the US such as the GPH needs a binding figure who might be able to tame the red zones that blaze with communist fire in Mindanao. The state needs a head whose maverick ways might clinch gains for US interests in Mindanao by having that peace talks with the Bangsamoro, once and for all, snap into place.
After all, Duterte is not for a ruleless system. Those who crave order are likely to be attracted to the kind of social order that Digong has established in Davao. With the pork barrel scam, DAP, Mamasapano, EDCA, Jennifer Laude, West Philippine Sea Conflict, MRT-LRT crisis, Yolanda, SAF44, Mary Jane, Kentex, Kidapawan, the Duterte campaign has been able to present Mayor Digong as the most capable figure to break the catastrophic spell of things brought to the nation by the US Aquino regime. “Spell” because it is with utter deception that the state leads us all into thinking that the consequences of its neoliberal policies are catastrophes that befall a nation. They are, in truth, class offensives inflicted upon the people by a filipino elite entangled with US imperialism, which has enabled it to hijack the local state apparatus.
Of course, Duterte is neither the culmination of Philippine politics nor a mutant. For how can anything new emerge out of an unchanged system? To understand Duterte, and the victory of his party and supporters, it is necessary to view the phenomenon as a sociopolitical outcome.
Regime change and new buzzwords for governance cohere with national-statist models that maintain neoliberal systems. Clearly, regime change in this context is a necessary modification in governance to maintain the role of the state in defining sociopolitical decisions to be made for society. The mode of economic activity, which largely defines people’s social lives, is a function of sociopolitical decisions made by certain people who are in control of the state. These people belong to a social class whose interests have long been legitimized by all existing social institutions that comprise the state.
A newly-elected set of national leaders are the new guardians legitimized by free elections. The neoliberal socioeconomic mode rests on the reinforcement of “democracy” framed within free elections and free market policies. It is a democracy that is absolutely shaped by the objective existence of the monopoly of property and political power since its establishment by US imperialism in the post-war period.
Thus, when we talk about the ruling class, we are invariably talking about that class of Filipino families who collaborated with Spanish colonialism and US imperialism. The local elite’s partnership with the latter continues, and it is what makes plutocractic power, or the economic elite’s control over politics and economic objectivity.
The partnership between US imperialism and the local ruling elite makes Philippine society an economic objectivity. It exists to consolidate the imperialist control over Philippine economy through free elections of local elites to seats of power. Free election provides protection not only to local elite’s property but more importantly, to the imperial interest for profit accumulation through plunder of resources and exploitation of labor.
The consequential left, the national economy, and Duterte
The reference to the consequential left pertains to my particular bias to an analysis of social and political forces in Philippine society. It is an analysis that departs from “center-left coalitions” a group that easily bleeds into the “democratic left” and its post-something theory of the economy and politics. These leftist groupings are focused on NGO work and/or reformism through parliamentary struggle. The “work within” mode of changing Philippine society has first and foremost abandoned the class struggle for assimilation into the political establishment. With this shift in political engagement, the Left that holds fast to class struggle through agrarian revolution, mass base building and armed revolution is deemed as outmoded and terroristic. I was not exempted from this US imperialist-sponsored propaganda, which was quite strong especially in the 90s.
But digging deeper into the national democratic movement toward socialism has been about seeing the peasant struggle made up of landless farmers and farmworkers in haciendas and agribusiness in a progressive trajectory. It is a movement where sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, husbands, and wives of desaparecidos and slain human rights defenders become themselves staunch human rights defenders and activist leaders.
It is a movement where public school teachers unionize for salaries and benefits and stand up against a curriculum that is completely detached from genuine national development (read: K-12). It is a movement where the most advanced of our youth is able to articulate how education has a necessary dimension beyond the training of young people for work. They go beyond the correct analysis that the educational system is a mechanism for the ideological legitimacy of states. They dare in the struggle for national liberation, the people’s war.
Meanwhile, the state remains to be an agency either for the monopoly of wealth of a few elite families or the redistribution of resources to the basic sectors of society. At this point, the state has to deal with the market. Neoliberal economics (which really is an ideology rather than a scientific study of the economy), has succeeded in universalizing the market as an entity. When in actuality, the market is a partial entity that relevantly relates to the interests of banks and multinational corporations. But the basic question about the hegemony of the market is not an economic but a political question. The question of maintaining neoliberal policies amidst crisis is not for the free market to answer but ultimately, for state policies to resolve.
Will Duterte heed the call for comprehensive social and economic reforms? Because only by doing so can he prove his sincerity about negotiating peace with revolutionary islamic and communist forces. Will Duterte change the rules in economic regulations and get rid of the fatal policies oriented toward the global market? In his eventual directing at defining economic and social activities, will Duterte establish new parameters for intervention?
This is how the consequential left views the state as a lever for progressive reforms. Yet it understands, too, the historical process that links third world formations to their imperialist masters. This process has established neoliberal statism, a political-economic order renewed through electoral politics.
In other words, the consolidation of a politics attuned to the interests of capitalist world economy is founded on US imperialist style of exporting democracy to what it identifies as “authoritarian/dictatorial regimes” or in the electoral process. Will Duterte embrace the bankrupt neoliberal doctrine and have the whole nation sink deeper into crisis in order to gain points from international banks and multinational corporations? The latter will easily win him the support of the local military who follows from its real commander-in-chief, the US State Department.
The price of integration into “world class global politics” is high. But not as noble as the people’s clamor for change. Against the partial and unofficial tally, the media-hype over Digong’s presumptive presidency, and even his eventual confirmation as president of the republic on June 30: Not so fast! A “Duterte win” has yet to unfold.