I had a dream several weeks ago. It wasn’t surreal; in fact it felt quite real. In my dream I was writing my column and the words, sentences, and paragraphs flowed logically, clearly and easily. When I woke up, I still remembered what I had “written” and its title “Finding Duterte.”
My husband urged me to write everything down before I forget. He said I should change the title to “Finding Rody” in a play on the popular animated film then showing Finding Dory. But I didn’t follow his advice which is why I did forget the column written in my dream.
Now I have to struggle to capture the impetus for that column in the wake of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s inauguration and the myriad write-ups and opinion pieces on the man, his family and growing up years as a probinsyano, his student life (and encounters with a certain Professor Jose Ma. Sison), his stint as public prosecutor, his track record as a long-time Davao City mayor (including a checkered history), his character traits and personality quirks (that either endear or disgust) and even his love life as a philandering husband.
What strikes me now is that Mr. Duterte is like the proverbial elephant that several blind men are trying to “characterize” based on the part of the mammoth that they are groping. Everyone is trying to figure out and give an opinion on what kind of Chief Executive he will be. As to be expected, the initial judgments are quite disparate, even conflicting, depending on one’s socioeconomic class, philosophical worldview, political leanings, and pet advocacies or pet peeves.
Meanwhile those who know him best, his Davao constituents, say the man has got it in him to slay the dragon of endemic corruption, official indifference and ineptitude and wildfire criminality. Dr. Celia Castillo, a practicing physician at the Davao Doctors Hospital, sums it up thus, “We believe in Digong. He may be uncouth, rude, and overly transparent, but he knows what the essential matters are and does his best to confront them, conducts consultations, allowing all sides to be heard before he makes major decisions. He listens, especially to people on the ground. But when he comes to a decision, it would be hard to make him budge, come hell or high water. What people think of him matters very little.”
Indeed, Mr. Duterte is keeping all of us guessing as to how his presidency will turn out. How will he reconcile conflicting ideas, statements and promises that have emanated from him yet are reflective of the underlying conflicts among the classes and interest groups that exist in Philippine society. Concretely, how will he bring together antagonistic class and factional interests as manifested in his choice of cabinet secretaries and their initial pronouncements regarding government policies and programs.
Granting Mr. Duterte’s goal of uplifting the lives of ordinary Filipinos — by curbing criminality and corruption (stamping out seems to be a really tall order) and redistributing wealth through a pro-poor and pro-people social policy — the truth is this will not be enough.
Good governance and social welfare per se will not bring us out of a backward, pre-industrial economy. These will not guarantee decent jobs and livelihood to sustain basic needs and keep our human resources from migrating in droves. These will not prevent the plunder of the economy and national patrimony by unscrupulous monopoly capitalists and their domestic partners. These will not ensure the growth of sufficient social wealth to fund the requisite social services and public utilities to make them accessible to all Filipinos regardless of socioeconomic status.
Mr. Duterte will have to face the reality of a highly unequal society where there are not just rich people but exploiters and oppressors — the big landlords (harking back to the hacienda era), big business honchos (traders and bankers not captains of industry) and bureaucrat capitalists (politicians who have enriched themselves through their public positions). They constitute social classes that have enjoyed their privileged status on the backs of the toiling and subjugated masses.
He also knows that the Philippine state has hitherto existed primarily to protect and promote the interests of the entrenched elite against the vast majority. Furthermore, that this is a neocolonial state, meaning no president has gotten elected or kept his hold on power without the seal of good housekeeping from the country’s former colonizer, the US of A.
Mr. Duterte, like it or not, confronts a situation where government policies in the economic, sociocultural, political and foreign relations spheres are designed and have been sustained to keep this unjust and dangerously unstable status quo. The military and police, the prosecutors, courts and jails — these are the means of the state to keep social restiveness, political dissent, and armed revolution under control, if not completely eliminated.
How far is he willing to go to resolve the underlying roots of armed conflicts in order to forge a just and lasting peace with the communist-led and Moro revolutionary movements? How far is he willing to go against entrenched elite and imperialist interests?
No matter Mr. Duterte’s subjective intentions, the big question is how far can he effectively mobilize the support of the people behind even only moderately radical reforms. As a corollary, can he manage to broaden the united front behind his presidency’s call for genuine and substantial change; i.e. can he carefully determine his real and potential friends and enemies in this herculean endeavor.
In this regard, the role of politically conscious, progressive people’s organizations and the Left in general becomes clear — to arouse, organize and mobilize the people to support Mr. Duterte’s progressive policy statements, intentions and concrete actions.
The umbrella organization Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN), together with peace and human rights advocates and other social reform champions, convened the National People’s Summit a day before Mr. Duterte’s inauguration as president.
The Summit’s product, the People’s Agenda for Nationalist and Progressive Change, was delivered to the president through a delegation of leaders who were given the unprecedented opportunity to have a private audience with him after he was sworn into office. They were backed up by thousands of cheering demonstrators at the June 30 rally in front of Malacañang.
Furthermore, the setting and revving up of the machinery that will assist the progressive Cabinet members is ongoing. Most notably and auguring well for the Duterte presidency, the resumption of peace talks between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines are slated to take place in Oslo, Norway in the coming weeks.
Carol Pagaduan-Araullo is a medical doctor by training, social activist by choice, columnist by accident, happy partner to a liberated spouse and proud mother of two.
Posted in the Business World
July 5, 2016