This is the most idiotic thing I have ever written. Forgive me.
Love in a Time of Duterte — Part One
Expanded photos at EnduranceWriter.com
These days in Dumaguete music is a focus. The Fabric project Chasing Sun plods on.* I try to enjoy the normally relaxed atmosphere of the historic Boulevard, anchored by the iconic green grass and white cupola’d Silliman University and the not always pleasant-smelling seaside Boulevard. There is an increased buzz of Chinese voices among a cluster of hardened from-wherever expats — an indication that glastnost, Duterte-style — even in this tropical backwater — is in effect. There is also an undercurrent of tension, this new government is turning out to be a little more rigid than people expected.
Ah, but who am I to say what should be? My impression is that Duterte is an old hand, the type that traditionally does business in coastal areas. No one has ever compared him to Hitler seriously — they know the anarchy of everyday life for so many in the Philippines, amidst a sense of just hanging on to survive. Among the barkada, language is regularly peppered with crudities that would make a saint blush.
It is something I cannot describe to those in the States who have never been around people on the edge. It makes Las Vegas look downright civilized. The favored sport here of cock fighting involves protracted, cruel bloodletting. And yet there is such friendship, laughter, and generosity among people. It’s hard not to smile when you live in a place that has been compared to paradise and you are among direct descendants of Adam and Eve.
Filipinos do not know much about Hitler. He is so opposite of their values, in left field. They would never vote for a President who made them work too much, or told them what to think. I mean what the fuck? The Filipinos do not even have a word for that.
As Duterte sees it, in his anti-drug campaign he is only borrowing from the regional Thai and Indonesian playbook of harsh penalties for hard drugs. Duterte sees what he is doing as about ending the country’s reputation as a soft target in the region. Drug operations I guess got introduced from multiple directions — I am no expert, but the problem was pretty widespread. People you wouldn’t expect. And the sense of the Philippines as country of warrior-like––but basically gentle––people changed overnight to one of crazy people. The international shady set had got a foothold.
As he sees it, Duterte is treading lightly — he did even not disinvite the United States from taking part in scheduled military exercises (what are the odds in Vegas?).
The masses understand what Duterte says, because he says it in their vernacular. In some sense, any person with the balls to be ready for heavy blowback from the establishment could have done what he did — get elected against corrupt money interests (a legacy, ironically, of the autocratic Marcos family).
To understand Duterte you must realize that he comes from a law background and that his father was intimately tied as an attorney to the Marcos family (Ferdinand Marcos was also a lawyer). This is part of the reason for his views — he was one of those who saw the bright sunshine of the Marcos system, the progress aspect.
As I see it, and I did stand at the periphery of some Duterte election rallies, observing rowdy exhortations in between songs by a country rock band, he is loved because he shoots straight in his unspeakably rude way. With a serious message — the ordinary Filipinos (if not the Badjao or Ati), have woken up to the fact that they––as have-nots––have a ballot box advantage.
Call it the moment of realization that Bernie Sanders almost convinced enough American voters he stood for. Trump stole that thunder, though he did so for the wrong reasons. This is not to lighten what extrajudicial killings represent––Duterte is worse than Trump in certain ways, though not nearly so unnervingly influential on the stage that we call the World.
In his own mind, Duterte is determined to make the country come to heel to a new social reality, in which produced value is shared with the ordinary people. A concept of power less tied to indolent and often ostentatious wealth, and more tied to the will of the people. In which multinational mining companies don’t come in and wipe clean the virgin Mindanao environment (silver lining playbook).
Beyond the human rights questions of extrajudicial slayings, which I have been pondering on deeply and with real apprehension, the realpolitik question involves whether laying the groundwork for martial law benefits anyone’s real interests. The risks of fascism resist easy categorization. A glock in every police officer’s hands makes me suspect that the criminals will soon be carrying glocks as well. And then who to differentiate?
As messy as it is, democracy works — this is why Duterte is now president and recognized by other sovereign countries as leader. To disrupt the status quo for too long, with even not-serious shout outs to crazy rulers, risks bringing back the specter of leaders with absolute power. This is paradoxical because Duterte is dependent on a democratic system (with the basic human rights guarantees that this implies) in maintaining a high-profile status in the region.
What is happening here is, as always, complex (I have never seen so many major international newspapers get it wrong with tone-deaf — though politically correct — copy). In a real sense, despite the possibility of outright confrontation, the likelihood is that people will simply shrug and adapt. Some system of addict rehabilitation — instead of outright quota-tied murders — better emerge and quickly. The church organizations have a lot they can do to expedite this and they better get started soon. Christian Muslim, Buddhist, Zooastrian.
There is no doubt that the Philippines (as reflected, again, in the votes of poverty-threatened masses) is feeling shortchanged by capitalism and in the short term China, a trading society with traditional roots in the region, has renewed friendship potential. The question is how far they take their game — if the two superpowers can coexist here then we have a new regional stasis.**
My only question is why Duterte feels so impelled to thrust the Philippines so quickly in certain directions. He bases it, I am guessing, on his no holds-barred style, which went down so well in war-torn Davao. It’s like a fighter who remembers only the fights of the past and pushes on in life as if was still in the ring, in constant threat and danger. Duterte for all the barbarism of his approach to crime — which mimics that of the ruthless organizations the was up against — actually forged a working dialogue between Muslims, Christians, and Communists — this requires sophisticated knowledge of human behavior, I am told.
From the view of a world citizen the rise of Duterte is troubling, but it does not end my interest in the country. I respect that each country has its views and cultural peculiarities. I do not judge, but I can respectfully disagree. Duterte sprung up in the Philippine imagination because of the Internet-fanned realization that the 99 percent had been had. If you ask anyone whether the Philippines is corrupt, they look at you like you asked whether the sky is red or blue.
*Recording a fusion tribal flute concept is its own reward, in terms of sonic exploration. The mechanics of multitrack production that relies strictly on organic musical sounds, no beats, are surprisingly complex.
**Stasis is always better than the alternative, war. From a fabric perspective, if any society can practice sustainability it may be one-child policy China, keeping in mind the sobering lessons of what overdevelopment wreaks. If Singapore (and Hong Kong?) is a bell weather, there is hope. Advanced thinkers in the Eastern Hemisphere are working very hard on sustainability, to the point of designing negative-emissions cities.