Philippines: The Duterte Phenomenon and our attitude towards it
Like it or not, Rodrigo Duterte has been leading the presidential polls in successive surveys.
The latest non-commissioned survey under the "Pulso ng Bayan," placed Duterte in a 35% lead over the far distant figures of 23%, 17% and 16% for Grace Poe, Mar Roxas and Jojo Binay, accordingly. Duterte led the votes in all socioeconomic classes: 43% of Classes ABC (upper and middle classes), 32% in Class D (poor) and 40% in Class E (poorest).
Apart from the surveys that can be manipulated, the demonstration of Duterte’s surge in the campaign is the growing number of spontaneous masses pouring into his sorties. This is not only in Mindanao and the Visayas, but also in Luzon and Metro Manila. In Alabang, an upper and middle class enclave, thousands waited to hear his talk. In Hong Kong and in many other places with OFWs, the sorties overflowed even without Duterte’s presence.
How to explain this phenomenon?
First, it is a clear sign that the people were fed up with the old trapo and elite forces which have long ruled the government since the overthrow of Marcos in 1986. There has been a growing disenchantment to succeeding regimes that many believe are worse than before.
In particular, it represents the frustration and the disgust that the masses feel under the leadership of the “Yellow forces,” from the mother Cory to the son. Its target now is President Noynoy Aquino and the bunch of his ineffectual Cabinet members. In the elections, it is marked by LP bet Mar Roxas’ always tailing behind in the surveys. Duterte’s surge in the campaign is a sign of the rejection of the masses, including of the middle class, of the Yellow leaders and government forces.
There is a negative fallout in the rejection of the yellow forces. For some, it means supporting Bongbong Marcos as vice-president. Although both are labeled "strongman,” the difference between the two is that Bongbong, who’s an integral part of the Marcos dictatorship, still waxes ecstatic over the so-called golden years of martial law and has been active in blocking every effort to retrieve the spoils of wealth they’ve stolen from the people.
Compared to the weak, incompetent, and spineless Aquino government and the previous Yellow administration, Duterte has fostered an image of a no-nonsense leader. This is the character of the president that the masses long for today – not a clueless and spineless character who cannot be trusted to solve the problems confronting the people, from corruption to traffic congestion and crimes.
The worsening criminality in the country, which is a main issue in the Duterte campaign, strikes at the heart of the people, from the well-off to the poor, and from the call center agents to the OFWs and their families victimized by drug addiction, theft, rape and other heinous crimes in the country.
The people have long lost their trust in government to provide them with jobs or protect their lives. For those who toil hard abroad just to provide for their families, it is most tragic to know that the fruits of their labor can easily be stolen, and the families they left behind will be victims of crimes that the government has no power to control. Here comes the aspiration for a ‘strongman leader’ who rules with an iron hand that can effectively strike at drug and criminal syndicates, like what they perceived Duterte has done in Davao City.
Whom does Mayor Duterte represent?
It is important to understand that the mayor also comes from a faction of the ruling class in the Philippines. The main faction is represented by the old oligarchy which has been based in Manila and Luzon. Duterte, like Erap, appears to be outside of the traditional oligarchy or ruling class in the country. The Dutertes are a political clan in Mindanao. His father was a mayor of Danao, Cebu who migrated to Mindanao and became a governor of Davao. His mother was a Roa, a political clan that ruled Leyte for a long time. Duterte’s cousin was the mayor of Cebu City in 1983-86, a position also held by his cousin’s father in 1957-59. The Dutertes are also related to the political clans of Almendras and Durano in Cebu.
The oligarchy that have long ruled the Philippines originated from Luzon, or are otherwise based in Metro Manila. Duterte’s campaign slogan of "Change is coming" projects a "fresh face," an outsider ready to do battle against the ruling elite in "Imperial Manila." Imperial Manila is a term local politicians use to denote that the trapos in Luzon and Metro Manila are the ones lording over them, and dictating the terms of sharing of power and resources in government.
Duterte, on the other hand, represents the local politicians or warlords who have long been resisting the rule of Imperial Manila. They’ve even come together to press for the implementation of a system of federalism in the country, where the local trapos can be given "equal opportunities" with the trapos in Luzon and Metro Manila. From the point of view of the local trapos, it would be more democratic to divide the spoils of rule among everyone rather than leave it in the hands of factions closer to the Malacañang palace.
No wonder then that Duterte’s campaigns in areas outside Imperial Manila always get the enthusiastic support from local politicians. The issues that Duterte always emphasizes in his speech, but largely left unreported by the media, are the issue of federalism and the problem of war in Mindanao. He always mentions in his speech that the war in Mindanao, which has not been resolved by succeeding governments, will spread nationwide, including in Metro Manila, unless effectively dealt with. People have known of this looming threat for a long time: the periodic bombings of bus stations, LRTs, malls, public markets, and government buildings in several cities outside of Mindanao have been imbedded in people’s psyches.
Our stand on the Duterte phenomenon
We do not see anyone we can support as president in this election. All the presidential candidates uphold the rotten system of rule in the country, and we have no illusions that any one of them can deliver us from poverty, exploitation, and abuse. However, there is the Duterte phenomenon that we have to understand and take a position on with a view to intervening in the struggles ahead.
The central issue in the Duterte phenomenon is the growing support of the masses themselves for Duterte’s candidacy. Even among our local candidates in PLM, many are rooting for Duterte in this election.
We must also clarify that Duterte’s brandishing of socialism in his speech is pretentious. Duterte tries to sound populist, i.e., he uses words that suit his audience. At best, the maximum content of Duterte’s program and ideology is still bourgeois reformism, although even this is overshadowed by constant threats of resort to fascistic methods of rule in order to deliver his promises.
However, we know that the masses have strong illusions in Duterte as their savior from the Yellow apocalypse. The material basis of this illusion comes from their concrete and direct experience of debilitating poverty, exploitation and abuse under the Yellow administration.
So even though we know that the masses are on the wrong path, that they are harboring illusions of a strongman leader who can deliver them from perdition, we cannot leave them behind. We need to be with them to patiently explain and demonstrate in practice the fallacy of illusions with Duterte.
How do we do this?
We need to explain the class character of the government and the ruling parties and what “Tuwid na Daan” really stands for, i.e., a neoliberal program to prop up and serve the interests of the ruling class. We need them to see the class character of Duterte and the program and ideology that he stands for. Most importantly, we need them to understand that the solution to their woes cannot come from a strongman, but from relying on their own strength and actions.
And it is correct that every time Duterte lets loose of a barrage of statements against women, LGBT, workers and other sectors of society – such as the “rape joke" and the propagation of backward views in his talks – we must reject them unconditionally. He is running as a president, so we should not allow him to sneak derogatory statements on issues and commitments that we have long been struggling for. This is also one of the reasons we cannot support Duterte as president.
We also have to clarify that the greater risk in Duterte becoming a president is his avowed threat to use an iron fist against the opposition. Although this is only framed against his war on drugs and corruption, the method includes severe violation of human rights, including the rights of women and children, who were also victimized during Duterte’s anti-drug campaigns in Davao City.
But we must also say that our condemnation of the threat of fascist rule under Duterte is not based on the one-sided, bourgeois and liberal interpretation of "rule of law" that favors only the ruling family and forces (who are the ones who make the laws). The spirit of democracy is not the "rule of law" but the rule of the majority of the exploited and oppressed in society. Only through the rule of the majority will we have laws that can truly protect and promote the interests of the masses.
Juan Peron in the Philippines?
One of the characteristics of the Duterte phenomenon is the coalition of the Right and Left forces supporting him. The Right forces include the ultra-rightist groups whose main agenda is the restoration of the Marcoses and the reimposition of martial law to "wipe out criminals and discipline the people.” They are clamoring for Bongbong Marcos to be the vice-president, and ultimately, to become the president.
The CPP-NPA-NDF has long been in a coalition with Duterte, as he himself has admitted to in various statements. In today's election, Duterte is supported by organizations, partylist and forces associated with the CPP. It is also true that under Duterte’s long reign in Davao, he supported the NPAs and the NPAs backed him up in many issues. This arrangement is not unlike the coalition that politicians in other provinces built with the NPAs (for instance, the Dys of Isabela, the Yaps of Escalante, etc.) to maintain themselves in power.
This Left and Right coalition in support of an individual politician reminds one of a former president of Argentina who served three terms after the Second World War until 1973. It was Juan Peron, who became a popular president, a strongman, who gathered the support of the middle classes and the workers, the Left and the Right forces, during his reign in Argentina.
Peron formed an alliance with the militant labor group CGT and the socialist groups and movements. He supported the trade unions and its demands on wages. In the early days of his presidency (1946-1952), he implemented an extensive social welfare program for the unions. He also promoted nationalist policies, such as the nationalization of the central bank, railways, public utilities, and export of agricultural products. He also adopted an independent stance on the cold war politics of that time, and opened relations with the USSR and Cuba.
However, when faced with the severe crisis in the late 1940s, coupled with a surging strike movement, he attacked the CGT and the trade unions. He replaced the CGT leaders with his own supporters, and jailed all those resisting. Peron built his dictatorship and resorted to iron hand rule. He arrested and tortured the labor leaders who were the opposition, and closed down oppositionist papers.
The two main groups that supported Peron - the middle class and the trade unions - both suffered Peron's fascist attacks. Under Peron's second term presidency in 1952-55, the only remaining alliance was with the army generals and the extreme Right forces. But he was still deposed by a coup d’etat in 1955 and deported out of the country. He returned to Argentina in 1973 and was elected president that same year, although he died before he could finish a year in office.
In Peron’s third and last term as president, he intensified the repression against the CGT, formed para-military groups, and unleashed his fascist adviser, Jose Lopez Rega, to organize the Triple A. These are the death squads that operated not only against the Left but also against the moderate opposition. A number of Left groups went underground and launched guerrilla struggles against the government.
We are not equating Duterte with Peron because they exist under different circumstances and historical contexts. We are looking into the phenomenon of the coalition of the Right and Left forces, which is also a phenomenon we can see in the Duterte coalition.
But even Peron, who started with a program that was clearly pro-worker and pro-Left forces, reverted back to his class character and position after few years of rule. He resorted to fascist and Rightist rule after the failure of his administration to resolve the crisis and stem the tide of mass struggles in Argentina.
So the danger awaiting the masses if Duterte becomes the president is already looming in the horizon. The danger also comes from Duterte’s character: like a classic provincial warlord, he is his own king, and whether he turns Right or Left is a matter of his own choosing.
But as a president, more powerful forces will encircle him. If the illusion of the masses for Duterte is high, so will be their expectations and they will push for real change under his rule. Duterte is more likely to turn against them, since the military generals and the local trapos and warlords who support him, will not allow Duterte to adopt a pro-Left program. The Left’s armed groups cannot immediately neutralize the AFP and PNP forces which will pressure Duterte to take the Rightist position. These are the dangers that will mark what could be a short period of Duterte presidency if ever he assumes the executive post.
Alliance against the government and our call
However, Duterte is not the main enemy of the masses today. It is the gang of Yellow forces ruling in government and threatening to cheat our votes in the elections on May 9. The Duterte presidency becomes the main threat if and when Duterte becomes the president.
On May 9, the election scenario does not bode well for an easy victory for Duterte. The scripted scenario being rumored about is that the horse of the administration – Mar Roxas (although others say that Grace Poe is the “hidden horse” of the PNoy administration) – will make a sprint on election day. The surge of votes for Roxas will surely make the blood of the forces supporting Duterte curdle.
On May 9, what is at stake and what is needed is the formation of the broadest opposition against electoral fraud. Duterte is the only presidential candidate who is right now calling on his supporters to prepare protests against electoral fraud. The protest will start on May 7, in a call to his forces to occupy Luneta, not only to show support to Duterte but as a demonstration to the administration of what is in store if the planned electoral fraud continues.
Without merging with the Duterte camp, we can march side-by-side with them and jointly undertake other forms of direct action of the masses, in the face of electoral fraud perpetrated by the government and the ruling Liberal Party. We need to prepare for this. Make sure that the wind of change will not pass over to the celebration of the government and the ruling Liberal Party, but will lead to the outbreak of street protests. The protests that will erupt at the polling places can be the spark that will lead to national conflagration.
In the upsurge of protests, our call should not be to merely install Duterte or the cheated candidate/s in the post. We don’t support a Duterte presidency; we are against electoral fraud. We should hammer on the fault of the cheating administration and the demands and electoral rights of the masses that were blocked and violated by massive fraud on election day.
We can call for the declaration of a failure of election and the failure of government and its institutions to safeguard the election. It will not be simply remedied by repeating the elections under the Comelec or other institutions that instigated the fraud. We must renounce all the institutions that are involved in the fraud and the failure of election.
And the only institution that can bring back the confidence and trust of the masses to the election is the Congress of the People. Not the Senate Electoral Tribunal, the Comelec, and all other government institutions involved or tainted with fraud. We should call for a Congress composed of genuine representatives of people’s organizations in different regions and provinces in the country, a Congress that can plan appropriate changes and policies and prepare for genuine democratic elections.
This is the only way that we can ensure justice will be dispensed after the collapse of the electoral process. On May 9, a storm is brewing. We must prepare to ride the storm and steer it in the direction that will sweep away the obstacles to the real changes aspired by the people.
Prepared by Sonny Melencio, Chairperson, PLM
Partido Lakas ng Masa