Column: No conspiracy, only resistance

Published on January 17, 2017.

From where I stand it is clear to me that there is no conspiracy to oust President Duterte; what there is is growing resistance to Dutertismo. Those are two entirely different things.

On previous occasions I have identified three troubling aspects of the Duterte presidency: the high number of killings in the war on drugs, the hasty pivot away from the United States and toward China, and the rehabilitation of the Marcoses. As best as I can tell, these are the sources of rising public discontent, and the proof is accumulating both in the surveys and in the streets. The same polls that show a general support for the war on drugs reveal an equally robust majority concerned about the killing of mere suspects; a majority also mistrusts both China and Russia, countries the President likes because they share his contempt for human rights. The corpses, mainly of poor Duterte voters, continue to pile up in the alleys, while anti-Marcos protesters have taken to the streets and will do so again.

But to appreciate that there is no conspiracy, all one needs to do is take a look at the disarray of Duterte critics, who cannot agree on messaging, plan a sustained program of political action, or even unite behind Vice President Leni Robredo. There ARE movements, or stirrings at least, but as far as I can tell they are issue-oriented: fighting the culture of death, including the proposed lowering of the age of criminal liability; determining the future of the Philippine-American military relationship, especially in discussions within the armed services; campaigning against the Marcoses’ return to power.

All these are legitimate political exercises; only those who equate criticism with ouster plans would see them as destabilizing.

* * *

In the thousand days between Ninoy Aquino’s assassination in 1983 and the Edsa Revolution in 1986, many in the middle forces who were critical of Marcos could not conceive of a peaceful end to the dictatorship. But that inability, or perhaps in the case of some even a refusal, to think of the end did not stop them from taking part in political action.

Those who coalesced behind the active nonviolence campaign, which Fr. Jose Blanco, SJ, preached and Jaime Cardinal Sin supported, focused on what Mahatma Gandhi called “the truth of the situation.” Let me borrow historian Geoffrey Ashe’s definition: “What you are supposed to do first, in essence, is to analyze a wrong state of affairs, probe it to its fundamentals, and define the issues precisely …. There will be at least one issue of a make-or-break kind, where the evil of the situation comes to a head, so to speak. Here you must make a stand.”

For those who followed this method, the work was decidedly practical.

Reading up for the coming Trump apocalypse, I stumbled upon a 1956 memo which Martin Luther King, then all of 27 years old, cowrote in his capacity as the president of the makeshift Montgomery Improvement Association—an organization set up during the yearlong and now successful Montgomery bus boycott. King and Gandhi were the main inspiration driving the active nonviolence movement against Marcos. The single-page list of “Integrated Bus Suggestions” for the boycott movement read like a blast from our past.

King’s suggestions were divided into two: general and specific. General suggestions were about attitude: “Not all white people are opposed to integrated buses. Accept goodwill on the part of many” (No. 1). “Be quiet but friendly; proud, but not arrogant; joyous, but not boistrous” [sic] (No. 7).

The specifics were about action: “Do not deliberately sit by a white person, unless there is no other seat” (No. 2). “In sitting down by a person, white or colored, say ‘May I’ or ‘Pardon me’ as you sit. This is a common courtesy” (No 3). “If cursed, do not curse back. If pushed, do not push back. If struck, do not strike back, but evidence love and goodwill at all times” (No 4).

Hard work, but Edsa was the unexpected payoff. In “Stride Toward Freedom,” King outlined his method of nonviolence in six points. The last is an audacious article of faith. “A sixth basic fact about nonviolent resistance is that it is based on the conviction that the universe is on the side of justice.” The arc may be long, but it bends.

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Filed under Newsstand: Column, Readings in Politics

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