On June 8, I joined a “forum on civil liberties and democracy” at De La Salle University on Taft Avenue called “Gathering Hope”—and came away a little more hopeful. Part of the reason I showed up was to see Rene Saguisag, the great civil libertarian of our time, in action again. I was fortunate to sit beside him, and took a couple of pictures of him in mid-speech (at that point when he was recalling an old story about a mischievous boy and a grandfather figure, whose moral the grandfather summed up in the following wise: “The answer lies in your hands”).
Sen. Risa Hontiveros, a good friend since college days, was tasked to give an inspirational message; she said that while she wanted to offer words of comfort, especially to the young, “the truth is we are living in very challenging times. Your generation will be tested.” The formidable Etta Rosales, formerly of Congress and the Commission on Human Rights, recalled her experience when Ferdinand Marcos imposed martial law. Among her insights: “We realized that aside from civil liberties, we needed democracy.” Young lawyer Jaye Bekema noted the differences on paper between martial law under Marcos and martial law as allowed by the 1987 Constitution. “We should all help define what the Constitution really means.” Leloy Claudio, a rising star among Filipino historians, debunked several myths, including the idea that liberal democracy is a Western concept; referenced eminent Filipinos like S. P. Lopez and Rizal himself to deepen the discussion; and then memorably defined the crucial challenge for ordinary citizens: “There should be a daily renewal of calling yourself Filipino.” (These quotes are either from memory or from The LaSallian’s reporting on Twitter.)
My role (as Leloy described it after the fact, only half in jest) was to frighten the audience: I spoke on what Dutertismo meant, in its fully evolved state.
I began by recalling some of the readings I had made of the political phenomenon that is President Duterte.
That the President remains conflicted about his role, about running for office and about the office itself. That a sense of foreboding overcame me when this charismatic politician, whom I actually enjoyed interviewing when he visited with the Inquirer, won the election. That I’ve tried to understand him whole. That there are at least three major reasons why we should continue to hold him to account, by criticizing him. (I spoke of innocence, truth, and finally the democratic project itself as actual or potential casualties.) And that the change he promised was coming was in fact already here: in the wave of extrajudicial killings, in the under-prepared pivot to China, in the rehabilitation of the Marcoses.
Then I made the following argument: In its fully evolved state, Dutertismo, as an ideology of power, is defined by its No’s. Appropriately enough, they number seven in all—a proper Marcosian touch.
- No Cure: Its signature program, the campaign against drugs, was based on the notion that there was no remedy for drug addition. Addicts cannot be rehabilitated.
- No Innocents: This same signature program has claimed thousands of lives — including those of mere toddlers, children who were four or five years old. Each of these deaths will be justified, as necessary “collateral damage.”
- No Rights: Constitutional safeguards, even those expressly included to make the imposition of martial law more difficult than before, will be treated as suggestions—all subsumed under the “war on drugs.”
- No West: In Dutertismo’s ideal world, Duterte will complete the repudiation of the Americans and other Western sources of influence, in the name of an irritable nationalism.
- No Criticism: This irritable nationalism is triggered by criticism, especially of alleged human rights violations. It will find expression in a new foreign policy dictated by the need to form alliances with those countries which will not criticize us.
- No Truth: Dutertismo welcomes the use of “creative imagination” and “alternative facts,” because a post-truth regime makes accountability more difficult, sometimes even impossible.
- No Limits: The be-all and end-all of Dutertismo in its mature stage is the accumulation of all power, for power’s sake. As early as August 2015, Duterte was already entertaining plans for “constitutional dictatorship.”
What we do, in the face of all these No’s, lies, truly, in our hands.