Why the sudden interest of the foreign media in the Philippines? It is because they found a bogeyman in its current president, Rodrigo Duterte, to feast upon. Indeed, Duterte is living up to the smear that goes way back to the campaign leading up to the 2016 elections that he is the “Donald Trump of the Far East”. Westerners, after all, are utterly convinced of the undisputed ascendancy of their way of life — where the individual and her entitlement to “human rights” trumps all else.
The Philippines is, of course, the United States’ Mini Me. It is a quaint legacy of American aspirations to create a beacon of democracy in the region to assure a world fearful of the communist onslaught that at least one southeast Asian domino will remain standing as the others (as the thinking at the time went) fell. Many Filipinos continue to cling to the old notion that their duty as a people lies in upholding that mission to be instrumental to the containment of any threat to America’s hegemony in the region.
Times have changed. As we have seen, the ascent to power of Duterte manifests a change in what Filipinos consider to be the good of their society. Duterte replaces that traditional “good” long considered to be embodied by the “victors” in the 1986 “people power revolution” now known simply as “the Yellows”. Duterte won on the back of mass disillusionment over the broken promise of 1986 that was 30 years in the slow making. Under the Yellows, liberalist democracy was perverted beyond all recognition and turned into nothing more than a pillar that propped up an expanded class of oligarchs that consolidated and concentrated power in Imperial Manila.
Duterte is turning the Philippines back into a true southeast Asian country. He is, in effect, attempting to address the root cause of a national identity crisis suffered by Filipinos over the last three decades. Southeast Asia is home to autocratic “democracies” — states that have, one way or another, found a balance between outwardly being what the West think the world’s nations ought to be and, from the inside, being what they really are.
This is the confusion evident in how foreign media is currently “reporting” the situation in the Philippines. Its sources of information for these “reports” are the corporate media minions of the Yellows — self-anointed “heroes” of free speech that have used that lofty status to hypnotise an entire society. Was it Duterte that snapped Filipinos out of that state of hypnosis? More likely it was the failed administration of former President Benigno Simeon ‘BS’ Aquino III that did the job and paved the way for Duterte’s rise to power.
Either way, it does not matter now. What matters is the future under Duterte’s government. De La Salle University professor Antonio Contreras wrote in a Facebook post how Duterte now presents his people with “a breath of empowering uncertainty that creates spaces for us to redefine ourselves, our politics, our international relations.”
Change is, of course, uncomfortable. In the case of what is happening to the Philippines today, it comes across as confronting to what some have called the disente (“decent”) classes who have, hook line and sinker, embraced the American Way of “human rights”. For the first time in a long time, perhaps, we are confronted with the uncomfortable possibility that there are alternatives to this dogma. Contreras writes…
For once, we have a President that forces us to recalibrate, to re-examine our friendships with the US, to deconstruct the alien elements of a very individualistic human rights construct in the face of our cultural nuances as a communalistic society where rights are seen not as individual entitlements but in the context of social relationships.
This, it seems, is the reason that, at the grassroots, Filipinos fundamentally do not have a problem with Duterte. The problem, as is becoming ever more evident, lies with an oligarchic class unwilling to give change a chance.
This change, after all, requires doing things differently. What, after all, has liberal democratic ideals delivered to the average Filipino? It is this lack of results at the levels in Philippine society where voters are most numerous that the oligarchic classes that are in the midst of a shrilly crying Bloody Extrajudicial Killing! seem to be oblivious to. Instead, their Taliban-like adherence to the artefacts of Western imperialism have put them out of sync with the pulse of Philippine society at large. To continue to apply the same methods and expect different results is, quite simply, a sad form of insanity. Change, therefore, should involve a courageous embrace of different approaches.
Unfortunately, this small elite clique of disente change-averse Filipinos control a vast information dissemination industry that they are now desperately using to cobble together a power base to re-launch their bid to re-take the top government posts they regard as theirs by birthright and pedigree. In this context, it is understandable why foreign media are complicit in this undertaking — because the very ideologies upon which their industries have also been founded is being put to the test in the Philippines.
But to be truly southeast Asian is to grow and develop according to one’s sovereign terms. This is how Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia did it. And this is how Vietnam and the other new Indochinese members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are doing it. Duterte is showing Filipinos an option that, in all ironies, never occurred to them — that it can be done the southeast Asian way. The American Way was a fun ride in Disneyland. But to prosper in the manner that only southeast Asia does, the Philippines needs to go back to the basics and start planting rice.
When Filipinos learn to once again keep busy with the business of producing stuff and being independent, the shrill “human rights” slogans of The Huffington Post and The Economist will fade into mere background noise — sources of quaint intellectual amusement for the irrelevant disente crowd as they tap their self-important tweets on their iPads while sipping their Starbucks lattes.[Photo courtesy Suara.com.]
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