That’s an easy question to answer: because he was elected by an angry people. Filipinos in 2016 — coming out of six years under the rule of former President Benigno Simeon ‘BS’ Aquino III — trooped to the voting booths full of anger over missed opportunities, great crimes that were allowed to slide, and the virtually institutionalised hypocrisy of the Aquino-Cojuangco clan and its surrounding horde of Yellow supporters.
More importantly, Duterte represents a people — and region — that, for so long, had been left holding the short end of the stick that is the modern Philippine state. Duterte is the first Philippine president who hails from the Philippines’ deep south in Mindanao island. As president today, Duterte brings to Imperial Manila the voice of Mindanao, a voice long starved for real representation in the capital city. The political convulsions we are seeing today are the effects of how this once-alien voice in the centuries-old stronghold of political power held by the Philippines’ Tagalog tribes now threatens the status quo.
The Tagalogs — tribes that inhabited the Philippines’ southern provinces of the northern island of Luzon, after all, enjoyed a history of close collaboration with the United States in the subjugation of the entire Philippine archipelago — something Spain failed to do over the almost 400 years that it held the islands as a colony. Mindanao, until the U.S, took the Philippine Islands from Spain at the close of the 19th Century, largely resisted Spanish colonial domination.
So it is quite understandable that there is now a concerted effort in the Philippines’ political Establishment to resist change under what is essentially the dawn of the Age of Mindanaoan National Rule. It is, of course, still arguable whether Tagalogs and their allies in the Philippines’ oligarchic classes are seeing the sunset of their domination of Philippine politics. With billions of dollars invested in the status quo — notably in industries that remain virtual monopolies holding the Philippine economy within their grips — the ruling classes will not cede Manila to Mindanaoan rule without a fight.
This is the “fight” we are seeing today. It not at all the “fight” described by so-called “thought leader” and Rappler CEO Maria Ressa in her series of treatises about how a purported army of “trolls” is “weaponising” the Internet. The fight is really coming from the Imperial Manila citizens battling for survival — specifically fighting the new Mindanaoan Manila to protect a multi-billion-dollar asset base hinged almost entirely on maintaining the 500-year-old status quo.
The question, of course, is who will win this “fight”. The Mindanao gang are the new kids on the block in Imperial Manila. Manila, with its tony streets, trendy cafes, and flashy casinos, constitutes the battlfield — the contested turf out of which the current oligarchy rule all of the Philippine archipelago. The Duterte government, unfortunately, is unaccustomed to doing this job from Malacanang. It is unaccustomed to dealing with a “news” media industry owned by oligarchs who are deeply invested in this 500-year-old status quo. But it has a strong mandate to see through the change Duterte promised during his campaign.
In short, it comes down to who will work — and fight — smart. Perhaps Ressa is right. In the age of the Internet, those who weaponize the Internet first gain the advantage, much the same way the United States won World War II by being the first to weaponise the atom at the dawn of the Atomic Age.
Then again, there is something to be said about a fight where one side is really angry. Dr David Banner will likely agree.
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