Nationalism has been reborn in the Philippines, and the yellows and liberals have failed to realize what is going on.
One of my criticisms of Philippine politics has always been the lack of party principles, as all our political parties are on the center of the traditional left-right political spectrum. This is largely because the political parties have all gravitated towards the center, trying to pander to voters election in and election out.
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We’re not like the United States where the Republican and Democratic parties offer different platforms, the former focusing on the free market while the latter on imposing regulations and redistribution of wealth. The same can be said for the United Kingdom, where the Tory Party and the Labour Party also offer different platforms (though one could argue that they’ve been the same as of late because of the Blair Rights in Labour). We’re not like our former colonial masters or their former colonial masters when speaking of political dynamics.
Then again, we’re also not like our Asian neighbors. Japan and China have more powerful executives compared to the Philippines, and the latter is far more authoritarian, carrying over the strongman leadership established in the time of Mao even after reforms by the Xiaoping administration. The Filipino system is quite unique compared to our more prosperous neighbors or our wealthier allies in the West.
One would notice that parties and politicians offer practically the same platform: free and cheaper healthcare, free fertilizers for farmers, dole outs for those in poverty, and free tuition for students in state universities. Such platforms seem socialist. But instead of socialism’s goal of fair redistribution, the end goal of our politicians’ platforms is to pander to people and get their votes for the next election. (Not that socialism is a good and practical system in the first place, for everywhere it was tried, it runs the country’s economy into the ground.)
In one province, Family A would rule for a few decades. They offer Platform 1. Then, Family B would eliminate Family A, sweep into power but also offer Platform 1. Passing the political dynasty bill in this case would be useless. There is only a change in the name of the ruler but not in the ruling system. In other words, our system is not broken but rather, it is inherently corrupt.
A broken system can be fixed. But an inherently corrupt system like what we’ve had cannot be fixed, it must be burned to the ground and completely eradicated. In 2010, Noynoy Aquino sold himself as a holier than thou candidate who could do no wrong and who was out to fix the system that was broken during the Arroyo administration. But the system remained in place.
Aquino simply replaced Arroyo’s corrupt personnel with his own set of corrupt personnel. His refusal to hold Budget Secretary Butch Abad liable for the DAP scandal is proof of this. The same way he refused to hold his men accountable for the botched anti-terror operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on January 25, 2015, Aquino did not fix the broken system, he simply (and clumsily) showed our people how it really works.
The early candidates for the presidency (Mar Roxas, Jejomar Binay, and Grace Poe) all ran on the same pandering platform. These candidates offered no palpable change whatsoever. As Jonathan Pie described Hillary Clinton’s offer to the American people, “Same old shit.” But then lo and behold, the unorthodox Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte declared his run for the presidency.
Duterte offered a radical platform of using force to eradicate corruption and drugs. As the campaign started, Duterte led the opinion polls outright and cruised to a victory in the presidential election last May. His message resonated with the clamor for change. Duterte vowed to take the country back from the corrupt oligarchs and prevent the Philippines from descending into what he called a “narco state” or a state run by drug money.
Sure enough, unlike most politicians, Duterte delivered on his message. In his young presidency, Duterte took on the Obama administration in the United States, supranational organizations like the United Nations and the European Union, the Roman Catholic Church, and the political and economic establishment put in place in 1986. His approval ratings are high as he took on the bodies that our typical corrupt politicians would bow down to.
And in the war on drugs, criminality, and corruption, Duterte has employed a Machiavellian “by all means necessary” approach. He has empowered the police to an extent not seen since the martial law era of Marcos. In fact, he cancelled the 2016 Barangay Election just so the Philippine National Police can focus on its war on illegal drugs. The president has not hesitated to name Mayors, Governors, Congressmen, and even a lady Senator who are involved in drugs.
Despite the so-called extrajudicial killings which has numbered over 7,000, the president remains very popular. His supporters are all over social media, they have complete control of Congress, and they recently held a show of force in Luneta in response to the politicians who tried to use the 31st anniversary of EDSA 1986 to score political points against President Duterte. Such is the Duterte effect.
Usually, support bases of politicians quiet down after the election. Not with President Duterte. As the days pass, the Duterte support base becomes even more energized. Amidst a destabilization plot by the Liberal Party, the Duterte supporters have become even more eager to defend their president and to keep the country from being taken away once more by the corrupt oligarchs.
“Tama yang kay Duterte. Hindi tayo magbabago kung hindi maubos mga kurakot at mga kriminal” a barangay official in my province told me before Christmas when we were out drinking.
A charismatic leader representing the will of his people, running the country with an iron hand, and taking the country back from the traditional elites and saving the country from destruction. Such is how the President’s strongest supporters see him. In fact, they have even pledged to support him if he places the country under martial law.
“Di bale na mag-martial law si Presidente. Mas pipiliin ko naman martial law kesa magkalat mga adik sa kalye” one taxi driver told me when I was on my way to the apartment after returning from Quezon province.
The President has not espoused any ideological leaning except that one time when he called himself a ‘socialist’. However, the activities of his allies like Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez (in threatening to remove from key House positions those who voted against the death penalty bill) and most especially his supporters who continue to push for the continuity of the President’s iron-fist method show tenets of far-right politics.
The critics are wrong in labeling the Duterte supporters as fanatics. They are not. These are people who have grown tired of the corrupt system in the country. These are people that want change and want it fast. It so happens that they feel that it is President Duterte who would bring the country back to life. We are seeing not fanaticism, but nationalism reborn.
This desire to take the Philippines back is unprecedented. The President’s supporters want change, and they want it by any means necessary, even it means supporting an authoritarian way of doing things. Even with all the executions in the midst of the drug war, in the end, what matters to them is the benefit of the nation. Nationalism has been reborn, and has already likely evolved further into extreme nationalism.
Our people could not care less about ideology. But the failure of promised change three decades ago has made the rebirth of Filipino nationalism inevitable. And an inevitable consequence of this rebirth of nationalism is the birth of extreme forms of nationalism, as we have seen as of late.
The far-right has risen in the Philippines. They want change, they want their country back, they want to usher in an era of Filipino greatness, and they want it done by any means necessary.