Filipinos who are demonising a Chinese national who threw a cup of taho (a sweetened beancurd snack) at a police officer the other day are flirting with the dangerous possibility of inciting racial tensions with ethnic Chinese foreigners residing in the Philippines. Jiale Zhang is currently facing charges of “direct assault” against a police officer following the incident. This is a routine charge and certainly not a rare one and there are mature procedures in place to be followed to resolve the offense properly. Still, this has not stopped an on-going overreaction amongst many Filipinos and has attracted over-the-top media coverage of the case.
One such potentially damaging overreaction comes all the way from the top — from no less than presumptive “vice president” herself, Leni Robredo. Robredo, in an earlier statement on the matter (because she makes statements about most things) reportedly believes that “the Chinese woman who threw a soybean curd drink was ‘disrespectful’ not only to the police officer, but also to the country.”
This is totally uncalled for and quite revealing of deep feelings of national insecurity Filipinos harbour. One can argue that if a lone young Chinese woman could “disrespect” their entire people, then Filipinos do, indeed, have a weak claim to the international respect they feel entitled to. It is unfortunate that, rather than take the high road and encourage Filipinos to be the bigger people in this instance, “vice president” Robredo has, instead, chosen to jump onto the slippery muddy slope for the easy ride and capitalise on this national insecurity. To be fair, building campaign platforms on the back of Filipinos’ deeply-rooted victim mentality has been a long tradition of political blocs led by the Aquino-Cojuangco clan (a.k.a. the Yellowtards).
It is actually quite ironic that the Yellowtards and their allies now put up a quaint pretense of standing up for the police officer in this story who is now being painted a “victim” in this little circus. The Yellowtards and their allies, after all, are also renowned for their irrational hatred of the police and the military. This is glaringly evident in the “rebel” rhetoric of their obsolete “activism” and the tired old putting up of the nebulous notion of “human rights” as their ideological wet dream. In all those narratives it is always the police and the military who are the bad guys and the hapless “freedom fighter” who is the “hero”.
But most disturbing of all is how Robredo adds fuel to simmering tensions between the Philippines’ traditional residents and a growing community of Chinese foreign residents. The last thing Filipinos need are race riots in the midst of a particularly long robust economic growth streak. Filipinos ought to be warned that if one such riot does erupt, it could pull in even the long-established Filipino-Chinese community who, themselves, form the bedrock of the Philippines’ industrial, financial, and mercantile power.
For a case study of what an enormous disaster an explosion of racial hatred for the Chinese community would mean for the Philippines, one need look no further than the tragic race riots that gripped Indonesia in 1998. The riots followed the 1997 Asian Currency Crisis that devasted most southeast Asian currencies and hit the Indonesian Rupiah particularly hard.
The widespread sexual violence directed against ethnic Chinese women during the riots and the ongoing denial of the reality of these attacks is a dark chapter in Indonesia’s history that, without acknowledgement and resolution, risks reigniting ethnic violence in an increasingly fragile sociopolitical environment. The anti-Chinese ethnic violence that exploded in 1998 was the culmination of a legacy of centuries of racist divisions orchestrated by the Dutch colonists and related scapegoating tactics that the colonial power used to divide and subjugate Indonesia.
It is interesting to note a relevant outcome in this bloody chapter in Indonesian history — the downfall of dictator President Suharto and the all-too-familiar sorts of militant groups involved in engineering this development.
These riots occurred in the context of the Asian Financial Crisis, where food shortages and huge rates of unemployment led to widespread civil unrest in several urban centers across the archipelago.
This unrest and the ongoing demonstrations in which the women’s movement and student movement were intensely involved eventually led to the fall of President Suharto and the New Order Regime — but not before more than a thousand citizens lay dead, scores of ethnically Chinese women had been gang raped, and the politicization of ethnic sentiment had been brought to a crescendo, creating and deepening wounds that remain unhealed and largely unacknowledged until today.
It now all makes sense in this context seeing the choice of “issues” today’s Philippine Opposition led by the Yellowtards have been focusing on — the supposedly “runaway” inflation that quack “economists” like JC Punongbayan have been drumming up in his on-going series of articles on Rappler, for example. In these “analyses”, Punongbayan desperately attempts to conclude causation through mere correlation of movements in inflation rates with the timeframes of governments over which selected presidents (hand-picked by Punongbayan) happened to have presided over. Such blatant dishonesty in scholarship certainly does not get in the way of a good propaganda campaign for Yellowtard “thought leaders” like JC Punongbayan to contribute towards seeing the Opposition’s singular goal of ousting Duterte at all costs come to fruition.
In this recent instance, Robredo’s contribution to the effort to unseat President Rodrigo Duterte (who, in parallel to all this, is continuously being painted as an “evil tyrant” by the Opposition) is to play the race card conveniently drawing upon a growing well of resentment against China and her citizens residing in the Philippines her camp had been stirring up since Duterte came to power in 2016. If there are lessons to be learned from the Indonesian experience, it is that what Robredo is doing is flirting with strategic genocide — something that finds precedent many times over humanity’s bloody history when usurpers salivating for power turned prosperous minorities into scapegoats.
Filipinos should see the posturings of the Yellowtards and the broader Opposition that they lead for what it is — just a bald play for power that is not underpinned by any sort of vision for the Philippines. In this regard, it is important that the average Filipino Voter apply a modern and intelligent mind to his or her noble pursuit of participating in Philippine democracy. It is high time dishonest parties who wear false halos while pretending to be “good” participants in Filipinos’ on-going democratic project be weeded out.
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.