The #HoldTheLine phrase littered social media when news about the arrest of Maria Ressa broke out. What does this phrase mean?
One prominent explanation is that it means all of us are being called upon to defend press freedom and our ability to speak truth to power. But another meaning is that it is calling on all of us to defend against a state toying with fascism. Although it can be argued that we are still enjoying democratic rule, there are clear signs that people in our government are using fascist politics and tactics to undermine democracy.
Reading the works of Robert Paxton (The Anatomy of Fascism), Jason Stanley (How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them), and Madeleine Albright (Fascism: A Warning), we can extract 5 crucial signs that we need to be aware when people in power are using fascist politics and tactics, so we are not caught off guard and are still able do something to hold the line against the complete transition from democracy to totalitarianism.
Majority rule without any minority rights. The current position of the government is that it is more important to save the majority of human lives rather than safeguarding the human rights of a troublesome few. Thus, the government tends to divide and conquer its citizens by singling out and demonizing portions of Filipino society as being responsible for the ills of our nation. We started with persons addicted to drugs, then it snowballed to the political opposition, journalists, human rights activists, religious and consecrated persons, the tambays, and now we have the children in conflict with the law. Which group will be the next target? I guess it is only the President who knows. In the end, it is all about stirring people’s anger and giving the public someone to hate.
The supremacy of the leader. In the Philippines, we have what Randy David calls Dutertismo, a term to capture the complete surrender of trust to the nation’s “Tatay Digong.” In this phenomenon, love for one’s country is equated to love for one’s President, and vice-versa. Thus, criticizing the President connotes an attack on the country. This also implies that even if the President constantly contradicts himself, as shown many times in the puzzling Duterte vs Duterte public statements, the wisdom of the President cannot be questioned by those lesser than him or those who have no moral ascendancy over him. Thus, with Dutertismo brings forth anti-intellectualism, rejection of the free press, and dismantling of democratic structures that are seen as obstacles to the will of the President.
Propaganda and support of nationalist militants. The current administration has been excellent in making use of propagandists, as it appoints and employs the orchestrated acts of pro-government bloggers and spokespersons to promote and publicize the benevolent President as the nation’s ultimate provider. In terms of nationalist militants, we now have many appointed officials in key positions of power who act like thugs who are vigorously combative in supporting the cause of the President. These nationalist militants also take the form of an army of online trolls who viciously verbally attack those who openly oppose or criticize the President. (READ: Chief disinformation architects in the PH: Not exactly who you think)
Working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites. In order to have a stronger clout and grip in the different parts of the Philippines, the current administration has brokered power with political dynasties who are happy to give their 101% support to the President as long as their privileges are unscathed, and their political clout intact and even expanded. This is why we see the comeback of the Marcoses, the Arroyos, the Estradas, and many more questionable political families who are emerging as new power satellites of the President.
The endorsement and use of hate and violence to achieve political goals. The current administration has earned its reputation of enforcing a “Kill, Kill, Kill” approach to solving problems. The President makes use of vulgarity, hate, and misogyny in his extemporaneous speeches in the guise of jokes and protected by his privileged immunity. But these jokes become serious in reality when we see that from July 2016 up to June 2018, the drug war has produced more than 20,000 homicide cases under investigation, equivalent to an average of 33 people killed a day. We also have a number of mayors and 6 vice mayors killed under the Duterte administration. Diehard Duterte Supporters would call this phenomenon as rightful cleansing, but in the eyes of human rights, these are state-induced murders.
These crucial signs and their contextualized explanation tell us that the current government has been extensively using fascist politics and tactics – things that are, ironically, possible to do under democratic rule. To complete the transition from democracy to totalitarianism, the only thing missing here is the use of the military and the police force to enforce discipline and order, deploy labor camps, and execute political enemies or critics.
Given the extension of martial law in Mindanao and the increasing appointment of former military officials in key civilian government posts, we are inching closer to this.
Thus, it is imperative to put all our acts together to hold the line against the creeping fascism, especially now in this coming election where we are given another opportunity to hold the line by not voting for those who embody fascist politics and tactics. – Rappler.com
Mark Anthony D. Abenir, DSD, is an associate professor and the director of the Simbahayan Community Development Office of the University of Santo Tomas, Manila. He is a development worker and currently serves as chair of the Community Development Society of the Philippines.