We live in strange times.
As we round off 3 years into a Duterte presidency, it seems that a week doesn’t go by where something isn’t happening. A Chinese boat sinks 22 fishermen. Eleven activists are arrested in Kawit on trumped up charges. Mindoro is a blazing hell-scape. Two human rights workers are shot dead in Sorsogon. One farmer is killed in Bukidnon. Another organizer is shot on his way to work in Naga. And that’s just June. Not to mention the stories that aren’t told – the killings, the petty thefts, the big crimes on small people.
One can’t help but look back to the beginning and wonder what happened. What happened to the unconventional tough-talking mayor who promised paradise to the Filipino people? Looking at how the Duterte playbook eventually wrote itself, full of extra-judicial killings, Marcos idolatry, blind subservience to foreign powers, and so on, it’s clear what Duterte’s true colors are: Chinese Red, American Blue, and Marcos Black.
Summing up Duterte’s past 3 years lets us paint a picture of overt tyranny and burgeoning dictatorship. When we wade past the fake news and state propaganda, the facts start to emerge: More people dead due to tokhang than in Martial Law, cronies and criminals in government positions, and “friends” who abuse our citizens and take our land.
But what we shouldn’t forget is that Duterte isn’t unique. Every single president since 1946 has pulled tricks from the same bag: It doesn’t matter if it’s Osmeña’s disallowing opposition congressmen to take office to ensure the Bell Trade Act gets passed, or Garcia’s fascist Anti-Subversion laws, or Cory’s giving farmers bullets in Mendiola, or Arroyo’s calls to Garci, or Noynoy’s neoliberal economic policy. Duterte, in his 3 years, is at once a throwback and a violent reminder that things haven’t truly changed.
And that’s the thing. The person behind the wheel changes every few years, but the wheels keep turning. A week doesn’t go by where somebody doesn’t fight back. There are weekly protests in Manila and in other urban centers. Simultaneous indignation rallies are held the day after the 2019 midyear elections. Workers go on strike to fight for their rights. Farmers participate in the bungkalan farming-protests. Not to mention the stories that aren’t told – students asserting their rights, workers forming unions, farmers taking their land back.
The administration’s actions in the past 3 years are a concentrated form of the fundamental problems of Philippine society. Duterte’s foreign and economic policy only served to strengthen foreign control of key industries while maintaining our import-dependent export-oriented orientation. Land, the most important thing for an agricultural country, is still in the hands of a select few. The overtures to federalism only threaten to further ensure government remains the government of the few. In 3 years, Duterte has managed to weave these things to create a tapestry of exploitation and violence.
And it is in this travesty of a tapestry where we find ourselves today. Time and again, Philippine history has proven to us that, when oppressed, the Filipino fights back. From Andres Bonifacio to Lean Alejandro, to the thousand names in between, and the thousand more since – all of them have fought against a powerful few and the system they created for the freedom of the many. The inevitable conflict between the subjugated mass and the ruling elite necessitates the formation of people who will fight back. It was the Katipunan during the Spanish Era. It was Kabataang Makabayan during the storm of 1970. And it is the activists who take to the streets today.
Duterte may have done his best to shroud the nation in darkness, but he also did his best to plant the seeds of renewed action. In the end, activism stems from a need to change society. People choose the path of resistance; the rallies, the mass work, the constant threats, not because it is glamorous but because it is just. Duterte’s administration, in 3 years, created a society that demands change. It’s a field of grass in the summer heat, and Duterte is lighting the spark that starts the prairie fire, over and over again.
Duterte has managed to impart two legacies in his 3 years of office. The first is to weave a tapestry of violence and tyranny threatening to envelop our nation in darkness. The second is to arouse, organize, and mobilize an entire generation of new activists who will break the cloth and let the sun shine through. – Rappler.com
Justin Umali is a writer and an activist from Laguna. He is a regular contributor for Esquire Philippines, and currently President of Kabataan Partylist Laguna.