How I became a ‘Yellowtard’

Lisandro E. Claudio

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I am a yellowtard because I would rather take clumsy liberal-democrats over a maniacal murderer in Malacañang

I have a confession to make: I think I may have been infected by yellow fever. They say that people with my affliction can easily become biased or, even worse, supporters of criminals.

Rumor has it that this disease began to incubate sometime in the 1980s, possibly ’83, and slowly infected most of our poor compatriots in the years that followed. Oddly, I seem to have contracted my illness only recently, last year, as Rodrigo Duterte rose to power. God help me, when I see Noynoy Aquino or Mar Roxas these days, I wax nostalgic. 

I used to be lukewarm about the Aquinos and the Liberal Party, and to some extent I still am. They are part of a political system that has consistently failed the majority of Filipinos, and the frustrations against them are based on real slights experienced by real citizens. With an authoritarian as president, however, I have come to realize that we should value liberal democrats, however feckless they seem. Better a slightly inefficient oligarch than a mass murderer. I miss PNoy because, as Joni said, you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone. 

In 2009 and 2010, I was a PhD student, conducting ethnographic research in Hacienda Luisita, owned by the family of Noynoy Aquino. For many Filipinos, it was a period of moral certainty: Arroyo was bad – she was the new Marcos – and Noynoy was good – he was the new Cory. But the world felt askew in Luisita.

For the farmworkers of that vast sugar plantation, the emerging national consensus was strange. How could the Cojuangco-Aquinos be the saviors of the country when the farmers knew they couldn’t even take care of their backyard? Hacienda Luisita was unproductive, its infrastructure byzantine, its workers underpaid. How could Cory Aquino be a saint when it was under her administration that the tillers of the soil received useless paper stocks instead of land? One respondent told me that he fantasized about stealing Cory’s rosaries so that he could use these to strangle the Cojuangcos.  

The anger of my respondents simmered, but they could not do much. Because they needed labor and land from the Cojuangcos, they had to take the crap thrown at them. So very few organized or complained. In 2010, I wrote that the situation in Luisita was best summarized by the term “prinsipyo o caldero”: If you stick to your principles, you don’t eat. 

Limits of fairy tale

My experiences in Luisita pushed me to consider the limits of our national yellow fairy tale. Like many contemporary Dutertians, I chafed at the people power narrative’s moral certainty; I seethed at what I viewed as hypocritical self-righteousness. Looking back at my writings from the period, I am struck by my singular obsession to tarnish all things yellow: I wrote about Ninoy Aquino’s ties to the Communists (a constant reference of conspiracy theory-oriented pro-Marcos groups), I accused Noynoy of cultivating a “kabarkada Inc.” within his Cabinet, and my first book, Taming People’s Power: The EDSA Revolutions and their Contradictions, was an anti-dilawan manifesto. In the book, I chastised the people we would now call “yellow” for projecting “hope onto spaces within an elite democracy.” 

When one is young, angry, and slightly contrarian, one tends to get tunnel vision. And when one nurtures a detached academic nihilism, one does not consider alternatives. But the world moves on regardless of what scholars say, and alternatives emerge.

In the Philippines, that alternative was called Digong. And Dutertismo became a cure worse than the disease. 

While PNoy was, indeed, elite, and while the inaction in Hacienda Luisita was elitist (reflective of the broader cowardice of Aquino’s Department of Agrarian Reform under the pygmy Gil de los Reyes), there is nothing more elitist than a drug war that systematically targets the poor. 

We have lost so much since PNoy was driven back to Times Street: our sovereignty vis-a-vis the Chinese, a certain level of sanity in our political speech, the admiration of the international community, and our respect for basic human rights. And while we may have gotten rid of people like de los Reyes and the much-maligned Emilio Abaya, we are now subject to the likes of Wigman and Mocha Uson. 

Notice, also, what is happening to our institutions. PNoy damaged the institution of the judiciary when he ousted Chief Justice Renato Corona, but he strengthened others: He cleaned up the bidding processes at DPWH, he streamlined the budgeting process, and he implemented the most sweeping educational reform in recent memory, the K-12. The latter will be his most enduring legacy, resolving an education problem created by one of his earliest predecessors, Manuel Luis Quezon.

Digong, on the other hand, has tarnished the reputation of constitutional bodies like the Ombudsman and the CHR, appointed liars to communications offices, insulted the DFA by initially designating an unqualified American as its head, turned the Department of Justice into a vehicle for vendettas, and, worst of all, he has brutalized the police. 

This is the context in which I  began to appreciate what came before, a context that forced me to see once obscured yellow stars amid the Manila smog, not luminescent but present – at least as of early 2016.  Do I now regret what I once wrote? To a certain degree, yes, but unlike hard-headed Dutertians and their Communist allies, I am comfortable with changing my mind. 

So, yes, I am a proud yellowtard. I am yellowtard because, while I believe in change, I believe in slow, responsible change that does not have a body toll of 8,000. I am a yellowtard because basic democracy represents basic decency. –


Lisandro E. Claudio is an Associate Professor at the Department of History, De La Salle University. 



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