The Duterte dispensation

The “nation” that emerges from this narrative is comprised of “regular” people like Mocha, who know what it is like to fear violent criminals and adiks. Those who wish to view politics using “external” criteria like human rights are ignorant of what the rest of the country goes through.

Critics must face the potency of this narrative, even as we condemn the moral depravity of many who promote it. The only way to beat the story of Dutertismo is to replace it. Alas, among those who challenge Dutertismo, the only group to present an alternative plotline is the Communist Party through its legal fronts of “Makabayan” organizations. As in the 1960s, they insist that the Philippines is dominated by a feudal elite allied with the United States, and that a peasant revolution will bring us one step closer to a socialist utopia.

There are a number of problems with their alternative. First, it is outdated. Second, it is compromised by the Communist Party’s continued collaboration with the government, the ouster of Judy Taguiwalo notwithstanding. Third, and most importantly, Duterte has coopted much of Filipino Communism’s rhetoric: the hyper-nationalism, the bloodlust, and the conspiracy-minded belief that Americans are the source of all evil. Hence, when Communist protestors carry banners decrying the “US-Duterte regime,” we must dismiss them as morons. Surely we can do better.

To supplant Dutertismo, we need to reject elements of past dispensations. On the one hand, we cannot imitate the People Power dispensation and imbue elements of the oligarchy with a triumphant moralism. We need a story that is more in touch with everyday experiences. On the other hand, we must reject the Duterte dispensation’s assumption that all truths emerge internally and only from one section of the population. Yes, we must listen to “the nation” and those within it who seek justice after being victimized by criminals. Yet this should not mean the rejection of universal principles like human rights, nor should it mean dismissing all critique as foreign.

I only have an idea of what a new dispensation should not be. But I neither have the creativity nor the temerity to tell you what it should be. Whatever we come up with, however, it must carry moral weight and it must be grounded on a vision for the future. “Nostalgia,” Lilla believes “is suicide.” In the context of bloodthirsty Philippines, these words become more literal and hence more urgent. –

Lisandro Claudio (@leloyclaudio on Twitter) teaches history at De La Salle University. He is the host of’s video series Basagan ng Trip.