Presidential aspirant Rodrigo Duterte is like religion, as Karl Marx described it: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions.”
Rather than a sigh, though, Duterte’s is a howl, a rage, hisputangina the new version of Heneral Luna’s punyeta. It is a rage against the continued failure of the legal system to protect the oppressed and deliver justice to all, the hypocrisy of organized religion, its nature as the great brainwasher of the oppressed, keeping them at bay without the force of arms.
I would have thought Duterte had also screamed against the economic elite: “Putanginang mga bilyonaryong iyan, payaman na lang ng payaman at walang pakialam sa bayan.” Actually, and strangely, he hasn’t said that. Or, maybe it’s just because it is the season of campaign fund-raising.
He’s sympathetic to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (he supports the Bangsamoro Basic Law) and the New People’s Army as he shares the anger of those two organizations against oppression through the centuries.
A surprising revelation to me is that he reads history: “We were subjugated for 400 years, repressed, at tiniis natin ‘yun mga Pilipino. Then we were given over to the Americans by the Treaty of Paris when Spain lost the American-Spanish War. And we had another set of rulers. Masakit ‘yun. masakit ‘yun. Maybe the younger generation has not really felt the dimensions of being a subjugated people.”
More than its use to denigrate somebody, Duterte’s putangina bursts out as a reflex expression of explosive anger mixed with on-the-brink exasperation over a desperate situation. (It’s a Tagalog term imported into the Cebuano Visayan by the people of Davao, and is seldom directed against a person but rather, blurted out over an extremely bad, serious or dangerous situation.)
It expresses anger that explodes after one had queued up for an hour just to get on the MRT-3, it breaks down between the stations. I said it again and again in 2012 when 20 of the 23 senators voted to remove Chief Justice Renato Corona from office on very flimsy grounds, in complete servility to President Aquino’s assault on an independent branch of government. I said it when it was disclosed that the senators were paid hundreds of millions of pesos in pork barrel and DAP funds for their vote.
I said it again and again when I saw a photo of one of the SAF 44 fallen, already lying on the ground yet still fired upon point blank by a Muslim insurgent, and later, a photo of Aquino in Zamboanga City probably at around the same hour, pretending nothing was happening in Mamasapano.
Bursts out of your mouth
More recently, the word just came bursting out of your mouth when you realized you’ve been trapped in monstrous traffic for five hours because Aquino’s APEC team had failed to plan well ahead of time so that the multi-nation summit could have been hosted properly elsewhere than the congested metropolis. When Aquino claimed that the tanim-bala extortion racket – which even international news agencies such as CNN and BBC picked up – was just sensationalized by the press.
I say the word every time Aquino boasts of GDP growth under his term, since he has contributed nothing, nothing to that growth. And at the thought that he even impeded it by scrimping on public expenditures, while he kept in jail as his trophy of sorts President Gloria Arroyo, the person really responsible for the economic momentum built in the aftermath of the 2008-2009 global financial crisis, before Aquino took over the reins of government.
After all, what can Aquino boast about when growth continues to be essentially due to OFW remittances, which directly account for 10 percent of our gross domestic product (GDP)? Their contribution is actually more than that, as the remittances have also financed the booming domestic trade and property markets.
The more familiar quote from Marx on religion, however, is that it is “the opium of the masses.” Our metaphor here breaks down a bit, and we have to amend it.
The difference with opium
Duterte is totally unlike the effect of opium on the psyche: drowsiness and dreamless sleep after a brief euphoria.
Duterte is more like shabu, or methamphetamine, and the Wikipedia description fits Duterte: “Elevated mood, increased alertness, energy in fatigued individuals, reduced appetite and weight loss.”
Translate that individual feeling to a political one, read his fans’ delirious Facebook postings praising him, and the picture that emerges: Duterte has stimulated an elevated political mood and alertness in the body politic, and a renewed sense of hope for people so sick of our political and social system.
But shabu is shabu and it is an artificial, even dangerous, chemical that creates illusions.
As shabu obliterates the past, Duterte totally obliterates civilization’s past with his boasts of killing kidnappers and rapists as soon as they are captured.
Duterte is a lawyer, but he is a case study that should convince the Supreme Court to require law schools to offer more classes in the history and philosophy of “the rule of law.” These should etch in their minds that a crucial element of the the rule of law is that that there clearly laid-down procedures to determine who is guilty and who is innocent.
“Rule of Law” was invented a long time ago – 2,500 years ago – at least as far was we know, in ancient Greece, mainly by the statesman Solon and the philosopher Aristotle in the 6th century C.E., and then developed in Rome – although both societies merely paid lip-service to it with “might-is-right” as their dominant form of rule.
Rule of law
The notion of the rule of law was forgotten after the fall of the Roman Empire as barbarian tribes with the barest forms of civilization ruled Europe. What’s very interesting in this concept is that it is a value that had not been upheld by any religion. It, therefore, remains a difficult concept to follow as it goes against our vengeful, emotional reptilian minds even as no religious teaching requires us to follow it.
The religions of the Book (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) have never advanced the concept. The Old Testament’s great King Solomon’s due process was a kind of psychological test: ordering the infant claimed by two mothers to be cut in half, to expose the liar who delighted in the faked decision. How can there be a rule of law emerging out of the Old Testament when even innocents – the first born of the Egyptians – were summarily executed by the Angel of Death just to convince the Pharaoh to free the Israelites?
There is no crucial 11th commandment that could have spared probably millions of innocent people from beheading or death by burning at the stake: “Follow due process to determine who breaks the above ten commandments.”
Christ didn’t ask the mob if the alleged adulteress had been proven guilty through due process, but instead, made them feel hypocritical when he reminded the mostly male members of the crowd that they probably also cheated on their wives. Even the due process in Christ’s “trial” was not Jewish but based on Roman legal processes.
Infamous of course was the Catholic Church’s “due process” under its Inquisitions during medieval times: torture. There could not have been a “rule of law” under Christian Europe for centuries since its monarchy was based on the notion that he represented God on earth, and therefore, could not be subject to laws made by men. The ISIS’ atrocities are really Islamic rule of law followed to its extremes.
Yet “the rule of law,” if you look at it more closely, separates us from chaos and the rule of the mighty.
The rule of law’s emergence was so contingent, even accidental: it emerged in England in the 13th century as the Magna Carta, or more precisely the Magna Carta Libertatum (Latin for “the Great Charter of the Liberties”).
It is an artefact of mankind, and when it was invented, even had a political goal: the unpopular King John of England promulgated it based on the thoughtful Archbishop of Canterbury’s draft to save his skin as it calmed down rebellious barons with the comforting thought that they would not be persecuted. While it was a crude form of the rule of law, it was the start of mankind’s development, helped by the rediscovery of Greek philosophical justifications, of the concept into the huge body of law we now know.
Duterte would have us forget this gem of mankind’s achievements that have been with us for 2,500 years, just as shabu makes one forget human values. There is no artificial quick-fix solution to our country’s depression. And Duterte’s do-dirty tack is a very slippery slope, lubricated by blood.