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Annus Mirabilis: The Year of Wonders, 2016

THE 17th century English poet John Dryden more accurately translated the Latin term “annus mirabilis,” which he used as the title of the poem he wrote on the events of the year 1666 not as “miraculous year” nor even “wonderful year” but as “year of wonders”. Last year in the Philippines was indeed such a year of wonders:

First, the hegemony of oligarch-funded and -supported political forces was broken by Rodrigo Duterte, a populist mayor from the farthest major city in the country, Davao, who won against candidates funded by the nation’s most powerful elites. This is the first time this ever occurred in our modern political history, that is unlikely to be ever happen again.

Vice-presidential candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s case claiming that he was cheated, would help expose in shocking terms the extent of how the Yellow Cult had subverted the electoral process, and used billions of pesos in government money in its desperate attempt to make their candidates win. Despite this, Duterte still buried their candidate Manuel Roxas. That certainly is a political wonder.

Second, I may be very subjective here, but Duterte certainly appears to be the first President who does not represent in any way the ruling elite. He sees its duplicity and greed and disdains it, and appears to have the masses’ interest at heart. He doesn’t dress like the elite, he doesn’t talk like the elite, he doesn’t think like the elite, he doesn’t live like the elite. He lives in a modest middle-class home in Davao City, not in that area’s upper-class villages. I was told his only materialist interest is collecting not-so-expensive, but uncommon watches

Third, related to these preceding two developments is that so far—and in terms of its main participants and allies—the Duterate administration appears to be one autonomous from the national ruling elite, certainly a tectonic shift from our past. His main officials are mostly his friends from Davao and San Beda Law classmates or boarding-house roommates when he was in law school in Manila.

Left, the Great Fire of London in 1666; right, casualty of war vs illegal drugs in the Philippines, 2016.

Left, the Great Fire of London in 1666; right, casualty of war vs illegal drugs in the Philippines, 2016.

Elites from Davao
Except for property tycoon Manuel Villar and Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, the richest elites supporting Duterte are all from Davao: “banana king” Antonio Floirendo, Jr. (his biggest campaign contributor, next to Cayetano) whose father was a Marcos stalwart; low-profile Davao-based tycoon Tomas Alcantara; now Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez whose empire had been mostly in Davao, but had spilled into Brunei.

An indication of whether Duterte can maintain his autonomy would be whether or not other big shots like Indonesian magnate Anthoni Salim and diversified tycoon Enrique Razon—who had the skill to get close to all past administrations— manage to get what they need form this administration. Salim, for instance, is ramming through Congress a new 25-year franchise for Smart Communications, which would even overturn Duterte’s victory in 2001 in getting telcos to pay local taxes.

Fourth, since the communist insurgency started in the 1950s led by a Soviet-influenced Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas, Duterte is the first president that has appointed not only former communist leaders but probably even active communist cadres, as members of his Cabinet and as lower ranking officials.

His Cabinet secretary who also officially supervises about 15 government agencies, including the powerful Philippine Coconut Authority (which during Marcos times was headed by his defense secretary Juan Ponce Enrile) is Leoncio Evasco, Jr., a former priest who in the 1970s and 1980s had been one of the top communist party leaders in the Visayas.

Others are Social Welfare and Development Secretary Judy Taguiwalo, in the 1980s even a central committee member; Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano, chairman of the communist peasant organization Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas; Poverty Commission head Lisa Masa; and Joel Maglungsod, a former NPA commander and Anakpawis party-list congressman, as labor undersecretary. I can count several other communist former or active cadres in sub-secretary positions, although most of these haven’t disclosed their past or present affiliations. This is certainly a wonder unimaginable before, and I will discuss in my Friday column whether this is good or bad for the country.

Fifth, this is the first president ever to expose and oppose the dominance of the US over our nation’s affairs and to seek its “separation” from such control. It is certainly a wonder that Duterte has done that: No other president would even think of antagonizing the US on any issue. Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo merely tried to get closer to the People’s Republic of China, and a storm of black propaganda engulfed her.

Marcos reconciliation
Sixth, this is the first president to have defied the Yellow Cult to seek a national reconciliation with the Marcos forces that represents a significant part of the nation. This is symbolized by his order to allow the burial of the strongman in the Libingan ng mga Bayani. This is certainly a wonder as the Yellow Cult for nearly 30 years had brainwashed us through the powerful ABS-CBN network and through nearly all newspapers its vitriolic version of history of the martial law era, and no president since Cory has dared to question that narrative, nor even appear to be getting close to the Marcos heirs.

And seventh, Duterte is the first, and probably the last Philippine president, to antagonize the Catholic Church that has largely been the constant powerful political force in the country since the Spanish colonial period. Duterte has talked and acted as if he ignores the existence of this powerful force in the country, that has been the ally of the Philippine ruling class. No wonder the “Princes of the Church” are on the warpath against Duterte, that one of the de facto princes has termed the year of his ascendancy annus horribilis (horrible year).

The British poet Dryden—whose poem’s title “Annus Mirabilis, The Year of Wonder, 1666” is the first written usage of that term—thought that year as such because of the military victories of Great Britain against its main rival in that era, the Dutch.

However, one of the most horrible events in British history happened that year, which Dryden in fact described with great perturbation and detail in his poem’s second part was the Great Fire of London that raged for four days and consumed 70,000 of the city’s 80,000 houses. The fire, however, didn’t make Dryden doubt that 1666 was still an annus mirabilis, as he thought London’s survival was a miracle, and then imagined a new city rising from the ashes.

Perhaps the analogy is that Duterte’s terrible war on illegal drugs that has taken 3,000 lives is our Great Fire, although the former is deliberate, the latter an accident. There is no doubt that Duterte gave the police the implicit but clear orders to rid the country physically of those involved in this scourge, from the druglords to even the users. While this is how he waged his war vs illegal drugs in Davao City, it would be horrific on a national scale.

It’s time to put down that fire, as it will be an excuse for the Yellow Cult to seize power, and if it succeeds, we will be living in anni horribiles.