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Iconoclastic President? Finally. Revolutionary? Our dream

I wrote the following column on June 30, 2016, the day President Duterte assumed office, and I haven’t edited anything in it, since I haven’t changed my mind a bit on my assessment of this President when he assumed office last year. Despite our weak state due to our colonial history —so vulnerable to economic-elite rule, so inefficient as a bureaucracy, and so susceptible to graft—Duterte has moved in the past 12 months to tackle the three basic problems of the country I outlined in the column.

DUTERTE as President is emerging as a historic break from our past. He is by attitude, maybe even class origin, and pronouncements, a drastic departure from his predecessors.

There had been Presidents who came from the lower middle-class (Ramon Magsaysay and Diosdado Macapagal) but who never really challenged the ruling class by their pronouncements and actions. President Estrada pretended to be for the masses, but turned out to be the best example of our lumpenproletariat politicos.

The past President BS Aquino 3rd was inarguably the last (hopefully) representative of the landlord elite, whom history will judge as one who had been obsessed with, and had done everything — including assaulting the Supreme Court itself and removing its chief justice — to preserve his clan’s Hacienda Luisita, the epitome of that vanishing class’ means of [accumulating]wealth.

Aquino’s antithesis
Duterte is nearly Aquino’s antithesis, from the middle-class, yes, but hardly living in the ensconced world of the elite, which could explain his derision of the elite and the Philippine oligarchy.

Duterte recently demonstrated his disdain for the oligarchy when he revealed that ABS-CBN chairman Eugenio “Gabby” Lopez 3rd had tried to bribe him, to help its subsidiary Sky Cable enter the Davao City market. He hasn’t denied reports that he replied to the main executive of that public-utility Indonesian conglomerate: “Simply recall that you are just a puppet of the foreign-based Salim Group, while I am the chosen President of the Republic of the Philippines!”

SHOULDER TO CRY ON: Duterte consoles the wife of a Marine slain in the Marawi fighting (June 11, 2017)

The new President is also appearing to be an iconoclast, to use that word in the broader sense of a person ruthlessly upending traditions and institutions, cherished by certain sections of society. He vociferously criticized the Catholic Church for “hypocrisy” when it censured his campaign statements that showed his apparent disregard for human life, even if these [involved]suspected criminals, in his anti-crime campaign.

Both traits of a President—an anti-oligarch stance and an iconoclasm—are what this nation needs, so damaged as it has been by the ruling-class elite and by medieval beliefs the Church has irresponsibly allowed to prosper. But these are not enough.

I hope that he evolves from his iconoclasm and his simple, folksy disdain for the oligarchy, as well as from his commonsensical priorities of combating crime and the illegal drug trade into a leader with a more comprehensive understanding of what ails the Philippines.

He indicated in his inaugural speech yesterday that corruption, crime and illegal drugs don’t make up the root of our national quagmire. He said these arise only from a more basic problem: The lack of respect for government and its institutions.

Why the lack?
This is correct, yet it raises another question: Why is there such a lack of respect for government?

I submit that there are three reasons:
First, the government has become mostly a tool of the elite, even foreign magnates, exemplified by the fact that an Indonesian-owned, Hong Kong-based company and a Singaporean firm have been allowed to gain control over such strategic public utilities as telecom and power distribution, as I have exposed in several articles on PLDT, Globe and Meralco — in violation of our basic law, the Constitution. This was possible only because of what political scientists call “regulatory capture,” or the elite’s capability to put regulatory bodies under their control. Few even know who heads the National Telecommunications Commission, with whom the telcos seem to be happy. Why are they?

A part of government that is not a tool of the elite, on the other hand, has become a moneymaking machine for a political-bureaucratic subclass, which the Left erroneously has labeled “bureaucrat-capitalism.” Most mayors, congressmen and senators spend a lot of money, perhaps partly to feed their egos, but also to tap into the bureaucracy’s money-generating machine. We know this phenomenon simply as corruption.

Second, land, capital and state-of-the-art educational facilities have been unequally distributed, with the elite having almost a monopoly of these. To understand how important they are, know that they are simply “assets” in different forms, and those who own the assets, therefore, get most of the resulting output — they get richer and richer.

We have to find ways to drastically change our grossly inequitable distribution of assets through such means as a radical change in our tax system (the path taken by Scandinavian countries for income distribution), an earthshaking change in the banking system to provide small entrepreneurs access to capital, or a massive scholarship program for a huge sector of the poor to allow them to get not just any education but the best education possible.

And third, Filipinos have lost their sense that all of us are in the same boat called the nation-state, and that our fates are intertwined because we are all in this boat.

We call this understanding, nationalism, which not a few young Filipinos even mock now as “xenophobia.” It has become even chic for many young Filipinos to see themselves as “global citizens,” which is an oxymoron really, as being a citizen presupposes a nation-state of which one is a member.

Decline in nationalism
There are many reasons for such a decline in nationalism, the most important of which is that unlike the elites of Thailand, China, or Singapore, our elites are “global” people, living in the US or Spain or even China now, and seeing the Philippines really only as a market or a production site or as a country they enjoy criticizing from their suburban homes in California. They no longer really see—as elites elsewhere do—that their fates are bound with the people of this country.

Whether we like it or not, it is really the economic elite in any nation that has the resources to mold its people’s sense of nationalism. If they don’t, it is an uphill struggle by the middle-class, or its intellectuals, to develop their people’s nationalism.

As above, as it turned out, so below. The OFW phenomenon has made a big part of our lower middle-class really nationless. Blaming Marcos, and then disappointed that a post-Marcos era changed nothing, has resulted in a massive brain and talent drain from the country, including even its best journalists.

If the Philippines isn’t’ really their nation, why should they respect its state?

Only when President Duterte starts correcting these three basic problems of our country can we then say that he has moved from being just iconoclastic to being a revolutionary.

I entered adulthood by joining a movement that professed to be revolutionary, that it would solve these root problems of our country, by overthrowing the bourgeois form of government. That movement failed miserably, with its leaders, ironically, even becoming citizens or permanent residents of the world’s most advanced capitalist nations they had been condemning.

I hope I see in my lifetime our country moving toward solving these three basic problems.

At least this nation-state’s symbol, the flag, yesterday appeared pinned on the chest of the new President, Duterte. In contrast, in the past six years, the symbol pinned on Aquino’s chest till the day he left the Palace, has been a Yellow Ribbon, the symbol not of this nation but of his clan and its fanatic followers.