Monday, August 29, 2016


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OUSTED THAI Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra vaunted his Thai Rak Thai party, during its rise from 1998 to 2001, as a populist party that culled its support from farmers, small villages, and small businesses in contrast to its big rival, the Democrat Party, which prided itself with classical liberal rhetoric that would readily find friends in big business and among ordinary worshipers of trickle-down economics. I'd leave it to you to research on how populist Shinawatra remained or whether later political parties that pronounced loyalty to his principles had the same populist motives.
    Let's fast-forward to today and move to the Philippines, where during the Philippine presidential campaign of 2015-16, candidate Rodrigo Duterte declared not a few times—to the delight of those disillusioned with the preceding Noynoy Aquino administration’s combo meals of neoliberal focus—, "I am a socialist."
    Both men, the one populist and the other one a self-described socialist, launched their own respective wars against drugs, particularly against methamphetamine. I don’t know if populism has got anything to do with Shinawatra’s war on drugs, given that his strong campaign was at the instigation of the King, or if Duterte’s socialism has any bearing on his anti-meth passion. But, sure, one can easily look for links—the Thai majority was probably likely waiting for just such a war to happen from the top, and probably Duterte for his part is worried that the lower classes’ welfare is going to be eroded fast by the effects of the meth supplied by rich importers and distributors of the drug. We’ll get back to this later, after the next paragraph.

INDEED, as Marvin Bionat of’s US bureau reports, the current Philippine war on drugs launched by Duterte is not the first of such magnitude in Asia, and points to the similar Thai war on drugs launched by Shinawatra in the early 2000s. Interestingly, Shinawatra’s war resulted in the killing of more than a thousand innocent Thai citizens picked through blacklists drawn by eager participants in his campaign, this as per findings by a post-Thaksin Shinawatra government enquiry that was reported in 2008 by the international media. Shinawatra was overthrown by a coup in 2006 during the second year of his second four-year term. The populist party that he founded, Thai Rak Thai, was soon banned by the junta.
    Here are my questions concerning Shinawatra’s war on drugs and how it might signal something to Duterte’s present one: Is it possible that what happened to Shinawatra’s campaign (thousands killed, almost half of the specific number of which were soon found by that abovementioned subsequent enquiry to be innocent) is precisely what happens when one does a fascistic (far from socialist) bottom-up type of war against such a criminal menace as the illegal drug trade? And could it be that it is only through a coup that a country can stop that war? And if such inevitability of a coup is already what some may presently be mulling as a possible way out of the current momentum of killings, what non-mercenary faction would even attempt to deliver such a now-possibly-not-so-sinister-plan? Could a coup be a recipe possible to, say, anti-Marcos military factions within the Armed Forces of the Philippines averse to the President's (far from socialist) unabashed embrace of the Marcoses, assuming such factions exist at all? Or by anti-NPA military groups averse to Duterte’s openness to the Communists, who possibly number a lot? Well, . . . sigh, . . . we ordinary citizens can only brace ourselves for a possible rough ride, and brace ourselves tightly as we wait on the sidelines.
    But, first, why does this war on drugs have to be called a “war”? Is this by a wording strategy that would semantically excuse that war, qua war, from the usual “peacetime” legal due processes required of democracies? If so, then isn’t it rather unfair that a leader can declare a “war” on drugs anytime, but over which program none can prosecute him later for “war crimes” committed?

I WOULD declare now that Duterte really has no ideology that one could comfortably categorize as either left or right or, even, safely, as center.
    And, likewise, what is complicating critics’ checks on Duterte’s war on drugs is Filipinos’ ideology-less tendency to be mere loyalists and partisans. For instance, what's this proliferating bullshit about defending the politician you voted for (since “you’ll only be heckled for having voted, and possibly campaigned also, for the leader you’re now criticizing”)? My usual answer to this political myopia is this: I don't vote for politicians, my countrymen, I vote for promises upon certain serious causes. True, it’s sad that every time I vote for those promises, inevitably through politicians, I would often end up disappointed. And sometimes it would take me three years to get out of my confirmation bias and bias blind spot to get deeply disillusioned (which disillusionment would then be met by both heckles and hugs from the loyalist partisans of the opposition). I confess that today it has taken me less than two months.
    So here’s my prayer: Lord God, I pray that every Filipino would stop being a politician- and party-worshiper and will remember henceforward his primary loyalty: to his more/most important causes (which ought to be the sole recipient of his loyalism).

WHAT ought to be checked in Duterte’s war on drugs? Well, in the August 25 issue of, Rishi Iyengar published a long story on this war. Comprehensive enough for a good appreciation of what’s going on in it and to introduce questions that must be raised against the same, the article quotes jarring realities such as this one emailed by Richard Javad Heydarian, a professor of political science at Manila’s De La Salle University: “There is also deep shock at the drug war’s financial implications: Duterte has given huge funding boosts to the police and military by slashing the country’s health budget by 25%, and reducing expenditure on critical sectors like agriculture, labor, employment and foreign affairs. On the other hand, the budget for the presidential office has increased tenfold, and now includes a provision of $150 million for 'representation and entertainment'.”
    And it is not as if troubling reports like this can only come from Duterte detractors with an ax to grind or political analysts with career points to push. Duterte himself would provide the media with explicitly discomforting proposals. Last week, for instance, Duterte—irked by “criticism” or reports from UN rapporteurs concerning his war on drugs—showed his exasperation by threatening to withdraw Philippine membership from the UN. That is not likely to happen, of course, but such surreal outbursts have now been deemed typical of Duterte. Surreal, since it goes without saying that should such a position be taken seriously qua a position of exit it would mean that the Philippines would have to deem itself able to afford consequent exits from programs the UNDP and the UN system have been providing many member states (through such agencies as the Asian Development Bank and the Food and Agriculture Association—check here), not to mention decisions by arbitral tribunals within the UN system. Not even the left-of-socialist (communist) states of China and Cuba would want to be out of the UN today.
    Duterte has in fact been his own detractor since his route to the presidency began. Comedian John Oliver’s pre-election skit about him as being the Donald Trump of the East has had 1+ million views on YouTube, and this comparison is not exactly loose—Trump’s propensity to say “Believe me” for his facts-telling (as compiled in this video and as caricatured by Tim Kaine at the US Democratic National Convention) does find an exact parallel in Duterte’s own presentation of alleged facts through recurrent “maniwala kayo sa akin pag sinabi ko” (you all believe me when I tell you) or the Tagalog-Bisaya “sus, ginoo, maniwala ka” (Lord Jesus, believe you me).
    And millions of Filipinos believe in Duterte.

STILL, how believable, really, is the President?
    "I am a socialist," said he not a few times during the Presidential campaign of 2015-16, to the delight of those disillusioned with the preceding administration’s combo meals of neoliberal focus.
    However, when he won the presidency, the new President rolled up his sleeves to quickly show us his brand of socialism. And surprise, surprise, not really a center-left sort of socialism was seen in the unveiling, nor even a center-center social liberalism or social democracy. What gradually came out of the caterpillar cocoon was a butterfly’s lip service to socialism for a . . . Big Tent absorption.
    Sure, Duterte has appointed leftists to anti-poverty, agrarian reform, labor and social welfare posts in his cabinet; placed a stalwart anti-unlawful mining activist from the big business class to the government’s environment and natural resources department; announced pro-people policies against red tape and a labor force-favoring stand against employment contracts; reluctantly appointed a freedom-of-information and participatory democracy and participatory budgeting advocate of a vice president to the housing post (reluctantly, she being from an opposing party); and started as well conciliation talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines. That's about it so far.
    Meanwhile, for the other side of the big tent, he has brazenly held close the Marcos family as if he were a part of it; has slashed—as per Heydarian—more or less 25% of the public health, labor and foreign affairs budgets in favor of military and police budget increases; has started a bloody bottom-up (I repeat, bottom-up) war on drugs (that look a lot like Thailand's Shinawatra's) that has yet to see a drug lord's head roll; and has ejected a form of public transport (the UV Express) from Epifanio de los Santos Avenue in favor of the city bus lines, Uber, Grab, and slippery "colorums" (with nary a groan of sympathy for this policy's impact on working-class commuters walking the distance to a connecting MRT station and nary a finger on private users of the avenue despite the new transport secretary's repetition of that oft-quoted Gustavo Petro socialist quote—"a developed country is not where the poor have cars, it's where the rich use public transportation"); and is even now intent on seeking emergency powers for traffic policy-making in Metropolitan Manila for anti-delayed procurement reasons the Supreme Court Chief Justice says is inspired by a myth.
    I don't now believe Rodrigo Duterte is a socialist. I see him now as a big tent figure intent on achieving all sorts of reforms, socialist and otherwise, in an autocratic way that everyone who has come to his Big Tent will be expected to kowtow to and defend.

RECENTLY, poet, conceptual artist, young socialist and extreme commuter Angelo V. Suarez, known for his “#MRTBulok” Facebook posts against the management of the Metro Manila Metro Rail Transit System by both the Aquino government and the system’s private co-owner as well as the incursion of money-making by the Pangilinan Group and the Ayala family into the system’s ticketing, seems to have been a victim of an alleged set-up. He arrived at the usual MRT station he starts his hypermobility with, and, voila! He witnesses a part of an awry MRT train part with the Suarezian tagline “MRT bulok!”, whereupon he finds himself quickly taken by the station’s security guards for detention at the station’s office, which lasted for two nights, accused of having written the marker’s marks on the bulok (rotten) MRT part. Here’s what Suarez later posted about it (also published here with his permission):
    “I feel bad having been detained for word against me by a fellow worker who relies on public utilities and infrastructure as much as I do, who has been let down by the MRT even worse than I have.
    “The allegation against me was made by a guard under pressure to find 'vandals' who have been writing, posting, and stickering their grievances on the MRT. According to her fellow guards—many of whom agree with me that the MRT is rotten—the pressure on them to find these people has been incredible, having been on the receiving end of reprimand by management. One even whispered to me that, as a guard, he knew even more than the average passenger cld how rotten the MRT truly was.
    “Big compradors like MRT Corp. Chairman Robert Sobrepeña and bureaucrats like General Manager Roman Buenafe who enable them play this sick game of pitting workers against workers for their profit or pleasure. This shldn't have been my word against the guard's words; this shldn't have been a matter of me combating policemen, tho there is much to be said about the police being an institution for the protection of private property despite its impact on public interest. I wasn't the only one deprived of sleep and time; so too were these fellow workers—MRT personnel caught between their job and our protest, policemen whose cramped office my friends and I made even more cramped because of my detainment—instrumentalized by corporate interest to suppress dissent from their logic of accumulation thru dispossession.
    “Bulok ang MRT, pero bulok lamang ito dahil nasasadlak sa bulok na estruktura ng estadong kinakasangkapan ng kapitalismo. Umaasa akong magkakaisa ang uring manggagawa para patumbahin ang tunay nating kaaway.”
    Suarez, after his detention, had a talk with the Gustavo Petro-quoting transport secretary, Arthur Tugade, and I can only wonder what socialist exchanges they had during those minutes of discourse and counter-discourse.
    Days after, Suarez would tell friends of emails sent his way via Facebook. He writes:
    “The things you find in your filtered messages inbox after 2 nights of police detainment for alleged vandalism:
    “1. Dick pics –‘sulat-sulat ka pa diyan, chupain mo na lang 'to!’
    “2. Charges of idiocy – ‘bulok na nga ang tren, susulatan mo pa! tanga!’
    “3. Accusations of being a 'yellowtard' – ‘bakit ngayon ka lang nagsasalita? dilawan ka kasi!’”
    Ms. Caroline Arellano, a friend of Suarez, commented on Suarez’s post: “Basta kinalaban mo ang administration na ito yellowtard ka o addict.” To which Suarez replied: “(Here’s) the funny thing: the general manager who delayed my release and was insistent on getting me detained was an Aquino holdover from (Jun) Abaya's time in the DOTC. Duterte supporters of this sort are weird.”
    Which brings me to my three reasons for dragging Suarez’s episode with mysterious forces into this essay: One, to ask the question as to whether turncoating for job security or protection could also be another psychology behind some of the killings by police of drug-trade and drug-use suspects, essentially for demonstration of competence and self-assigned quota, this apart from the elimination of links by drug-involved police. Two, to ask whether those messages sent to Suarez’s inbox does not show us enough why loyalism and politician-worship is so dangerous not only to others but to the health of our nation's brain cells. And, three, to perhaps show that many if not most Duterte supporters are far from socialist. [S / -I]

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