Method in its madness

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Despite the bluster of President Rodrigo Duterte and his equally loud lieutenants, yes-men and accomplices in the Cabinet, the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the Supreme Court, his regime is in reality completely without anything that even approximates a rational and coherent platform of governance. It is making things up as it goes along, and patching together ad hoc attempts to make it seem as if it were addressing the urgent problems that haunt the nation, most of which are of its own making.

But there is some method in this seeming madness. Devising the right solutions to the country’s problems is not only beyond the regime’s capacity; it is also the last of its priorities. What it craves most is absolute power and political dominance, to achieve which it uses the most absurd and politically self-damaging means to silence and suppress its critics as well as anyone else opposed to — among its legions of offenses against this portion of humanity — its lawlessness and contempt for human rights, and the terrible cost in lives of its savage “war” on drugs.

To achieve that dominance it has demonized and threatened the independent press, and elevated as policy the use of coercion against dissenters including the manufacture of various forms of deception to imprison its perceived enemies.

Both are failing, however, and have become counterproductive. The threats on the press are uniting much of the media community behind the imperative of defending its constitutionally-protected freedom as well as free expression. Its latest attempt to jail another political opponent, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, has instead enhanced Trillanes’ status as a leader of the political opposition by keeping him in the media limelight and providing him a forum from which to address the public and condemn the many failings of the regime that’s persecuting him.

In obvious recognition of how much its mindless attack on Trillanes has earned him near-unprecedented media mileage, the regime launched a media campaign that began with that misnamed September 11 “tête-à-tête” between Mr. Duterte and his legal counsel. In the public mind that event seemed so much like a conversation solely between Mr. Duterte and himself that few took seriously even his claim that there was a conspiracy afoot to oust him from power.

Its obvious and desperate attempts to preserve and enhance what it mistakenly believes should be permanent citizen approval of anything and everything it says or does, and its egregious failure to even begin to address the problems its own lack of vision and ineptitude created, have led some observers to conclude that it’s only a matter of time before the regime collapses from the dead-weight of its own blunders and ineptitude.

There is indeed that inviting possibility. But it would be a mistake to underestimate the regime capacity to inflict irreparable harm on this country and its people before it finally goes. For if at all it has any semblance of a plan, it is to transform the Duterte dynasty from a petty rural tyranny to a national dictatorship — a process that thanks to the perverse character of Philippine elections as a media and popularity contest began in 2016, when the electorate catapulted a provincial despot to national office. Only by putting the entire country under authoritarian rule can it protect and preserve the dynasty’s long-term interests.

A third of the Philippines is still under martial law 32 years after the fall of the Marcos terror regime in 1986, and despite the lessons from that dark period that every Filipino should have learned by now.

Because Mindanao is the laboratory in which the regime is testing the feasibility of placing the entire Philippines under one-man rule, martial law has twice been extended by a Congress and Supreme Court dominated by landlords, their hirelings, and by bureaucrats with neither a sense of history nor concern for the rights and liberties of the people. It is likely to be extended for the third time on the argument that it is needed to check the violence it has failed to prevent — and of which its military and police implementors are often the perpetrators.

As distressing as this may be, what is even more abhorrent is the growth of the myth that the Marcos version of martial law ushered in some kind of Golden Age in the troubled history of this Republic. There is also the growing popularity of the dangerous notion that the nationwide imposition of martial rule is a legitimate government option, and its acceptance by regime partisans as a supposed means of ending criminality and the drug problem that Duterte the candidate promised in 2016.

The by now conventional view is that these delusions are among the consequences of the failure of those who lived through the terrors of the Marcos dictatorship to pass on to succeeding generations what authoritarian rule meant to the hundreds of thousands who were its victims as well as its immediate and long-term impact on the present and future of this country and its people.

There is much that is true in that explanation. But those falsehoods are also the results of a campaign in which the Marcos, Arroyo and kindred dynasties are not only willing collaborators but also the driving forces, to prettify fascist rule and pass it off as the only means of bringing about the changes that have eluded the Filipino people for centuries.

This is the context in which the current President of the Philippines has been making his frequent promises to resign. Is the goal — and Mr. Duterte has hardly tried to conceal it — for him to relinquish the Presidency once Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. is declared by the Supreme Court, while sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET), Vice President in place of Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo?

If this is indeed the plan, Marcos, Jr. would be interim President until 2022, from the commanding heights of which he could then complete Mr. Duterte’s march to despotism, thus clearing his daughter Sara Duterte-Carpio’s path to the Presidency.

The catch in this seemingly clever scheme is that the Marcoses’ agenda is entirely different from that of the Dutertes. Marcos, Jr. as well as his mother Imelda, his sisters, and the rest of the Romualdez and Marcos clans have made it abundantly clear that they want “Bongbong” to be President to complete their return to the pinnacles of power, from where they can foist upon the people their version of what happened during the 21-year rule of their late patriarch.

Therein lies the fatal flaw in this conspiracy against the country, the Constitution and the Filipino people. There is every likelihood that as in times past, the alliances of convenience forged among the ruling cliques in this vale of uncertainty will come apart under the pressure of their unremitting greed for pelf and power.

Their differences can find expression in the armed confrontations and assassinations that still characterize much of local politics, and which have numerous times spilled into the national arena. The ensuing violence would then be part of the already bloody legacy the Duterte regime will leave behind once it passes into history.

(First published in BusinessWorld. Photo from Davao City Mayor’s Office/Inquirer)

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