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We have to talk about Duterte

A Duterte Reader. Critical Essays on Rodrigo Duterte's Early Presidency
Vulnerable language, cunning-aggressive use of social media and a nonchalant relationship with human life have placed the Philippines' dearly loved president firmly on the international stage. There are good reasons to talk about Rodrigo Duterte, writes anthology editor Nicole Curato.


"Dictators are like mosquitoes," a Filipino acquaintance once said, and continued: "They are hatched in an unhealthy environment." it out and migrated to Denmark.

Ferdinand Marcos was in power in the Philippines from 1965 to 1986 and ruled from 1972 per decree while the whole country was under military state of emergency. Today, the country's southern part, Mindanao, is again under military emergency and has been for almost a year, recently extended to the end of 2018.

It is the first time in Philippine history post Marcos with such a far-reaching state of emergency that in practice means that civil rights have been abolished for about a quarter of the country's population. The president, who is in charge of this situation, is also the first in Philippine history post Marcos to actively try to rehabilitate the old dictator, even flirting (or joking?) With the possibility of becoming sole ruler. To be able to get things done, as he says.

Brutality as a principle of government. Rodrigo Duterte has already radically pushed the limits of what a president can do, and he can rightly say that his introduction of brutality as a principle of government happened with the support of the people.

anthology A Duterte Reader explores how Rody, as he is popularly called among others, succeeded in building his "multiclass base". It examines the anatomy of his spectacularly vulgar language, his cunning-aggressive use of social media and, to put it mildly, nonchalant relationships with human life. But it goes on and it goes behind. It asks and seeks answers and takes seriously where others are left standing and either moan in indignation or moan in enthusiasm.

So far, nothing has been able to stop Duterte. Not the Supreme Court and not Congress. Not the country's NGOs or the so-called international community. He has ordered suspected drug criminals sent to shelters in bundles and detained people without trial in prisons, which is now at 558 percent overcrowding. He is pursuing or prosecuting the country's businesses, depending on whether their owners have proven their loyalty to the president, completely personal and unconditional. He has sent former Attorney General Leila de Lima behind bars without the possibility of bail, allegedly on charges of drug crime, but the action is not entirely unrelated to de Lima's previous role in the investigation of organized death patrols in Davao, the city that Duterte ruled as mayor of the periods 1988-1998 and 2001-2011.

In the West, the President of the Philippines is not least known for having sent sabotages of obscenities to both the pope and several heads of state. "Indeed, we need to talk about Rody," writes Nicole Curato in the anthology's introduction, "but we need to talk about him differently. A lot has been said about the president's eccentricities and character flaws, but more can be said about the broader context that gives rise to such a controversial personality to take power. ”

One would think that it was impossible at one time to ally with the Marcos dynasty – which continues to play a significant role in Philippine politics and economics and may best be described as neocorporatist kleptocrats – and with the country's left, but it has just been a by Rodrigo Duterte's many remarkable achievements.

A Duterte Reader offers a gifted, sober and multi-voiced analysis of one of the most disturbing political phenomena of our time.

However, the alliance with the Communist Party of the Philippines has recently broken down and the party's armed branch is on its way back on the terrorist list. Other parts of the left have long since become impatient with the self-proclaimed "socialist" president, who – when it comes down to it – would rather mafically rule the country's business with threats and promises than implement the promised social reforms for the benefit of the most economically marginalized of the voter base.

No overall opposition. However, there is no overall or strong opposition yet. Some of the anthology's contributors believe that the military is actually the most likely place a possible uprising will come from. Not because they are preoccupied with human rights, but because they are tired of performing demanding political ordering tasks.

Leftist veteran Walden Bello is clearly knocked out of the situation and describes in his contribution Duterte as a fascist, albeit an "original" one of a kind. Unfortunately, it is not a convincing analysis of the nature of fascism Bello delivers, primarily because he does not include economic politics in the landscape, but ideally relates to Duterte's authoritarian inclinations, use of "charisma", anti-liberal agenda, disrespect for human rights and ability to speak to all walks of life; Dutertes supporters live both in the interim gaze shelters in the capital's outskirts and in Forbes Park's foreclosed richman villas with their own helicopter runway, and are found among landless peasants and Muslim separatists in Mindanao as well as middle-class Filipinos abroad. They each have reasons to believe that Duterte will make their lives easier.

The state of the world. The most striking thing about Bello's contribution is the cold-pitched tone of an otherwise always well-liked analyst. His flimsy hope that the accident will come to an end, however, still staggeringly upright, appears to be primarily due to Duterte's high age and poor health. The ferocity of Bello's insistent call for resistance is linked to his own political investment in what several of the contributors – including himself – point to as the prerequisite for Duterte's success, namely the failure of liberal democracy.

As Curato – who characterizes Duterte as a populist – writes in the introduction: "For populists to be effective speakers, they are first strategic listeners who can spot simmering public discontent." The EDSA Republic, as the Philippines Post Marcos is called, never fulfilled the promises of prosperity and freedom to the majority of the population. It stood in the way of the national elite and the economic doctrines of international institutions. And, in the Philippines as in Europe, there are limits to how long most people are willing to wait. A Duterte Reader offers a gifted, sober and multifaceted analysis of one of the most disturbing political phenomena of our time. We have to talk about Rody. For the phenomenon of Rody – and the lack of compelling alternatives – has something important to say to us all; it speaks of the state of the world.

Nina Trige Andersen
Nina Trige Andersen
Trige Andersen is a freelance journalist and historian.

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