With an outpouring of support for the new Duterte administration, many Filipinos believe the Philippines is finally on the road to meaningful change and progress. Behind the cheers and confetti, however, a seemingly power-drunk new leader, while basking in glorious popularity, has unwittingly conjured up a monster in the form of the anti-illegal drugs campaign, a beast blinded by bloodlust and currently on a frenzied warpath. Its victims: poor drug addicts.
During the 2016 election campaign, Rodrigo Roa Duterte made a promise to bring revolutionary changes to Philippine society. One of these is to change the form of government to Federalism. But the way things are going, it’s looking more and more like an approach to Fascism.
Tough-talking mayor-turned-president Rodrigo Duterte did compare himself to Adolf Hitler last September 2016, saying he wants to kill millions of drug addicts, just like Hitler killed Jews during the Holocaust. Of the estimated 3 million drug-users in the country, Duterte said, “I’d be happy to slaughter them. At least, if Germany had a Hitler, the Philippines would have (me). You know my victims, I would like (them) to be all criminals, to finish the problem of my country and save the next generation from perdition”. And it seems he meant it.
As of January 31, more than 7,000 Filipino citizens have already been killed by either the police in supposed legitimate encounters, or by unidentified gunmen that of whom in later findings turned out to be also policemen. In the wake of all the violence happening, local and international human rights groups and activists have denounced Duterte for “steamrolling the rule of law”. Human Rights watchdog Amnesty International, after thorough study, deemed the explosion of extrajudicial killings at the onset of the Duterte administration as ‘crimes against humanity’. The Catholic Church, too, has been busy protesting all the deaths resulting from Duterte’s drug war policy, while also expressing opposition to the administration’s plan to re-impose the death penalty on heinous crimes, which, incidentally, included drug-related offenses. Church leaders have come to regard the anti-drug campaign as a ‘reign of terror’. Even governments of other nations have criticized Duterte’s ‘war against drugs’ as one that is violent, flawed and haphazardly carried out. Incidentally, the anti-drug operations named Operation Tokhang involves a procedure wherein police go knocking door-to-door through the homes of drug suspects and conduct on the spot checks, reminiscent of the Gestapo, Nazi Germany’s secret police.
Is the Philippine government turning fascist? Recent administrative developments may be pointing to red flags.
Fascist leaders tend to use national symbols, patriotic mottos, and slogans to unite the public under them. Saluting the swastika, kneeling before the flag, or bowing before the masses as if venerating the nation, are actions done by narcissistic leaders that, in reality, subtly suggests, “Do as I do. Follow me. Bow to me, for I am the nation.” History tells us this is not real nationalism, but in fact a technique of self-glorifying leaders to command intense following among the public…right before they drag their nation to a war that will endanger many of their countrymen.
The symbol DU30, the president’s frequent bowing during public speeches where he ends up practically lambasting everybody, or when he proclaims how he loves the Filipino people, while letting thousands die in a bloody dragnet—are probably telltales. But selling out Philippine interests to a clear invader which is China, after evoking patriotic sentiments in booting out American foothold in the country, really shows how the nationalism is bogus.
Denial of Human Rights
Fascist leaders are often paranoid because of fear of enemies or some sin that’s come to haunt them from the past. This personal insecurity tends to translate into policy in their rule. It’s likely they will introduce extreme human-rights-violating measures as a public need early on in their regime while at the height of their popularity. The consequence is the promotion of indifference. People will tend to look the other way and generally approve of torture, extra-judicial killings, assassinations, and cruelly long and unjust incarcerations of political prisoners.
After brushing off as an absurd rumor the controversy about the existence of a Davao Death Squad, the newly installed Duterte administration, viciously went after Leila De Lima who investigated Duterte in the past about a series of summary killings that happened in Davao while he was still mayor. Meanwhile, dead bodies of drug suspects piled up everywhere, as if a National Death Squad had instead emerged from out of the blue. ‘I will kill you’, Duterte repeatedly warned drug offenders in his public speeches. Despite this, millions of Duterte supporters cheered him on and justified his bloody war on drugs.
Identifying Menaces/Scapegoats to Unify Support
Things get much easier for fascists to unite support for them if they, instead of highlighting different factions and opinions, conjure up a demon, a menace the society in general can commonly hate. Hyping up antipathy to a frenzy against a perceived national threat—be it a racial foe, an ethnic abomination, spiritual infidels, communists or terrorists—is a very efficient way to unify different allies who don’t really see eye to eye.
Is Duterte demonizing drug offenders the way Hitler did with Jews?
The Supremacy of the State Forces Over the Public
Even in the face of public service failing across the board, fascists will still pour priority funding on the military and police to a vastly disproportionate extent, while neglecting departments that deliver citizen welfare. The police and military are glamorized, made invincible or immune from certain criminal and legal liabilities.
Crime and Punishment Mania
Authoritarian regimes tend to give the police almost limitless power to enforce laws. This results in a strange public mindset wherein the people are more than willing to overlook police abuses and even give up civil liberties in the name of patriotism.
Fascist governments are usually male-dominated and espouse traditional gender roles. Misogyny is rife in the minds of those in the leadership.
Duterte's public comments on women has earned the ire of women's groups.
False Propaganda and Disdain for Free Media
Fascist regimes tend to control the media, whether directly or indirectly. Censorship is enforced. media content restricted. Legitimate media reports, especially those critical of government, are either condemned as lies or ridiculed as inaccurate and unprofessional.
While Duterte has always been blaming the media for not being able to interpret him correctly, his spokesperson Martin Andanar, a former media personality, is now at odds with media groups.
Rampant Corruption and Cronyism
Fascist regimes are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. In most cases, fascist leaders and their associates plunder in secret operations the national treasures and resources or sell out their country's interests for personal gain.
Still early in his term, and yet Duterte seems to be evasive already about the charge of Senator Antonio Trillanes that the president has hidden wealth, traced in an estimated P2.4 billion in transactions over 17 accounts in 3 banks. It's a bold accusation, and will be hard to prove. But just looking at what has transpired in just a short time in his administration--burying Marcos on heroes' ground, expediting the absolution of Gloria Arroyo, and the sudden anti-prosecution sentiments about Janet Napoles--the Duterte administration seems quite sympathetic to the people accused of graft and corruption. Besides, after all the corrupt presidencies before Duterte, what are the chances that he is clean?
Elections in fascist nations are a complete sham or vastly manipulated by propaganda by the incumbent power. Sometimes, opposition candidates are even assassinated, or barred from candidacy by the incumbent’s allies in the legislative or judiciary.
Even the most pragmatic of our politicians claim there is widespread cheating in our elections. It’s an old story. What we have to watch out for, however, is the tendency now for the incumbent forces to boot out elected officials from their posts, particularly the ones not allied with the administration, as in the case of Vice President Robredo or with Senator De Lima. It’s also important to take note of how House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez forcibly pressures members of congress to vote for the death penalty for grave crimes (where curiously the offense of plunder was stricken out of).
Religion and Government become one
In fascist nations, religion is commonly used as an instrument to control public sentiments. Religious rhetoric is frequently used, and the government leaders who in many cases have a messianic complex project themselves as either a prophet, a godsend, if not God himself.
Duterte may have repeatedly berated the Catholic Church and called out its clerics as hypocrites, and even lambasted the Pope. He asserted his authority as infallible over the Church and mocked the bishops, saying that if they wanted to help the Philippine situation, they must be willing "to go to Hell" with him. But one religious group is a known endorser of Duterte: the INC (Iglesia Ni Cristo). It's two and a quarter million strong membership served as a bloc vote that may have won him the elections. In return, the INC has asked for the president's intervention in its internal crisis which involved accusations of corruption and abuse within its leadership.
Protection of Oligarchs and Big Business
Big business leaders and oligarchs are often the ones who finance a fascist leader's campaign to power. Once in authority, the fascist leader in return grants favors to the rich supporters and their interests, thus creating a power elite that lords over the masses.
While Duterte singled out Roberto Ongpin of Alphaland and PhilWeb corporations as a greedy oligarch detrimental to the nation, he admitted on the other hand that Marcos' money, supposedly plutocratic wealth stolen from the people, funded his presidential campaign. Months later, he allowed the body of dictator Ferdinand Marcos to be buried in the place where heroes are laid to rest in honor.
Labor Power is Suppressed
Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed.
Duterte promised the Philippine labor force that he will end the exploitation of workers by big business through contractualization. Months after he announced this, no new law restricts the bad practice of worker exploitation, prompting labor group leaders to accuse Duterte of 'double speak'. He is also poised to break another campaign promise to give a P2,000 across-the-board hike in the monthly pension of Social Security System (SSS), and so demoralizing its members.
Contempt towards Higher Education and Intellectuals
Fascists don't really see the academia as important to the nation. It is not uncommon that professors and critics from the academe are censored or even put in jail in fascist regimes.
Duterte openly spoke against the K-to-12 Program, saying many students might be better off taking up vocational courses. And though progressive youth and teachers groups welcomed the budgetary increase that is purposed to make tuition in state universities and colleges free, many scholars believe the proposed "voucher system" to be used actually privatizes the public education system.
Perhaps, it's still too early to tell. But it’s better to notice fascism while it is still in its formative stage, before the nation gets taken over by surprise like in a blitzkrieg. Fascism rules by deceit, making the public think that it’s methods and measures are for the people and the common good of the nation, when in reality it’s direct effect is an ever widening gap between the leadership and the citizenry. It often wears the mask of a people’s government, a true democracy, a populist regime. But its ideals and ends are truly different from these.
It was the mistake of the Germans to allow the gradual diminution to a subordinate position—where they soon found themselves in the grip of fascism; where their nation’s fate was deliberated in secret by the few; where the majority of them were made to believe lies and react to phantom fears; and where they had only the choices of either to follow the dictates of a megalomaniac tyrant…or die.
We, Filipinos, made this mistake too...before the EDSA Revolution. Let us not make the same mistake.
*Published in print version (Voice of the South, Volume 13, No. 5)