was made by President Duterte recently: “if I reach six years, you’re all dead” with reference to his perceived enemies (link). Sounds like a zero-sum player, and one of the most extreme kind it could be. He mentions that he is not new to “these kinds of intrigue in office, starting with his more than two decades as Davao City mayor”. This attitude could indeed be typical for the no-holds barred South, where the Ampatuan massacre killed an entire “enemy” entourage pre-election years ago. The phrase “Don’t scare me, you people from Manila” also falls within that interview and is telling.
Warlords dominated provincial politics after the United States left in 1946. The book “An Anarchy of Families” by Prof. Alfred McCoy mentions a few. Aguinaldo also was a bit of a warlord, although he denied any involvement in the killing of Heneral Luna by his own praetorians, the Kawit Brigade, it is historically documented that Aguinaldo’s mother looked out of the window and said “nagalaw pa ba iyan” in Cabanatuan – “is he still moving” – after the Kawit Brigade overkilled the heroic General. Marcos’ dictatorship, now well-documented, could be called centralized warlordism.
Some civic society developed after 1986, but it remained on shaky ground. Impunity continued to reign, the further away from the control of the state the more. Rebel groups that turned to extortion and kidnapping controlled pockets of the country. Stories of local government officials having alleged criminals summarily executed abound in the last 30 years. All of this – the product of a tribal culture overlayed with a formally legal and democratic state. Other countries developed states and cultures out of tribal and warlord configurations over hundreds of years of history. The Philippines didn’t.
Formally and rationally – he IS a lawyer after all – President Duterte knows the mechanisms of the Philippine State. From the gut, instinctively, the warlord mentality seems to comes out way too often. Where his heart is, I do not dare speculate on. Only a minority of Filipinos, I think, truly appreciates what a modern state is all about. And how, if it never was part of the reality of so many? If it was, it was just about government offices and courts, speaking a language most did not get, often acting haughty and inflexible – Duterte simplified some things there, part of his mass appeal.
The elites of the country are mostly in shock, as they lived in a world of their own for too long, denying the festering troubles of a society grown ever more apart (link). The anger at the old system was evident during the pork barrel scandal, then during Mamasapano – even if it was misdirected against a President who was trying to fix a difficult system within its parameters. Now there is a President who apparently de facto rejects the defined formal parameters. Will the country manage to redefine its system, improve it long-term, or fall into total chaos? I wonder. Time will tell.
Irineo B. R. Salazar, München, 16. October 2016