Davao river mouthfor yesterday’s attacks. I know how it feels, as a resident of Munich which was also in the grip of a tragedy exactly six weeks before with 10 dead in a highly frequented public place, also on a Friday. The sense of vulnerability and the question – why, what for? What also struck me was the recent seriousness of “General Bato”. Well, I guess I don’t really like a top-level policeman being too much of a comedian anyway – it is way too serious a job for that. President Duterte even declared a “state of lawlessness” with this explanation (link): There is a crisis in this country involving drugs, extrajudicial killings, and there seems to be environment of lawlessness, lawless violence. Now didn’t the President allegedly tell people just after his inauguration “if you know a drug dealer or addict in your neighborhood, just kill him”? And didn’t the war against drugs itself possibly provide the vigilantes among those doing the extrajudicial killings with cover? Where will this all go?

Lee Kuan Yew?

Many supporters of Duterte see him as a potential Lee Kuan Yew, and a response to the UN regarding human rights even stressed that the Philippines is (link) “an Asian nation that places premium on common good” – protesting against “liberal Western values being imposed” on it. Let us look at the original Singaporean definitions by Michael Teo (link)

As a former British colony, Singapore started off with a Westminster-style parliamentary system. But we have adapted it to suit our unique position: a small, multi-racial, multi-religious city in the middle of a turbulent south-east Asia. We introduced multi-member Group Representation Constituencies to ensure multi-racial representation. We created non-elected Members of Parliament from independent groups and opposition parties to ensure diversity of views in Parliament. We instituted an elected presidency to safeguard key state appointments and the nation’s financial reserves.

As English laws evolved after Britain joined the European Union, Singapore has not always followed, because our circumstances are different. Thus, unlike the UK, we have not weakened our defamation laws, which are essential to keeping our public discourse responsible and honest…

China and Russia study Singapore as one possible model for their own development. Whether they can adapt it to their own circumstances will depend on their ability to run a clean, honest and meritocratic system, governing for the long-term good of the country with the support of their people. But ultimately these large countries, with their long histories and ancient cultures, will develop in their own ways.

Now this is an interesting – and more rational – basis to look at things. Because “Western” for many Filipinos means “American”. Thoughtless adaptation of American institutions has indeed NOT worked that well for the Philippines, which its own specific culture. A multilingual country like the Philippines might indeed function better with federalism. It works for Switzerland with its four languages and highly diverse cantons, especially those in mountain valleys that proudly maintain their distinct dialects. It works in Germany, which has strong and very old regional traditions.

There is the interesting point of “defamation laws”.  Germany has very strong anti-defamation laws, some dating back to old concepts of honor, others as a lesson learned from the times of Hitler. That new media people are not yet used to dealing with can be used for propaganda is shown by today’s social media, but also was shown by how Goebbels and Hitler used the radio for incitement. So German democracy has legal constraints on both free speech and freedom of association that fall under the concept of “defensive democracy”. Now is that already depriving human rights? No.

The Asian way?

Japan and Korea, even if they are Asian cultures, adapted aspects of both French and German legal systems in the 19th century. The Japanese parliamentary system is like the old German system. What is possible is that many aspects of Indonesian institutions are from the Dutch system. What Michael Teo does acknowledge is the importance of institutions and a meritocratic system.

Now as long as Filipinos rely on a virtual father figure like Duterte to establish order, and do not strengthen their institutions, he will be nothing close to Lee Kuan Yew and the Philippines will never be anything close to Singapore. Not even close to Indonesia, which although it is a harsh system did indeed give Mary Jane Veloso due process. In fact one of the most disgusting aspects of the Martial Law system may resurface – not even that much its strictness which one can adjust to – but its personalism. You pissed off someone with power, and that person could get back at you.

And meritocratic? The clannish system in the Philippines has often fostered mediocracy. Plus no Buddhist or Confucian traditions means the sense of social responsibility is not really that strong.

Vladimir Putin?

Now Duterte looks forward to meeting Putin, because they allegedly have similarities. Well, Putin grew up with his parents in one room of a three-room communal apartment in Leningrad (link). Duterte is the son of a governor. Most entitled Filipinos have a built in safety net against failure, which I think does not force them to struggle as much. Russian culture is a harsh, no-excuses culture. There may be many things one may not like about it, but their fierce drive for excellence is known and proven. Education was much more meritocratic in the Philippines before, when public schools were still good and every valedictorian and salutatorian of those schools got an automatic UP scholarship. But somewhere along the road, many Filipinos went for the path of least resistance and instant gratification like so often. Does anyone really believe that spectacular raids will solve a serious drug problem, or do they just want to see quick stuff that looks effective to then forget again? Why did Russia, whose security apparatus is for sure more efficient than that of the Philippines, seemingly not win its war on drugs (link)? Things are never that simple.

Irineo B. R. Salazar, München, 3. September 2016