Filipino Nationalism(s) Under Dutertismo: An Urgent Warning

Those who read this blog know perfectly well that I have written and will continue to write essays on the concept of Dutertismo. Since the concept itself is problematic, defies strict definitions, and difficult to pin down on the left-right political spectrum, my position has been to assert that Dutertismo embodies the class tensions in Filipino society, ranging from cooperation among different elements of the classes, complete apathy sustained by postmodern capitalist ideals, and open class struggle goaded by the inherent contradictions generated by the late capitalist mode of production (from outsourced production to extraction of intellectual work through the digital service sector). Class tensions in Filipino society are either openly antagonistic or non-antagonistic. I hold that the former is repressed and the latter is sustained by different ideological discourses and processes that fill the void that obfuscates class struggles and expresses it in different forms. Such form is expressed in different concepts: ruralism (which is synonymous to traditionalism), nationalisms, and liberalism. All three are responses to the postcolonial situation and attempts to define the contours of Filipino identity in response to globalization and the syncretism of culture that marked Filipino consumerism and everyday life. Moreover, all three are reactive in the pure Nietzschean sense of the term that sought to express the resentment of many at the face of its own failures as a nation that embodies the agenda of the masses.

Ruralism is an idea formed by a nostalgia. City life, especially in Metro Manila where everything seems to be out of joint, creates a nostalgia for the good old times where food is a matter of going to the local market or asking people what they have to share. Ruralism is a nostalgia in response to the perceived decadence of urban life. When confronted with the apathy between neighbors in a gated subdivision, one dreams of a time when neighbors are close by and intimately known. One dreams and desires what one does not have or have lost; ruralism, however, is not a desire for something we have lost, but something we do not possess in the first place. Hence, ruralism is a reactive term inasmuch as it supplied us an ideal that is neither past nor future. It occurs only as a an exercise of thought, a fatal abstraction from attempts at subtraction from the currently perceived decadence of urban life. When urban life becomes too alienating, when the very idea of community is an amalgamation of houses and nothing more, we strive for something that was in the past, untainted by the demands of city life. As a reactive concept, ruralism thrives on the dichotomy between the urban and the rural, where the urban is an actual material reality and the rural a name for a loss that was never there, standing only as a placeholder for what the urban is not. It is an expression emerging from a melancholy.

I see ruralism as an expression of alienation. The demands of capitalist production are embodied by the city; consumerism is a temporary respite from the demands of capital that contains a double demand: spend and consume to relax, but work in the next day and pay for your credit bills and so on. City life is a matter of dealing with abstract and bureaucratic life, organized by strict time frames and production quotas to achieve. Even with the emergence and proliferation of the digital information industry, the mode of production simply moves to a more abstract level that cannot be simply molded to the Marxist labor theory of value, since intellectual labor fully exploits creativity through precarization. To sustain this dynamic, late capitalism is marked by its capability to morph and adjust to the cultural demands of its nodes.

The duality of Western postmodern capitalism and Asian-values capitalism revolves around two distinctly polar tendencies: the permissive Western capitalist dynamic and the traditional and highly exploitative capitalism with Asian values embodied by the state of Singapore and China. Clearly, Filipino capitalism does not fall exclusively to either tendency. Hence, I will go so far as to argue that Filipino capitalism is an Asian values capitalism sustained by the illusion of abiding by a Western spirit of capitalism (a similar ideal was prevalent in the Sonno joi movement during the Japanese Bakumatsu  period where in order to maintain Japanese tradition and Western development rallied under the slogan: “Japanese Spirit, Western technology”). By the “illusion of abiding by a Western spirit of capitalism”, it implies that our economy is fully open to the agendas of the globalized system of capitalist production. The effort of all post-1986 governments has been to force the country’s participation in the global market, allowing as much liberties to global transnational companies to exert their demands upon the Filipino economy. Such a globalizing project is rife with contradictions and it entails the precarization of different labor sectors to provide ample opportunities for transnational companies to maintain its foothold. Hence, as an Asian values capitalism, the effort to remain within the global capitalist network is to assert traditional values, expressed a national identity. It is not surprising that the effort to liberalize the economy is also accompanied by highly conservative Catholic and Protestant law makers who argue for open economies on the left and strict moral family codes on the right. Communism is the name for the disturbance in the national body.

Days before Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law, he underwent a so-called “spiritual exercises”. In his diary entry of 29 March 1972, he writes “The permissiveness of society must be balanced by authoritativeness. The two poles must be given weight and equal importance…And the permissiveness of our society has spawned the many evils that will wreck our Republic. It must now be balanced with authoritativeness and that is martial law. However, I put as a condition the occurrence of massive terrorism which would alarm the people as well as the authorities.” (cited from Manuel Quezon, III, “Martial Law and Parental Guilt” available here ). What then is the permissiveness he sought to counteract? In 1972, it collectively meant “Communism” under which long-haired hippies, drug addicts, rebellious students, and Voltes V belong. Hence, speaking at a national conference on the children and the youth, Marcos wrote: “This requires a national effort. This requires the effort of everyone whether in government or outside government. There will be a great need for the resources and services of agencies and organizations outside the government. There will be a need to mobilize free and voluntary services dedicated to the welfare and development of the youth. Unfortunately, many of the parents must answer for some, if not many, of the ills of our society. Many of our parents think that after they have sent the children to school their responsibility is finished. This is not true and many regrettable mistakes in our society are due to the fact that the parents have failed in many instances in performing their role in society. And yet we blame the young. We keep on blaming the young. When we speak of drug addiction and we speak of the waywardness of the young, we have an inclination and a tendency to point to them and say, they belong to this drug-addicted generation. Perhaps, we should look inward and into ourselves and ask ourselves how far have we as parents fallen on our job. I speak as a parent. As President I am a busy man. I sometimes work up to 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning and yet, I have a feeling that notwithstanding the fact that we may be very busy there are certain obligations you and I cannot shy away from and they have to do with the care of our children. When my children were here, even if I was very tired or very occupied, I always tried to see them before they went to bed. When they were working on their lessons or when they were whiling away their time I tried to talk to them even for just a few minutes. I am certain that many of those who are drug addicts among our children will say, will tell us, that it was because we the older generation didn’t care enough that they turned out that way.” (Ibid) Communism was the name of an external conflict, an invader accompanied by the rabid permissiveness of radicals, posed against the values of the nation embodied in the family. Drug addiction, rebellion, and radicalism can be resisted by the simple time a parent can give to his children, properly honing them to the values of the nation.

However, it should be clear that Marcos’ nationalism accommodated itself to outbursts of nationalisms. Back then, the Marcos dictatorship is a nationalist reaction with a populist appeal; today, the nostalgia for the Martial law years reverberates in the outbursts of nationalisms that decry the decadence of contemporary cosmopolitan life. Disobedience to authority, rebelliousness, apathy, consumerism and so on are highlighted as repulsive values of the urban life. To counteract this, nationalism(s) revolve around the mystification of the past of rural Filipinos who cooperated with their leaders for the betterment of society, regardless of political color. In this case, market society offers a level playing ground upon which traditional values must inform the relations between people while at the same maintaining a highly permissive workplace. Hence, one can complain about work and at the same time obey with commitment. The organic unity of society is sustained by perceivable enemies: drug addicts, drug pushers, rebellious students, decadent bourgeois thinking and so on are seen as external bodies that disturb the harmonious flow of the organic body, the removal of which guarantees the continued healthy lifestyle.

Confronted with latent and all-out outbursts of nationalisms, liberalism sought to a middle ground. Provide a Filipino democracy founded on good values of cooperation and kindness. One can live a highly opulent and occidental lifestyle, but contribute to charity and make acts of philanthropy. Liberalize the economy to such an extent that the oligarchy becomes more wealthy, but make time for progressive programs. A totally ridiculous example of this can be seen in how SM justifies its prolific building of malls; in an advertisement, a clip of a storm hit town was shown in all its brutality. After which, the ad goes to successive pictures of a SM mall and its built-in flood control structure, accompanied by interviews from locals thanking SM malls for the project. This is Filipino capitalism at its most elementary: unfettered free market sustained by nationalistic tendencies and traditional morality. Liberalism panders on both tendencies, attempting a balancing act between allowing nationalistic outbursts or promoting an economy for global capital.

Dutertismo and the recently termed “Dutertenomics” (which echoes Reaganomics) shows that liberalism is waning at its own weight unable to control the contradictions inherent to the economy, politics, and society. Here, nationalisms are directly accommodated and named as a form of nationalism (or Duterte’s use of the word “Filipino”).  At the same time, here the law is taken to its full inherent transgression, providing the police and the army a free reign to inflict their policies under the guidance of the enforcement of the law. In the political arena, dissent is seen as a violation of national stability; destabilization emerges with disobedience and rebellious attitude.

Dutertismo now stands as a politics for the lost ideal. Nationalisms aim at trying to assert the lost ideal as a political category. The debate between supporters and detractors of Martial law were reduced to a matter of regional affiliation. Nationalistic tendencies played on either side as one stand for national stability and close ties to cultural roots and the other for the protection of civil liberties against the encroachment of a new authoritarianism. What the debate on the notion of nationalisms tell us is the untenability of  a post-colonial politics that relies on unraveling marginalized rationalities that seek to inform dominant rationalities, seen to be more dynamic and tolerant of cultural difference.

The way out of this deadlock is to assert a politics of universality. In this case, there is no authentic regional ethnic roots to fight for whether Taglog, Visayan, or Mindanaoan.  No true regional culture to stay true to. Of course, this does not mean an abolition of culture and the imposition of universal values by force. A politics of universality is a politics of universal struggle. Such a politics was apparent in the Lumad crises, different tribes from the North to the South converged in Manila not to celebrate their being a tribe, but to fight for the simple right of land and a dignified sense of self-sufficiency. In a joint statement, their leaders denounced transnational companies that played on tribal antagonisms to further its exploitation of the land. They were not content with simple ethnic recognition as such. This is universalism at its finest.


Filipino Nationalism(s) Under Dutertismo: An Urgent Warning

When the Not-All Speaks: On Kadamay and Liberal Philanthropism

I had two distinct experiences with Gawad Kalinga and their brand of granting free housing to the urban poor. In the first instance, I was able to participate in a GK integration program for the recipients of housing in a former squatter’s area in Parañaque which was improved through GK funding and programs. Aside from the usual feeding program for the children, the highlight of the program was a series of talks led by Catholic groups. The talks centered on traditional family roles and their importance in a peaceful family and community. The roles of the father and the mother are emphasized in the most Catholic way possible; the father works and the wife attends to the matters of the house. In addition, sexual ethics are discussed through a series of obscene analogies: men are like firecrackers; if you don’t light a firecracker up, they tend to explode almost immediately; women, on the other hand, are compared to an electric iron which needs to be plugged in to heat up (it sounds more obscene in Tagalog: kailangang isaksak bago uminit, isaksak which either means to plug in something, to stab someone, or the act of penetration in sexual intercourse). These values are taught to the recipients of housing with the intention of making them prim and proper citizens, dissuading them from leaving their new houses and put them for rent and squat elsewhere. In the second instance, we took a more hands-on approach, helping other GK volunteers in constructing the houses; we did everything from carrying sacks of cement to mixing cement and so on.

There is nothing special in this instance aside from the fact that participating in a GK volunteer activity is always a venue for other parts of society to do good deeds. Participation has some sort of cultic appeal to it. The volunteers, donning specially made volunteer t-shirts, designer denim pants, and original rubber shoes, come to the sites with the expectation of being welcomed by a throng of poor people cooperating with them in building a better community. This is embodied in the typical appearance of a GK village: dolled up single detached houses with neon or bright pastel colors on the outside, unpainted walls on the inside, and each house looking the same with a few plants to adorn the house and the community perimeters. GK promotional material always painted these communities as an evolution from the dense and unorganized communities formed by squatters to the proper communities with a sustainable sense of communal identity.

Gawad Kalinga (despite its growth as a religious to a more secular group) is the typical response to urban poverty. The rising number of squatter communities in places near business districts and urban peripheries posed a challenge to both government and private sector. Real estate investment has been focused on the development of more gated communities and high-rise condominiums, appealing to both high income executives and middle class yuppies who can afford government loan programs to procure affordable housing units provided by private real estate companies. Hence, all the development of subdivisions and condominiums in Southern Metro Manila and the Southern Tagalog cater to those people who are employed in regular desk jobs or for the burgeoning class of small time digital entrepreneurs.

Clearly, the people who are employed in casual, contractual, and manual labor do not have a place in this system. Since contractual labor (or outsourced laborers) does not oblige companies to grant securities for its employees, the rampant employment of casual labor in the city made it impossible to have a sustainable financial capability to be able to eat three times a day, let alone afford government loans for housing. Furthermore, past attempts at relocating the urban poor to mass government housing has constantly failed, being far from sources of income. “Why would I live in a subdivision, if I’ll starve just to pay the bills. I’m a squatter, but it’s quite clean in our area” said one squatter I encountered. To understand the mind of a squatter is to understand the constant state of emergency these people experience, having to live with no stable income or stable means of employment.

Kadamay comes as a whiff of fresh air into the dynamic of urban poor politics. Typical liberal attitudes regarding the urban poor is condescending. Liberal politics restricted their political organizing around NGOs and Local Government actions, made to be dependent on either more blessed members of society or to scraps of welfare doled out by local government politicians at crucial times of elections, even the author of Governing the Other necessitates that a proper democratic approach to the poor is to understand their rationality and have it represented by civil society groups that best suit their ways of thinking. In short, liberals only see them as recipients, victims of circumstance, victimized by their own lack of education and economic capabilities. The bourgeoisie, therefore, see themselves in the role of intervening in this order and granting all sorts of humanitarian aid to these people. Such attitude stops at the religious concern for the victim; the victim has to remain one in order to be helped, he has no right to self organization.

Kadamay’s occupation of stagnant housing projects in Pandi, Bulacan breaks this system of victimization. One should only hear Senator Antonio Trillanes’ remarks on Kadamay as a haven for communists and members of the New People’s Army, citing its security threat or Sen. Tito Sotto’s demand for reconsidering the President’s decision for giving them the houses, citing it as a beginning of a terrible legal precedent for other occupation of stagnant government housing. Such remarks show how Kadamay’s actions attempt to break the vicious circle of liberal philantropism that acted as a stopgap to the country’s lack of welfare programs. Hence, what they did is highly traumatic; the once group of people that are seen both as rabble and recipient of bourgeois kindness organized and took what they think is proper for them i.e.  the simple dignity of being able to live securely.

The ideological consequences of Kadamay’s occuption is overreaching. In an administration bombarded with the criticism of its violent drug campaign, one can hear everyday the clamors to stop Extrajudicial Killings of suspected drug addicts and pushers and a call for due process in the prosecution of drug suspects. Ironically, the same people who deplored and denounced the administration’s violent drug war in favor of legal due process also favor the planned violent dispersal of Kadamay members in favor of due process in the granting of housing projects. Hence, one should rephrase Max Horkheimer’s famous quote “whoever does not support Kadamay in its occupation of stagnant housing projects, should also remain silent about the violence of the war on drugs.” In issues like this, the mettle of the so-called millennial political renaissance is tested beyond the confines of its condemnation of other issues that it saw easy to address.

When the Not-All Speaks: On Kadamay and Liberal Philanthropism

Where do we Stand? Responding to Slavoj Zizek’s Remarks on the Failure of the Left


From the rise to power of right-wing groups in Europe, the defeat and co-opting of Bernie Sanders in the status quo of the Democratic party and the rising tensions in the West Philippine Sea, such current events will push anyone to ask “where were the leftist movements that passionately fought for everything?” or “why the left continues to fail at its struggles only for far more worse events to take place?”, Slavoj Zizek’s comments on the failure of the left should not be taken as a reactionary jab at current left-wing struggles, but a clear and present practice of criticism and self-criticism. With such a wide ranging movement that the term “left” means, one gets lost in the quagmire of different opinions that contain either a dialectical or un-dialectical understanding of our current situation. The fall of the Soviet Union along with the dissolution of other communist states goaded some leftists the opportunity to re-write and re-consider some of the old ideological stances and replace them with more inclusive theories and affirm the necessity of remaining within the logic of liberal democracy.

Capitalism, in the understanding of a grand system of labor relations and private ownership controlling the flow of commodities and raw materials, is no longer the theoretical bogeyman; the words US Imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucrat capitalism are discredited as merely slogans of a passé passionate politics that have to give way to “rational” liberal democracy. Leftist theory (from the agonistics of Chantal Mouffe to discourse theory of the postmodern and post-colonial left) is less preoccupied with alternatives but with reforming the democratic system to become more “deliberative”, rational and open. The struggles of old make way for cooperation within the cozy offices of the Parliament building and organization of various civil sectors relegated to valid party-list groups or non-government organizations that would function outside of the state system or even function as a gap-filler to what the state lacked. Such a move is justified as a way to integrate the excluded ones into a supposedly more inclusive democracy. To allow such to happen is it not necessary to reject the cliché in the guise of the communists, the last remnants of a bygone era? What is to be affirmed and held with rigor is the multiplicities of reason, various narratives that unfold simultaneously to each other and functioning within a currently established liberal democracy. The enemy in this case is vague; to the post-colonialist, it is Western hegemony; to the identity politician, it is the hegemonic discourse that prevents peoples to exercise their chosen identities (be it Patriarchy or the dominant scientific rationality). It is enough to say that in the dominant reason there is a singularization and an enforcement of certain cultural norms, repressing the uniqueness of one’s own reason. There is no class conflict here, just the struggle against the dominant and the imperative to openness and dialogue, acting as a medicine to our monologue society.

What is wrong with this theory is precisely its mystification of multiplicities; this way we lose sight of what really causes the global phenomena of exploitation under global capitalism. While the proposed alternative is to return to our post-colonial ethos and relation to the earth (recall how our liberal academicians would love to cite Heidegger), seeing ourselves within an immense universe in the great chain of being with a proper place on earth; it fails to see itself within the ideological coordinates of global capitalism. Its attachment to the system of liberal democracy only serves to demonstrate that our current (supposed) left-wing academic theory “wants to have a cake and eat it,” without realizing that any attempt at radically changing our current predicament requires a lot of risks, examination of current conditions, and the courage to organize and resist, while at the same time rejecting obvious alternatives. While conscious of past mistakes, a communist knows that the struggle requires a constant experience of failure and failing better until a successful alternative is achieved. Our current liberal intelligentsia sees the search for an alternative as a futile attempt at achieving a desired utopian end, settling for the vicious circle of democracy’s oscillation. It is evident that with the almost unfettered rise of the right-wing quasi fascist movements, we can no longer rely on the democratic system to decide the fate of nation-states. From a more theoretical level, we can no longer systematically accept the postmodern discourse, rejecting a singular unfolding of narrative. Rather, our singular narrative is contained in the universal struggle of the exploited from the exploiter; at the end of this struggle is the toppling of the very system that allows poverty and exploitation to occur. Global capitalism thrives in multi-culturalism and nationalism, seeing that the attempt to de-colonize our culture keeps the intelligentsia in check i.e. to remain in the universities, exchanging witty philosophical remarks, barking at each other over who can make a more rigorous noise, while pandering on radicals, seen as nostalgically attached to the passé ideologies of old. That is one of the risks being an avowed Marxist-Leninist in the university. When forming the party is seen as militantism and a theory based on class struggle as un-dialogical, closed to the myriads of options out there. Perhaps, being closed and loyal to the convictions of the cause is better than engaging in speechifying sophistry of academically accepted ways of theoretical resistance.

What is basically wrong with the left? It has transformed itself mainly as a university discourse, producing variations on any allowed theme but as long as it remains within the production of essays and commentaries. For that reason, even among bourgeois students of philosophy Karl Marx is admired only by the scope of his research and the applicability of his thought in various research endeavors. However, if we move outside of the production of essays to the actual work of doing theory (i.e. not merely as writing an essay but the actual analysis of material conditions within the exploitative nature of capitalism) in light of informing current revolutionary movements, they are ready to cast it aside as a futile political project. If they (and ourselves included if need be) remain within the confines of their academism, perhaps Zizek is right to reprimand us of our complacency.

Where do we Stand? Responding to Slavoj Zizek’s Remarks on the Failure of the Left

Duterte: Three Essays on Populism, Fascism and the Politics of Inherent Transgression (part 2 of 3)

On Fascism: is Duterte a Jacobin?

Fascism is often a word thrown out to denounce a potentially repressive regime. Aside from being the primary slogan against any repressive state and the right-wing ideology that sustains it, any form of totalitarian state from Stalinism to American establishment bureaucracy can be described as a fascist regime. However, for all the horrible outcomes and repressive character, why are neo-fascists and hardline right-wingers gaining ground in our present political landscape? Furthermore, their legitimacy is even cemented through popular elections, gaining power through legal means and not through any form of revolution.

Fascism emerges from a thorough examination of current conditions but its fundamental difference with leftist struggles is the simplicity of its solutions and the pragmatism of its political program. It has always been a conservative revolution to save the capitalist order (Žižek 1999, 138-139). It is a revolution that attempts to keep the current status of class antagonism in place and at the same time posit and external enemy that acts as a parasitic invader that disturbs the pristine nature of the nation. What this account fundamentally misses (since it remains entirely on the level of populism and mass appeal) is how the whole discourse on fascism itself is a mirage played by a small bureaucratic clique that is actually in power. Fascism at its purest is not defined by the brutality of its leaders but in the brutality supplemented by the pragmatism of its bureaucracy that actually defines the contours of a country’s operation. This particular picture of fascism is perfectly described in the political films of Costa-Gavras. In Section Speciale, Z, Etat de Siege and Missing, Costa-Gavras describes fascist (or military regimes) not as they are led by a single leader, driving the country by the sheer magnitude of his will; rather, in all of these films, we see the inner bureaucracy at work, determining all decisions and choosing which groups to suppress and so on. The common pattern of these films (aside from how each film is a metaphor for real events) is the absence of the leader who is supposed to lead everyone by the force of his political will. Costa-Gavras demystifies fascism and describes its aestheticization of politics simply as the attempt of the oligarchy to continue the legitimacy of its regime. The dictator is removed from his privileged position and relegated to the shadows, while the real determinants of its politics are made by the small circle of bureaucrats.

Hence, the logic of fascism is founded the naïve ontological dualism that what lies behind the appearance (of a leader atop triangle leading everyone below him) is the grim reality, what things really are. To understand fascism therefore is to go beyond the charisma of its leader’s cult of personality and turn one’s attention to the ersatz reality of the regime. To overcome the ontological dualism that lies in our previous description, we must see fascism as the culmination of bourgeois politics, playing with the popular dissatisfaction with the present, social, economic, and political condition, then positing them as the struggle between the purity of something against the invasion of another or as problems caused by the intrusion of something impure and pathological to the healthy body of the socius. The antagonism between the external pathology against the pristine body attempts to dispel the latent class antagonisms at work and at the same time establish categories of national identity that attempts to neutralize the boundaries between enemies, to see each other as part of one royal group of people against another.

One can feel the difficulty of classifying the impact of Duterte’s presidential campaign upon the political environment, since he has already classified himself as the sole progressive voice in the entire presidential elections. The problem arises not in his close disregard for political correctness or for is women’s rights problems or his positions about the liquidation of the social pathos, but in the way he characterizes bourgeois politics at its finest. Between a yellow liberal party clique and a PDP-Laban clique, there is no clear difference and that the incompetence of one would only be changed by the recklessness of the other. However, people think that Duterte is leading a genuine revolution, a complete turnaround from our present political conditions. Do we not see the similarities between 2010 and 2016, when the same enemy is called out as the no. 1 enemy of democracy in the guise of corruption and incompetence of the present administration? The subjects speak the same message, coming from two places of enunciation. This way, one can speak of totally the same thing with a predictable outcome, capitalizing on the cult of personality of the established candidate, garnering popular support as a way to externalize the collective passions to democratic ends.

Here lies the fascist consequence of agonistic politics and its attempted sublimation of political passions for democratic ends. In the last century, the left is seen as the passionate political sector that acts out of the pure desire to change the status quo, while the right is the agent of discipline, adherence to traditions, and nationalism. Such dichotomoy however is unusually absent in to-day’s political climate. Left-wingers and right-wingers would often be the most passionate political agents, collecting popular support, while bourgeois cliques (and the third way) pride themselves of embodying rationalist political discourse. Perhaps, our very use of the word discourse is inadequate, presupposing that each cadre has its own discourse that is then communicated to the public sphere. The reduction of political antagonism to mere exchange, opening, and deliberation of discourses only serves to cover the underlying class struggle that discourses try to extinguish. They are salient tolerations of the enemy, while at the same time not taking them seriously, reducing their claims to impractical claims, blind of real political work. In this way, bourgeois politics is able to remain at their positions of privilege and at the same time create an image of a vibrant democracy by manipulating the passions through the spectacle of agonism.

Is Duterte capable of changing the political climate, through an introduction of a radical change in political struggle? It prompts us to ask whether he is ready to pay the iron price to take the country to a thorough political transformation. It is crucial that we shed no illusions about such a popular candidate and see him or anyone as being capable to be Jacobin. The Jacobin is the agent of political transformation, lying outside bourgeois compromising tactics. While the bourgeois can play the hat of a pious republican or a faithful monarchist, the Jacobin at its purest is the dedicated republican, prepared to go through the self-consuming fire of the terror to enact the actualization of the revolution. Unlike the fascist dictator (who sees himself as the pinnacle of a aestheticization of the political), the Jacobin is the proto-Stalinist who sees the immanent failure of the Revolutionary movement as the condition of possibility for the success of the revolution. However, in the same way as the Stalinist, the Jacobin is prepared to pay the price by being the final victim of his own reign of terror. It is precisely this reason why I do not agree with Žižek’s criticism of Stalinism as the expression of failure of any emancipatory political project, a horrible outcome of a betrayal of the original project. What I find problematic in this statement is his own call for a lack of theory to understand Stalinism and Jacobinism and dispel any critique of totalitarianism as a justification of a liberal and bourgeois politics. I am prepared to take this latter step and describe Stalinism and Jacobinism as an attempt to get engage in constant struggle with itself, from which a genuine political process can emerge.

Our present electoral fiasco however does not fit any radical change in our political environment. Duterte’s explicit invocation of corruption and criminality as the fundamental cancer of our political realm simply posits an external enemy, without considering the structure that actually causes the pathos he explicitly mentions; friend and foe alike are simply parts of the symbolic realm that organizes the very way we do politics. Duterte’s revolution (as his supporters want to see it) is simply a way to maintain the actual class antagonism intact, while at the same time generate the illusion of a political agonistic spectacle. Duterte and the elections itself is a theatre for those in power to remain in power and entertain the masses with a candidate they can identify with just like an action star in a telenovella.



Zizek, Slavoj. Ticklish Subject: the Absent Centre of Political Ontology. London: Verso, 1998.

Duterte: Three Essays on Populism, Fascism and the Politics of Inherent Transgression (part 2 of 3)

Duterte: the Politics of the Superego

By now, everyone is already familiar with Jessica Zafra’s article, highlighting Rodrigo Duterte as the expression of the Filipino political Id, the unbridled agency of pleasure-satisfaction, loved by the masses, acting as the return of the repressed, set against the all too decent yet incompetent agents of the status quo. Perhaps, Zafra is arriving at a hasty conclusion, utilizing a simple Freudian analysis. What is problematic in such simplistic analysis is that it would fundamentally miss the point in psychoanalysis , where the id and the superego converge and are not separate.

Applied phylogenetically, the id-superego convergence is not simply the mundane synthesis of a ruthless imperative towards the achievement of a goal; rather, the id-superego intersection is the expression of the superego’s function, confronting its real object: the attainment of pleasure (and not merely the blind obedience to the law that keeps the id in check).

The Obscene Underside of Bureaucratized State

The cliques of the liberal party see themselves as the epitome of decency, rationalization, and intelligent politics. The often cited “intelligent vote” is one thing they want to propagandize themselves to appeal to those who want to be part of the intelligent vote and the university discourse (no wonder in the local university where Habermasian theory is dominant, the Liberal Party is strong, given this self-styled image of decency). To market oneself as the sole voice of intelligence in an already irrational electoral season contributes to the illusion, they seek to establish.

One is too familiar with how even in the mirage of decency and rationality, what is underneath it is the complacency to the bureaucratized state system. The cliques of the LP and UNA only play the opposition and administration card when elections are coming; outside it, these politicians would attend each other’s parties and private events. Hence, conflict between political parties is simply a mirage to cover up the bureaucrat system that operates our political and state system. Bureaucracy and decency diverge at the crucial point, where the spectacle of democracy is to be played out into the public sphere. It is entirely a performative and spectacular show that creates the image of rational choice within the democratic process. At this point, even Habermasian normativity are simply notes on the script with no actual political significance than to maintain good images.

The candidacy of Rodrigo Duterte however challenges the preconceived decency that operates in our political arena; a personality with no censure, insensitive to political correctness, and whose political platforms appeared to those who think they are intelligent as impossible. However, despite the irrationality and the insensitive remarks concerning women, the LGBT, rape, etc., he continues to gain widespread support from the masses who are fed up with the administration. The immediate Freudian presupposition emerges as the id-fication of the political. However, I think such simplistic theorization misses the point. At best, what we fundamentally encounter is the inherent transgression of rational liberal state democracy and its attempt to be universal. The attempt to suppress Duterte’s presidency will simply account to the inherent dictatorship of liberalism itself i.e. in suppressing its own by-products. Like an evil twin it has not tamed, it cannot contain the upsurge of what was initially repressed. The emergence of Duterte’s campaign is not a threat to democracy it is democracy itself that is in crises in the first place. The obsession with a politically clean, participative, and decent government has generated a generation of cynics among the masses and a culture of padrinos among the ruling class.

One can clearly see the class structure emerging from the argument of decency. It is not merely the imperative to decency, but an imperative to imitate and adopt a bourgeois form of decency, following liberal values yet at the same time adopt a patriarchal and feudal system in governing the country, acting as compradors to global capital. Duterte comes not as the breakthrough in the dualist deadlock (between decency and irrationality), but the full incarnation of both aspects. The inherent transgression emerges as someone who can play a double face against the symbolic edifice of the political; somone who is the living and walking contradiction of the structure, facing its own contradictions.

Wo es war, soll Duterte werden

Duterte is not simply the embodiment of irrational Filipino politics; but the candidate to demonstrate the internal crises of liberal state democracy, enculturated by the Filipino bourgeoisie, attempting to repress class conflicts through the spectacular utilization of the political drama. The acceptance of his womanizing ways and tasteless jokes is not an expression of irrational voter’s sentiment over intelligent ones, but an expression of pragmatism, admitting that “yes, he is insensitive but he can get stuff done,” is this not the expression of the superego imperative that one can endure the most painful of obstacles for the future attainment of something? The choice is not between rational democracy under the liberal party and irrational quasi-fascist dictatorship under Duterte (and BBM), but between a clique that does not admit its symptom over someone who has a clear identification with it.

Of course, I am not defending Duterte nor his actions, but what is crucial at this point is to consider how much of our fetishes have political implications and how far we can go just to realize them. We see this tendency in Louise Kaplan’s “fetishism strategy”, where the initial strategy begins with the transformation of something enigmatic and immaterial to something tangible as a defense mechanism against the enigmatic and indecipherable real, necessitating the shift to the symbolic (Kaplan 2006, 5). The Other four, she mentions, are simply variations of the first, creating a complex form of signifying chains, culminating at the death drive as the complete exploitation of the concretized object, replacing the original one (Kaplan 2006, 8). For Kaplan, this is the culmination of fetishism strategy. Applied to our present situation, this implies that Duterte is simply an incarnation of a political fetish i.e. of someone who can get shit done. What Kaplan’s theory does not see is that it entails merely the relegation of political figures as the big other, expressing our desire through them.

Political figures are less than expressions of the big other; but are on the contrary the very products of the big other, the subject supposed to believe (and blamed oftentimes), while we can remain within a cynical attitude with our really existing democracies. The first strategy of fetishism is itself the expression of an initial repression of the gap between the symbolic and the real. This Zizekian theorization establishes that the big other simply represses the gap through the objet petit a. In our experience, the act of repressing the gap is when we affirm the present alternative for us is either a decent government or an irrational one, further repressed to obey the big other in voting for the worse one. The superego and id converge in our choice to undergo legal and bureaucratic pain. Hence, the suitable answer oftentimes is not to choose, just to break the logic of choice and alternatives and the ideology that pervades in both alternatives.

With Duterte, one gets the obscene underside of our democratic process and actually not its savior. With his candidacy, the repressed character of our bureaucrat government emerges as the embodiment of what the establishment wants to tolerate but at the same time keep a populist relation with the public sphere. The public goes into full contact with its own fetishes, with the possibility of its fulfillment; the psychoanalytic lesson here is that when this desire is realized, the experience is a complete nightmare.


Reference Cited

Kaplan, Louise. Cultures of Fetishism. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2006.


Duterte: the Politics of the Superego


In a classic Filipino Moro-Moro, a pale skinned Christian hero combats a brown skinned savage Moro (a Muslim warrior). The end is always a victory for the Christian hero after which a litany of invocations to the Christian God is made. The prayers consist of an invocation to the Holy Spirit and a litany of thanksgiving to the three persons of the trinity, thanking them for the success in battling the forces of evil and bringing good back to the community. This binary discourse—that of us and other evil other—reaches its apex in the European and American exceptionalism in which the ideals of the enlightenment and American industry are gospel truths set against the barbaric and savage peoples of the Orient. This discourse lost to a new reversal of roles and a re-writing of the old Moro-Moro discourse. Gone were the days when the pale skinned liberator comes from the West, freeing us from the savage brown skinned people of a barbarian faith. In our politically correct times, it is the brown skinned savage that must win but not through conquest but by preventing the physical antagonism while at the same time maintain the antagonism in allowing the other remain as other. There is no victory in this case but the outcome of the story is that the pale skinned Christian warrior tolerates and shakes hands with a “supposed” enemy, while singing some version of Beethoven’s Ninth or Billy Bragg’s version of the Internationale.

Transgressing this ideological discourse unlashes a myriad of antagonisms inherenent in liberal politically correct discourses of the West. With the rise of Islam and the decline of Christianity, Western discontent over its own legacy gathers up to an extreme case of self pity, ignoring the emancipator potentials of its own universe. Ignoring the place upon which they view the other and the tiring search for alternatives, the west is sooner going to collapse under the weight of its own artificially imposed guilt, leaving the place for far-right extremists to provide a hermeneutic reference point to a vacuum left by liberal complacency. Are we in the Philippines lagging behind the western search for alternatives? Is it apparent in how we approach history and how secular interpreters of Filipino history tend to condemn the Spanish colonial era as the country’s own Dark Ages? The search for an ethnic golden age of pure Filipino tribal values and pure Filipino religious world view, untainted by Colonialism drives the intellectual drive towards  self-pity against the present order and an unwarranted nihilism maintaining a distance between my supposedly enlightened vision and the gullible masses. Among “Asian values” capitalisms (including Vietnam and China), following a mixture of liberal or communist forms of economy and governance, the Philippines with its virulent anti-left mass culture, created by an Americanized social institution and government is the candidate for the most Western-like society with its dislike for socialism and communism and an almost religious admiration of democracy and non-violent revolutions. While Singapore and Chine have created its own economic paradigm in authoritarian forms of capitalism, Filipino society is resilient in its belief in free-market economy and the practice of exceptionalism and individualism.

Despite attempts to be like its Western compatriots, it fails to achieve a Western liberal democracy. With an “Extramuros-Intramuros” mentality that transcends the adobe walls of the historic Fort Santiago, the walls separating peoples in Filipino Society are worse than any form of racism. The common thinking is that educated petit bourgeois families (with pale to yellow skin and small Chinese eyes) are always on top of the brown skinned big eyed citizens; any commentary by a university degree holder is viewed as aloof, offering little to nothing to the plight of the poor. The rich are always Chinese, white and educated, wearing their tailored suits and speak straight English with an American (or English) accent. The popularity of the Binay family can be traced back to thins thinking. To those who support the Binays, the Binay family is part of the “other” class, doing their part in the service of the poor and bullied by the elite for being successful at that. The problem is that we are confusing the cause of the illness with the illness itself. Far from being a “rags to riches” story, the Binays are only popular because of the circumstances around the colour of their skin and the exigencies at play with crowd identification. While to a great majority, the Aquinos remain as the poster family for freedom and what stands as the success of democracy post-1986. To critical theorists, the democratic project needs to be expolored given the multicultural circumstances of having 7,107 islands. All of these—for the bottom dwellers—are mere calculations and instruments of elite domination. There is a gist of truth from the criticism of Filipino independent films that they have exploited poverty as a concept, transforming it into a marvellous celluloid spectacle. From the popularity of Lino Brocka’s Maynila sa Kuko ng Liwanag and Insiang to Brillante Mendoza’s Kinatay, the aesthetic of the ugly has prevailed to a certain extent in the films of these directors. Called by critics as “pornography of the poor,” the topic of poverty in independent films makes it a matter of suspicion for common taste. Thus, the black humour in Babae sa Septic Tank perfectly satirizes the excesses of independent filmmakers.

Antagonisms therefore are between academically posh educated theorists of the universities and the common sense mindsets of the urban and rural poor. The task of theory is to present an educational program for the advancement of peoples; but when the theory itself bolsters the antagonism between the educated and the urban and rural classes, the task of criticism and self-criticism remains a burden for all. It is enough to say that democracy, liberalism and the like remain theories that separate the educated from the uneducated. Belief in the “equality before the law” and the “secular liberal state” are privileged positions made by someone who is detached from the community and has the presupposition of freedom within this theoretical state. There is an old joke from the Martial Law period: “in the Philippines, everything is relative, you have to be related.” Is this joke still applicable today in the distrust in any notions of free market capitalism? Clearly, it reflects the notion that free market capitalism is not “free” at all but controlled by a few people inside a meeting room, calling the shots in the control of supply and demand and the economic laws. In this case, there is nothing “free” or a-political in capitalism. Its assertion of apathy to politics is its very inclusion within the political. The pattern provided by telenovellas suggest that participation in the liberal democratic discourse of the law and the market requires economic constraints: from struggling to pay for a lawyer to the payments to the court proceedings, to be even allowed justice, the poor characters are pushed to their economic capacities, driving them to absolute poverty while achieving no justice at all. The rich with the capability to hire the most unscrupulous of lawyers can achieve justice and confidently believe in the democratic notions of due process and the equality before the law. Within the preconceived notions of justice, the economically downtrodden are unable to participate in the Western dominant discourse of liberal democracy. Are they simply bitter in remaining within the sidelines of the minor discourse, seeking participation only at some moments in history?

Here is where advocates of Habermasian theory of dominant discourses and its application in our society find an inevitable impasse. Their effort is: to legislate the denial in the participation in the dominant discourse as the very participation in the dominant discourse of those who are outside it. They are considered other, as outside the legal jurisdiction whose being other is their sole participation in the dominant discourse. They remain as edifices of a resistance to the dominant discourse but at the same time their resistance solidifies the status quo since their very existence is granted by the dominant discourse itself.[1]   The boundary between the dominant discourse and those outside it is separated by class conflict and the refusal to acknowledge this antagonism in the exchange of discourses only proves the weakness of such theory.

Is it not clear in the investigations against the Binay family? The allegations thrown by Sen. Trillanes only bolstered by the popularity of the Binay family and their refusal to appear in the Senate stand as the singularized refusal to participate in the dominant discourse of liberal democracy and its notions of justice and equality before the law. the antagonism between the liberal party, President Aquino, the Senate and Binay as well as the whole media fiasco surrounding it serve as symptoms of a greater rift in Filipino society and democracy. The refusal to accept a materialist approach to the antagonisms in our society proves the bankruptcy of our intellectuals and great admiration is given to the activists who fervently believe in the futile bourgeois attempts to cement its relevance into society.

[1] I am reminded of a passage from Jean Baudrillard’s Simulations where in order for ethnology to live it must posit its object as something before it came to study it. Therefore, ethnology and its methods posit pre-ethnology as a constant and that the very method of ethnology is to study its object as a pre-ethnological object. Hence, what it does is to make its own model and retain the old as old, a living museum for the efforts of ethnology. Is it not the same with the Husserlian project of “going back to the things themselves?” In order for phenomenology to work, it must posit as a constant the suspension of any conceptualization in order for the object to appear which means the phenomenologist must consider himself not doing phenomenology (in the epoche) in order for phenomenology to work as a (rigorous) method.