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

Dutertismo and Neo-Phrenology

Whenever President Rodrigo Duterte justified the war on drugs as a violent offensive against drug addicts and drug pushers, one cannot fail to notice the following argument: based on the observation and studies of scientists and psychologists, constant drug use and addiction damages the brain and decreases its size, wherein any form of rehabilitation becomes impossible.” The argument is solidly based on an assertion that the size of the brain, greatly affected by drug addiction, is the sole evidence for the impossibility of rehabilitation and re-integration into normal society. What we get here is an attempt to provide justification through some form of quasi-phrenology, a neo-phrenology, albeit based on the size and shape of the brain to determine the attitude of a human being.

Phrenology returns as a justification for the distinction between normal and the abnormal, the decent and the indecent, marking the human being with an inevitable physical quality that determined his place in society. Duterte’s neo-phrenology shows the core of Dutertismo as a category of political exclusivity, forming the backdrop of the politics of the drug war and not simply a moral issue. Through the reduction of the addict to the less than human entity with a reduced brain size, what enters to politics is a determination via the formation of a biological category. In this case, the addict loses its humanity through the loss of possession of a brain, short of the normative category for being human. Between the normal and the reduced brain sizes lies the difference between two pre-determined roles. The decent human being is everyone who is not an addict; humanity under Dutertismo is seen from a fundamental point of exclusion. Through the determination of the addict as a category of exclusion, acting as the obstacle for the process of a law-abiding society built on discipline, we encounter the obscene underside of Dutertismo’s project of universality.

Duterte prides himself as a friend to the left and the right that any politics as such is to see that “we are all Filipinos.” Such universal distinction only applies to those who are determined as outside the category of exclusion. The present administration’s attacjment to the law is that of a pure fetishistic disavowal. They know precisely well that the law demands due process, but nonetheless the requirement is lifted so that those who follow it to the letter can enjoy the freedoms it guarantees. Duterte’s “Filipino” is not its citizens, but the other to whom he designates his absolute belief in believing more than he believes in himself. The relegation of confidence and loyalty to the other that believes more than I believe forms the justification for impunity and justification of all forms of police violence and legal excesses.

To say that Duterte is the embodiment of the loss of the rule of law completely misses the point. His administration is the law’s obscene underside that any drive to the universal category of citizenry and the normativity of the law is founded on a prior category of exception. Under the present administration, the addict is the homo sacer at its finest, even worse he isn’t even human nor a sacrificial lamb for the satisfaction of the (legal and national) gods. Through this exception the administration sees itself justified: what it murders are not even human nor will be considered human, but an obstacle that needed to be plucked out in order for the organic unity to be whole. The repression of struggle (as class struggle or the creation of dividing lines) is built around this exception so that organic and holistic unity can be achieved. Fascism in all its brutality will not come with the hatred for a race, but in the mythology of the pseduo-universality of the citizenry. The ideas of the enlightenment are turned on its head.

Dutertismo and Neo-Phrenology

The Return of the Totalitarian Repressed

            Perhaps, the general symptom of to-day’s political milieu is the emergence of highly divisive polarized political situations. The rise of populist politicians under questionable policies has plagued not only the Philippines but also different parts of the world. However, the recent events leading to the Supreme Court decision to bury Ferdinand Marcos under a hero’s grave demands that we look at it not as an isolated case of historical amnesia but as an overall symptom of our incapability and resistance to admit the inherent contradictions within our post-1986 liberal democracy. At the same time, compromises made under the banner of national unity have divided us more than it has actually united different sectors of society.


The Failure of the Post-1986 Liberal Democracy: A Manichaeism

Ken Fuller described in The Lost Vision that despite the promises of reform after the Marcos dictatorship, the Aquino administration bearing the constraints of the large debt left by the previous administration and the demand by different sectors to expedite the recovery of the country’s economy, conceded to the neoliberal policies that its predecessors have applied under the brutal hand of the dictatorship. The Cory administration did not shy away at the number of extra judicial killings, suppression of dissent, and concessions to neoliberal policies and economics. The forced choice borne upon the young democracy of the 1987 constitution paved the way for a wide neoliberal deregulation of the economy.

What it basically introduced or reintroduced is the same brand of cronyism with different names and a different sponsor and protector. The oligarchy continued to reap the benefits of neoliberal deregulation, while those who are affected remained in the same poverty-stricken condition as before. Liberal democracy in this case only allowed the formal freedoms guaranteed by the fundamental rights of man, but it did not allow the resistance to the economic dogmatism that the country will be an obedient child to the market, following its oscillations and trends of speculation.

Aside from the continuity of the Marcos neoliberalism—a neoliberalism a la Pinochet—replaced by an Aquino neoliberalism—neoliberalism with a human and motherly face—, the post-1986 liberalism played one dangerous political tactic: the demonization of the Marcos regime. By positing the dictatorship as the face of pure political evil, the Aquino administration have reduced the 1986 EDSA revolution as a battle between the forces of good and evil and that the unified effort to depose Marcos was the triumph of good versus evil led by an agent of change who singlehandedly led us to freedom and gifted us the present democratic constitution. The 1987 constitution became the Holy Scripture and the Aquino family the Holy family to whom we have the utang na loob for our present democracy.

The Manichaean discourse failed miserably as the incompetence of the subsequent administrations proves that the promised democracy did not actually work for the rest of the poverty afflicted people. The obscene effect is not the legitimization of our present liberal democracy, but the nostalgia of the way things were, a return to the old order of things.


Nostalgia: Where Authoritarianism Breeds

Authoritarianism is not born out of the non-existence of liberal democracy, but of its fundamental failure to surpass the bureaucratic regime where consensus is constructed among a few members of an elite cadre of policy makers. Furthermore, liberal democracy tried to dispel political passions by placing it within the legal boundaries of the state and the communicative acts that follow from it. What is so radically different in our local liberal democracy is the perpetual authority of the illustrado class, the same dynasties have ruled the country with little to no benefit of the citizens.

As liberal democracy projects are bound to fail as it engages in a Manichaean struggle against the forces of evil, the plan backfires and people, disillusioned with to-day’s political status, turn to the past, looking for a pristine moment that has to be restored. The logic therefore of totalitarianism i.e. right-wing conservative fascism, is the establishment of a mythopoeic conception of the past that in the progression of history and the inevitable changes that will occur, something must be kept in permanent place that must never change, positing an external obstacle that constantly watches the progress of events, prohibiting the renaissance of the golden age. Nostalgia is the emotion that arises out of the authoritarian vision; a justification for everything can be constructed out of one’s romantic relation with the past. The agents and ideologues of fascism thrive in constructing their public discourse on the exemplification of the past and the assertion of an internal unity of society. One should be reminded that the word fascism was derived from fasces, the symbol of power that binds together all of the castes of society and upheld by the legal authorities. Fascism, given such etymology, is far less than the cooptation of revolutionary consciousness, but the combination of cooptation and the re-legitimization of old social relations that was supposed to have been suppressed by liberalism. While the contemporary right-wing populist is against liberals and the values of liberalism, he can only achieve his aims through the mechanisms of liberal democracy, pandering on its logic, system of suffrage, and construction of public opinion. The greatest of fascists, Hitler and Mussolini, did not engage in insurrectionary revolution, but were voted into power through national parliamentary elections. They were presidents in every legal sense of the term, but whose campaign runs under the unity of the people to heal the wounds of the past (in the case of Nazi Germany, to unite the Germans against the wounds of the Versailles treaty and world Jewry).


Unity under Dutertismo

We can read President Duterte’s speeches on different occasions in the same manner. When asked by a journalist what he will do after the violent dispersion at the US embassy. Duterte remarked “I’ll call the police and the activists together…there is no left and right. We are all Filipinos.” What is wrong with this remark? Duterte showed not the attitude of a stereotypical authoritarian leader, but the stereotypical liberal who abhors the polarized political situation and demands the unity of the citizens. But, unity for what purpose or goal? Behind the appearance of a liberal lies the fascist core, echoing Marx’s jibe against the party of order in Eighteenth Brumaire of Luis Napoleon, liberals act like liberals, but profess fascist ideology among themselves. Authentic fascism in our current time is not entirely the madness of the extremists or the obnoxious presence of trolls on the internet to silence dissenting opinion, but the voice of people who call for unity simply by the sheer mythology of the nation and the perceived obsolescence of old ways of resistance and partisan politics. We should not see authoritarian leaders as the people who are greedy for power, ready to devour the country with its vitriolic speeches. Rather, they are people who see themselves as part of a wide project of restoring a country to its pristine condition. Marcos did not declare martial law and cracked down on communists and activists simply because who was against communism; rather, he saw himself as part of a greater mission to preserve order and unity. The declaration of Martial law was conjured within Marcos’ spiritual exercises asking God for a sign and rid the country of the un-orderly influences and permissiveness.

The difference between the leftist and a believer in right-wing demagoguery is not between passionate revolutionary and the traditionalist or the vulgar populist and the rational liberal; the fundamental difference lies in how both the left and the right deal with struggle. The left sees contradiction everywhere; the most fundamental relationship between things is not the unity of opposites, but that the struggle of opposites is absolute and in constant opposition.[1] The rightist on the other hand sees conflict and opposition within the current political situation, but what must occur at the end of it is not to fight a constant internal struggle and study the class contradictions in society, but that behind the conflict lies an identity that will unite all walks of life. Hence, the struggle of the left and the right is not between the multitudes versus the universal rationality of the right. What we have is the struggle between two universalities. The universality of the right is that of the unity of all social hierarchies, of everything has its proper place, repressing the struggle of opposites for the sake of what is supposed to bind us together as a nation.


[1] Mao Tsetung, “On Contradiction,” in Selected Readings from the Works of Mao Tsetung (Peking: Foreign Language Press, 1971), pp. 124-125.

The Return of the Totalitarian Repressed

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

The Politics of Inherent Transgression

We know proceed to the final point in determining the contours of our present political situation and the hype it has been causing all these times. For the enlightened liberal, a question often hangs in his mind: who are we to blame for the disintegration of our politics into this heap of irrationality and reduction to a mere spectacle of popular support. It is easy for the liberal to blame the poor, the ones who eat away at government welfare, waiting for doleouts, while honest working people have to pay taxes. In this case, the poor is often conceived as the ones who receives all the blame for the difficulties of the country; but at the same time, they are the ones who must occupy the object of our duty to charity.

In our present post-religious milieu (in which religion is only a means for one’s well-being and good vibes), the duty to do charity is already packaged in our consumerist ethos. Zizek always emphasized this aspect in which the commodity already included the fulfillment of one’s duty in giving to the poor, so that one can in turn blame them, if everything does not work. The poor in the character of the squatter, the drug addict, the petty criminal, etc. are seen as the primary problems of society, seeking to corrupt the healthy body of the social body. The response, in this case, is the emergence of someone who believes fully in the symptom of our times, someone who fully takes on the public’s disappointments. Perhaps, this picture is inadequate in describing our present political situation. We are fully aware of the effects of a mismanaged economy upon our political structure and any administration will attempt to save its own image for the sake of maintaining them and at the same time to secure a clam political climate, appeasing the passions of the people. The elections are a better way to appease the passions, sublimating them into something tolerable through the performance of a political play of images. This “play of images” can only be understood in the way bourgeois politics is a politics of inherent transgression, developed through the years of political instability, sustained by academic attachment to a national identity, corrupted by colonialism, the search for a rational state, manned by the educated bourgeoisie capable of public discourse and the compromise with neoliberal global capitalism. The hopes and dreams for a vibrant democracy form the symbolic order, covering the traumatic kernel of our politics through an assertion of the pure social subject (the diligent, working, taxpaying, family centered worker), presupposed by our liberal discourse as prepared to take the ultimate sacrifice in working for the benefit of the family, tradition, and country. The image of the conservative (almost middle class) working man acts as the cover for the traumatic gap from which class struggle emerges.

So far, our own political environment plays on this political spectacle where decency and clean politics are invoked to convince the political agents of the worth of representing them in government. The problem comes from the assertion of decency and the multi-cultural facet of their political machinery. All candidates play along with the omnipotent capacity of the working class to endure the hardships for the sake of the nation, requiring them to cooperate and blamed for the failure as such.

The liberal, on the other hand, responds valiantly to this proposition and affirm the capability and capacity of our present structure to generate a social revolution without going over to its horrible prerequisites (the organization, education of the masses, analyses of material conditions and so on) and instead we relegate the capacity for social transformation in the sheer capacity of someone else, a subject supposed to know. However, Zizek warns us that

The crucial mistake to be avoided here is the notion that this displaced belief is nothing but a reified form of a direct belief, in which case the task of the phenomenological reconstitution of the genesis of reification would be to demonstrate how the original belief was transposed to another (Zizek 1998, 4).

Therefore, we are not dealing here with the leader as the collective expression of our political aspirations; rather, our democratic process depends on the displacement as such. Again, to develop the line of thinking in the second essay, here we encounter the problematic of Mouffe’s struggle for hegemony. Although the Laclau-Mouffe strategy attempts to return politics to its core in the struggle for state power, the latent unexplored consequence here is the lack of the displacement of belief in the cause, as if passion is merely enough in guaranteeing its vibrancy. Our drunkenness for passion will always give way to the sober displacement of political belief, saying to ourselves that we’re already done with our political duty; let us now relegate it to the system to enact what we believe. Such is the horrible outcome of Mouffe’s dependence on passion as the drive for political movements.

The inherent transgression at work in our bourgeois politics emerges from the thrust to maintain the images of a political process and at the same time keep the oligarchical powers intact. Whenever we speak of the spectacle, it is not the direct manipulation of political discourse and the play of images to generate popular support and legitimize the bourgeois political order; but, it is inherent to bourgeois politics as such. We encounter the fundamental lesson that Marx already stressed that the elections are a way by which we choose the leaders to exploit us through the bourgeois controlled elections. To rescue the very ideals of democracy is the emergence of a new political theory that does not begin from any pre-conceived notion and fantasy about the citizen who is prepared to engage in deliberation with anyone and against anyone. Rather, emancipatory politics begins with the resistance to categorization and instead goes into the malevolent sections of the symbolic to unravel the structure divided by class struggle and repressed by bourgeois ideology. To-day’s liberal ideology regulates daily life and everyday political relations, determining what we can say and what counts as politically relevant, cutting through various territories of socio-political relationships. Hence, the relevance of the National Democratic Front’s slogan that the any country whatsoever suffers from the triple entente of Imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucrat capitalism is its capacity to transgress the coordinates of bourgeois liberal politics, unable it is to co-opt this slogan through the open exchange of discourses.

We must break down the territories of the political, set-up by neoliberalism to separate various sectors of socio-political life in its attempt to bureaucratize our everyday activities through the separation of private and public spheres, subjecting us to the mindless activities of everyday labor (and integrated through the quasi-religious activities to ensure our submission). To overturn liberalism is a return to the omnipresence of the political as the constant struggle set against neoliberalism.

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

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: Three Essays on Populism, Fascism, and the Politics of Inherent Transgression (Part 1 of 3)


My previous take on Rodrigo Duterte engaged in a usual psychoanalytic reading of his impact on Philippine democracy, engaging with Jessica Zafra’s naïve description; she claimed that our current situation is an id-ified politics where certain candidates embody the irrational desires of the people, acting as the externalization of our disappointments as such. However, I am more inclined to think that our current situation is simply a variation of rationalist politics, where we simply encounter the inherent transgression of liberal state democracy. At best, what we encounter with Duterte is not irrationality as such, but the expression of pragmatic rationality that our politically correct liberals have been attempting to repress.

I would admit that in the growing literature about to-day’s electoral politics will prompt us to take a more unusual stance; I do not like this usual fear about the emergence of fascism as a form of bribery to justify the status quo and the competence of the administration. In this case, I admire the radical left’s denunciation of Duterte wherein we do not argue for the decency one the other. Hence, to further expand the horizon of the first Duterte essay, I would express it in three themes: populism, fascism and the politics of inherent transgression. With that particular form in mind, I argue that we can understand the traumatic situation of our present predicament.

Democracies in the third world are always in crises specifically because of the intellectual emergence of going back to the pre-colonial identity and built the national discourse from there as a rejection of Western colonial mentality. The problems of the orient kindled by Western discourse of domination, hijacking the natural development of any nation or creating the present ethnic crises that made any form of authentic democracy impossible. Can we then possibly describe Philippine democracy as simply in crises, kindled by colonial antagonism? Here, I think we should proceed in the same manner as the National Democrats; colonialism, imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucrat capitalism are still evident in the economic conditions of any developing country and imperialist agendas continue to play as one of the antagonist agent of a country’s struggle for independence.

In the case of our present electoral events the candidates are mostly moving within the coordinates of satisfying the imperialist masters in allowing the unfettered entrance of foreign businesses to privatize the country under the illusion of GDP growth. Resistance to this trend however can be multi-faceted and the contradictory attitudes of Duterte can be described as a move to renormalize the crisis under the guise of a big political drama.


On Populism: Kindling the Mass Base

Philippine politics is a highly complicated affair as seen from its inherent family and gratitude centered politics. The common man cannot be simply convinced by educational attainment, but to the sincerity one gives to the masses. In every election, a candidate becomes prominent by its capability to incur mass support and mass appeal not for good platforms but on the sheer charisma of his cult. The charisma of such a personality is not based on the capability of the person, but simply on his social relations he keeps with the people. This is however a simplistic description that panders on the masses, seeing them simply as reacting to popularity culture rather than in the engagement of a proper democracy. Populism or the popularity trough an invocation of popular sentiment, highlighting simple problems as national problems is not a political expression of irrationality. Rather, populism is simply the expression of a disgruntled populace, finding a way to overcome the failure of a genuine emancipatory project.

In our present situation, the emergence of populism can be described as a form of resistance to bourgeois domination of the political sphere and the prescription that the masses are simply duped into something. For that specific reason, the very idea that there is a rational and irrational vote is way for the bourgeoisie to maintain its upper position in determining the validity of its public use of reason. Populist politics emerge specifically at this point in the attempt to counteract the bourgeois argument by kindling the mass base. In pure Habermasian terms, the communicative act of the populist leader is a way to collect the general disgruntlement of the other parts of the public sphere against those who might want to restrict discourse to a select expert bureaucracy. The populist candidate is simply the “subject supposed to know” our present situation, belonging to the masses and oftentimes engage in their own politically incorrect ways; behind every mass populism however is the latent class struggle appeal of its movements. In the case of Duterte, it is establishment candidates versus someone with no political machinery. During the candidacy of Erap, it was someone from the poor against the bourgeois candidates. However, it might sound as if a genuine class struggle is played out, but one can see the false manipulation of the class struggle discourse. One pursues an external enemy in the guise of the establishment, the calloused ones to the poor, et cetera. In this situation, the enemy is concrete and abstract at the same time as long as he is posited by the populist and exploited as the central node of his policy making.

Do we see this trend in Duterte? Filipino democratic discourse and debates seldom play the struggle strategy, but the supporters are the ones who fundamentally engaged in positing an external enemy. The enemy however in this case is not a person (like GMA in 2010), but a symptom, embodied in the petty criminals who disrupt everyday life. The popularity of enacting summary executions on petty criminals, the hard-hand tactics against drug abusers and pushers, etc. are posited under the basic assumption that getting rid of them would make the country livable for honest and decent citizens, without worrying about the bureaucratic judicial system. The temptation to reduce this belief into mere receding into an id-fication of the public completely misses the point. The tragic aspect of populist discourses is the complete externalization of the symptom, while at the same time argue that the people are pristine, corrupted by some parasitic external supplement that corrupts the honest good people of the nation.

Here, post-colonial discourses and populism intersect at the obscene assertion of an external enemy or supplement that corrupted the present state of things. Both colonialism and the symptom are posited as coming from outside the symbolic arrangement and that the solution is for the emergence of a new social national discourse that is more inclusive to the cultural aspects of our nation in order to unify with consideration for those who are excluded by the external enemy. Furthermore, the intersection of anti-colonial/post-colonial discourse and populist politics has always been practiced in this country and other Asian countries. The whole edifice of Ferdinand Marcos’ politics is the “Filipinization” effort, to create a distinct Filipino nation and identity. This tactic was so popular that the old Filipino Communist Party (the PKP not to be mistaken for the PKP-MLM, the Maoist breakaway group formed by Jose Maria Sison) agreed to collaborate with the Marcos regime and in turn be tolerated by the government as a prize for its silence and complacency (a tolerance that can also be seen in how the PCF and de Gaulle’s government worked together in suppressing the 1968 strike and student uprising). Filipinization and the “Revolution from the Center” (a concept proposed by Marcos as a compromise against communism and oligarchy, believed to have begun with the declaration of Martial Law) are perfect expressions to arrive with a truly ethnic democracy while at the same time establish a bureaucratic (crony) clique that replaced the comprador and oligarchy class with another set of comprador and bourgeois apparatchiks.

Populism for all its attempts to directly deal with the problems of the masses is simply a cover-up, replacing actual democratic action with the spectacle of struggle between pure honest people and the external parasitic symptom. Here lies the point I want to make in my previous Duterte essay, we do not encounter irrational politics here. I think this is rational politics at its purest that arguments have to be accompanied by a form of passion to supplement its effectiveness. Hence, the obscene effect of Chantal Mouffe’s agonistics is its compromising tone to sublimate the passions to the realm of democratic discourse.


Duterte: Three Essays on Populism, Fascism, and the Politics of Inherent Transgression (Part 1 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