April 25, 2019
(The last part of the paper I will be reading at the annual conference of the Philippine Political Science Association that should have been held today, April 25, in Clark, Pampanga, but was postponed to May 28 due to the earthquake.)
THE conferment of the status of a counter-ideology on Rodrigo Duterte is clearly expressed in the manner in which political discourse emerged in social media, where reason, logic and sense of kapwa or shared self are all subverted and challenged by those who seek to rationalize him. Thus, we see people disagreeing with his stance on China, even as he gets a high level of trust from them. He curses the Catholic Church and even God, displays acts that can be interpreted as misogyny, and blurt out the seemingly indecent, bizarre and irrational, yet he remains popular to a loyal base that has elevated him to a hegemon.
This is what is called by elite intellectuals the likes of Randy David and John Nery as “Dutertismo,” except that they deploy the label to malign an organic ideology by focusing only on its dark side. It therefore reveals its agenda of being a scholarly taking down by the elites of an organic ideology.
However, while elitist intellectualism may indeed blacken the logic of Duterte’s wide support from the masses, there is in fact basis to fear the consequences of what others commit as an idolatrous attachment to his narrative. The way his loyal followers suspend their logic and rationality offers the same danger which ideologies have brought in history. Blind loyalty is the very substrate that made people cheer on as charismatic and populist tyrants officiated over the mass murder of their own subjects. It is the same logic that makes people suspend their politics in exchange for some comfort over a President they trust will bring change.
What the elite intellectuals who coined “Dutertismo” are guilty of is when they appropriated scholarly logic into what is obviously a partisan agenda. What is wanting is an objective look into the various themes that attend the evolution of Duterte as an ideology, and the implications of this to the process of destabilizing grand narratives of Philippine politics. Specifically, what are the implications on the establishment of our sense of being a nation, and the way we define ourselves vis-à-vis our multiple identities, of a kind of politics that inverts, ignores, trashes or silences well-established political ethical and moral norms? This politics divides instead of unites, and whose main logic is drawn from a confrontation with and/or hatred of the political opposition, the traditional foreign allies, and our political and social institutions.
In the end, the blind loyalty of the Duterte political base ends up being theorized by elite intellectuals from a lens that is tainted by the biases of their own politics, no matter how hard they try to paint it as scholarly neutral. Thus, the ideology that is Duterte is sustained by a blindly loyal base of support and an equally blindly partisan base of criticism.
It is certainly depressing when otherwise intelligent people are lost in the rage of their political biases. We see the spectacle of people who should know better turn into uncritical apologists for the President. We look at the result of surveys telling us that people do not trust China that they even support the move to take our case against Chinese incursion into the West Philippine Sea to the ICC, yet we also see people overwhelmingly trust the President.
And the cognitive dissonance infects even the elite intellectuals who thrive on the logic of critical thinking where judgment is supposed to be formed only after weighing all sides of a story. Yet, they obviously depart from this ethos when they fail to take into account the other side of the Duterte narrative, when they actively propagate a partisan bias not only in their pedagogy but also in their academic politics. It is damning to witness political scientists who on camera and in conferences proclaim neutrality and objectivity about President Duterte, but whose actions and discourses in real time embody their manifest biases against him.
This is what has become of “Dutertismo.” It is a phenomenon that exists and should be understood because there is empirical evidence to back it up with narratives of how Duterte is propped up by what is increasingly becoming an irrational, angry, confrontational political base. The implications these may bring to a post-Duterte Philippines may be as damaging. What we have always taken as our silent ideology, our sense of community which keeps us intact despite the many crises we have suffered nurtured by our ethos of kapwa, is now being threatened by a highly divisive politics that is whipped up by blind loyalty and blind hatred. The unity of the body politic is being torn asunder not by adherence to some textual manifestos written by dead white men, but by the personalistic positions taken vis-à-vis a living President treated like a blessing by some and a curse by others. And as such, the stakes become more intense and more personal.
Yet, the challenge to understanding this phenomenon labeled as “Dutertismo” is compromised by the fact that those who have the wherewithal and ideally would have been better placed to conduct these inquiries suffer the handicap of being unable to study the phenomenon without their political anti-Duterte blinders. There are very few scholars, artists and academics who can navigate the challenge of understanding Duterte as ideology from a purely academic enterprise. No one is completely objective and detached. Including myself.
And this is the ultimate power of the ideology that Duterte has become. There is no other way except to take a partisan position. Critical thinking is mortally wounded. It is an entrapment. You either become a blind critic or a blind loyalist. And those like me who attempt to escape the dualism are doomed to be perpetually misunderstood.
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