THE year 2017 will be remembered as the year a mayor from Mindanao who surprisingly became President demolished long-held national political and cultural dogmas and myths, whose persistence has been a formidable obstacle to our growth as a nation—and yet he continued to be immensely popular.
First, Duterte demolished the dogma that a Philippine president and the Republic should consider the United States as its big white brother, that its national interests are our national interests. In our post-war history. Cory Aquino, her anointed, the West Point-trained Fidel Ramos, and her son Benigno III were totally subservient to the US, while the other two just paid lip service to the policy of undertaking an independent foreign policy.
In a period when the US maneuvered geopolitically and pressured Asian countries to isolate China for its alleged aggressiveness in the South China Sea, Duterte drew the country closer to the emerging Asian superpower, not just diplomatically but in terms of economic relationship.
He has managed to change Filipinos’ centuries-old anti-Chinese bias, with the nation now looking at China as its main trade partner and the funder for its much-needed infrastructure projects.
Part of the love-America dogma was that no president would remain popular—and would become ripe for overthrow—if he crossed the US overlords. The reasoning was that—in sharp contrast to our neighbors— probably nearly all of middle- and upper-class Filipinos have relatives who migrated to the US (or its sister country, Canada). Most of the masses on the other hand still dream of migrating to that land of milk and honey.
Duterte broke that myth, with his popularity even surging to a record 69 percent of Filipinos (based on the latest December polls) satisfied with his rule, a rise from his 65 percent grade when he assumed office in June 2016.
Second, Duterte broke the dogma that was the Spanish colonizers’ main tool for occupying a country which allowed them to deploy only a minimal military force: That the Catholic Church was God’s representative on earth, and rulers and the ruled must do what it says.
Well, it wasn’t just a lowly provincial friar that Duterte cursed, even if it was in jest. It was the Pope himself, the very representative of Jesus Christ on earth. And unlike the reason why my great-grandfather cursed the friar, Duterte cursed the beloved Pope Francis for the traffic he caused during his visit that made Duterte spend five hours in his car.
Because of that mortal sin against the Pope, the local Catholic Church has secretly labelled Duterte as the Anti-Christ and mobilized all but its archangels to rouse public opinion to overthrow him, using as its cause célèbre the “extrajudicial executions” issue in his war against drugs. Its two institutions for brainwashing our youth—the Ateneo de Manila and De La Salle universities—became the think-tanks for raining fire and brimstone on Duterte.
Duterte obviously has survived the Church’s war vs Duterte. The Church’s field marshal for this war, Archbishop Socrates Villegas—who saw Duterte as the Marcos that he, the new Cardinal Sin, would topple—is drifting to political oblivion and has even lost his main post as president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines. I can’t even remember the last press release of the moralistic churchgoers’ group, the pretentiously-named National Transformation Council. Its last posting on its official Facebook page was an article last month lifted from some crappy website about Duterte telling NDF consultants to surrender.
Third, Duterte has shattered the dogma that no Philippine president would get elected to the post, and survive for long without—or resist the bribery of—the oligarchy. His two main rivals to the presidency were heavily bankrolled by national oligarchs, competing for which of their factions would get their puppet to win. Duterte had only Davao-level rich businessmen to finance his campaign.
And his camp even exposed and prosecuted the illegality of the source of the wealth of a Davao billionaire who supported him in the elections.
Duterte in 2017 collected the unpaid taxes of Mighty Corp., the country’s second biggest cigarette manufacturer which had grown through all of the past post-war presidents. Think of “10 percent” of the taxes collected—P30 billion—and one would get a realistic idea of the billions of reasons why this tobacco oligarch survived all of the past presidencies. Think in the same way about the P6 billion the Duterte administration collected in unpaid navigational fees from Philippine Airlines, owned by once-powerful oligarch Lucio Tan.
Fourth, Duterte destroyed the dogma of the invincibility of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, which had claimed to be the torchbearer of the spirit of the glorious People Power Revolution. No president since 1986 dared cross the paper. Duterte went for the jugular: He pursued the illegal hold of the newspaper’s owners, the Rufino-Prieto family over the MileLong property in the lucrative commercial district of Makati, kicking the clan out of the area last September, and is pursuing the collection of P1.8 billion in unpaid rentals.
(Unfortunately though, the Bureau of Internal Revenue’s bureaucrats—or grafters—reportedly have ignored their boss, and are on the brink of reducing the tax liabilities of the Rufino-Prietos’ Dunkin Donuts’ company to just P20 million, a preposterous amount compared to the P1.5 billion that Duterte himself had publicly claimed it owed government since 2007. )
Fifth, Duterte has destroyed the myth that the Yellow Cult has been God’s gift of governance to the Philippines. That shattered myth has remarkably persisted that even somebody whose job is to study governance in the country, one Richard Heydarian—who boasts in his biodata that he is a regular contributor to Centre for Strategic and International Studies, the Council on Foreign Relations, and a dozen other US media outfits—idolizes the cult’s leader Benigno Aquino 3rd to this day.
In his recent 100-page “book” released late last year, Heydarian wrote: “Aquino was arguably the best president in recent memory…As popular as Aquino was at home he was even a bigger celebrity outside, especially to the global media-business complex. Under his watch, the Philippines [transformed]from a developing country into a full-fledged emerging market.”
Heydarian is a sloppy scholar but a prolific writer who impresses foreign editors who know little about the Philippines by quoting other scholarly works at the rate of one every two paragraphs. However, his gall in continuing to idolize Aquino indicates how persistent the Yellow myth is.
By simply ignoring the Aquinos, allowing what they detested most, which was to allow the dictator Marcos’ burial at the National Heroes Cemetery, and governing the Philippines in way that highlighted Aquino 3rd’s do-nothing, care-about-nothing rule, Duterte has started to bury this myth of the Yellow Cult that US State Department operators created in 1986 and has nurtured since. The Yellow Cult’s excrements — such as the Mamapasano massacre, the Dengvaxia debacle, the hijacking of government funds — have floated to the surface for the public to be aghast over.
This list of dogmas and myths that Duterte destroyed is certainly incomplete. But with his demolition of just those five that have obstructed the Philippines’ growth as a nation, I have become optimistic about this land’s future.