Sonny Melencio: A dangerous situation in the Philippines

Talk presented by Sonny Melencio (right) at the opening session of the National Conference Against Dictatorship (NCAD), Benitez Hall, UP Diliman, July 20, 2017. July 25, 2017 
— Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from Ang Masa Para sa Sosyalismo - Online — This is an initiative appropriate to the times. President Duterte has just confirmed that he’s raring to establish a dictatorship. He wants to extend martial law in Mindanao until December this year. And his chuwariwariwap boys in Congress had agreed to this. And now even Vice Leni said don’t be suspicious of his intentions, because he’s out to do good. Seems like he’s out to no good for me. A few days ago, Duterte got an 82% approval rating from the Pulse Asia survey. His highest so far. There was a lot of questions about this survey. The survey was conducted from June 24 to 29. You know what these dates are? These are when President Duterte has gone missing for a week. No one knew where he was at that time. So does this mean people approve of him while he’s missing and not doing anything? It seems people had enough of him, and voted for a peace of mind.

Martial law dictatorship

I know most of you are too young to experience a full-blown dictatorship. I lived and struggled through that, and at an early age like you today, at 22, I was abducted by the fascist constabulary forces, and was kept at a military safehouse where I was repeatedly tortured, day in and day out. I survived that, through a daring escape that led me back to the underground movement where I and several young people continued an unrelenting struggle against the dictatorship. After that, the rest is history. But it is a history in a blur. Marcos was ousted through a people’s uprising called the Edsa 1 Revolution. The people came and mobilized in their millions. But it was hijacked by the representatives of elite classes we now call the Yellows. The Edsa regimes soon came one after the other in rapid succession. Each one was a caricature of the previous one. There was the Edsa 2 Revolution. This was not against a dictatorship, but it was against a corrupt president, Erap. The people came and mobilized again in their millions. But it was hijacked again by the representatives of the elite classes whose leader, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, became the second most corrupt president of the Philippines after Marcos. In case you don’t remember, there was an Edsa Tres. It is important to remember this, because it seems to be the precursor of what brought us to where we are today. Edsa 3 highlighted the disenchantment of the poor to the elite and elitist rule. This Edsa was not hijacked by the ruling class, because it was stirred up by a faction of the ruling class itself. One after another, elite trapos came at Edsa Shrine and urged the poor masses to revolt and reinstall Erap to power. And on a humid dawn on May 1, they marched to Malacanang where they tried to scale the gates of the palace, and were massacred by the presidential guards, the marines and the police. No one knew how many of them died… Noynoy Aquino’s rule was the final nail in the yellow coffin. This regime was also popular when it came to power. But it squandered everything as it continued with its neoliberal schemas under a “Daang Matuwid” propaganda. It refused to see what was coming, that the people had enough. In the 2016 elections, 16 million voted for Duterte, a clear repudiation of the yellow fever that engulfed the nation after the downfall of Marcos in 1986. We are now at a stage where history seems to repeat itself. But like what Karl Marx said, history repeats itself -- first as a tragedy, second as a farce. The tragedy was the martial law regime of Marcos. What is farcical about the Duterte regime is that it aims to copy the Marcos rule. Duterte is himself a caricature of Marcos. Unlike Marcos, who rose to national politics at an early age, Duterte does not come from the traditional national oligarchy. Duterte is a warlord, part of those political creatures who have been in the periphery of Philippine politics for a long time. They and their clans control LGUs in their provinces and regions, and what differentiates them from other traditional politicians is their private armies and death squads, or their use of violence to perpetuate their rule. Duterte is only one of them. There are the Dys in Isabela; the Fariñases and the Marcoses in Ilocos; the Josons in Nueva Ecija; the Yaps in Escalante, Negros; the Ampatuans in Maguindanao; and so on and so forth.

The foundation of Duterte’s popularity

But we have to account for Duterte’s popularity too. He’s still quite popular among the masses. Or among the middle classes who seem to tolerate what he’s doing. This is where he is usually likened to Hitler. But contrary to Hitler’s appeal to the nationalist sentiments of the German masses to bring them to his Fascist program in the late 1930s, Duterte does not project nationalism. He is even seen to have abandoned the claim to the West Philippine Sea and is openly cavorting with China. The war in Mindanao is also not about nationalism. It is chauvinism against the Muslims and the Moros.

So how does Duterte manage to get support from the masses?

Duterte is using fear as a weapon to win support from the masses. For Duterte, there are only two groups of enemies who made miserable the lives of the masses. One is the durugista, who will rape and kill your daughters and rob you of all your hard-earned assets. The other is the terorista, who is a Moro and a Muslim responsible for the war in Mindanao. It’s as simple as Hitler’s identification of the Jews as the enemy of the German people and of all other races. If you believe these, then you would believe that salvation can only come through the total annihilation of the durugista and the terorista. Never mind about other social problems which beget the crisis of drugs and terrorism itself.

Psychology of fascism

A well-known psychoanalyst and Marxist writer Wilhelm Reich wrote a book entitled The Mass Psychology of Fascism. In it he said: Fascism as a political movement differs from other reactionary parties in that it is supported and championed by masses of people. Fascism is not, as is generally believed, a purely reactionary movement; rather, it is a mixture of rebellious emotions and reactionary social ideas. So there is a psychology of fascism. Although it is yet to evolve into a movement, fascist ideas already hang in the air. Duterte makes use of the masses’ rebellious emotions while enunciating more and more reactionary social ideas. Duterte makes use of the masses disenchantment with the rule of Yellow forces, but in the same breath, praises the martial rule of Marcos. Duterte denounces terrorism that claims the lives of Bangsamoro in Marawi, but in the same breath, indicts all the Moros and Muslims for instigating terrorism in Mindanao.

How do we stop Duterte, how do we stop dictatorship?

I agree with you that the project today is a coalition against dictatorship, a united front against dictatorship. But it has to go beyond that. This is the lesson that we, as survivors of martial law and as veterans of the anti-dictatorship struggle, have come to know. We can have a broad united front against dictatorship, but it doesn’t say much about the alternatives. We can frustrate the march towards dictatorship, but are we ready to accept the recapture of power of the traditional elite and yellow forces? If we do not, then we have to agree on a clear political program that expounds our demands and aspirations as an independent force from the traditional and elite political forces.

Dangerous situation

I will end this talk with a comment on where we are at this juncture of history. We are in a very dangerous and alarming situation. Duterte has tasted martial law and he wants more. Duterte has polluted both houses of Congress and made them his rubber stamp. He controls and pampers the police as his killing force in his war on drugs against the poor. He made the army do his bidding in Mindanao but only in the sense that he puts them in command. The AFP is Duterte’s weak spot. It is the only consolidated and well-organized force within the regime that can contest Duterte’s rule if it wants to. It might, in the near future – either as a reaction to Duterte’s rhetoric against their US masters, or as an opportunity opened up by Duterte’s early demise due to ill health. A number of generals have already remarked, “If the civilian government cannot do it, then we’ll do it.” I think these generals want to emulate Thailand when the military took over after the disarray in civilian government. We are not in a revolutionary situation. But two of its main characteristics are already in place. One is that the ruling class cannot rule in the old way, and two, that the masses do not want to be ruled in the old way. Duterte came to power because the traditional ruling elite could not rule in the old way. The yellow elite forces are quickly disintegrating and have managed to conserve themselves by amalgamating with Duterte and his ruling party. The masses have clearly repudiated the old elite forces. What is missing then is the upsurge of people’s direct actions in the streets. There are glimpses of it but it could not be sustained. On the other hand, if Duterte dies today, or is incapacitated in whatever way, I don’t think the masses will want to revert back to the old way. I don’t think they will accept another yellow rule. So among the Left, which are neither pro-Duterte nor yellow, nor hampered by political compromises, there is a lot of opportunity to build a new movement. The time is ripe for a mass-based political alternative that is composed of all sectors, sections, classes, and movements hankering for a system change in society today. Thank you very much. Mabuhay kayong lahat! Sonny Melencio is the Chairperson of PLM (Partido Lakas ng Masa)