Social media is a bitch for real writers. Because the act of real writing is about separating one's views from others, distilling them in ways that are not instantly popular. Gaming headlines or content to gain views is just that. Hard truths have never been easy to arrive at or convey (some say that when you reach a truth the ground has already shifted––same reason we can never achieve enlightenment).
There is so much more to life than promotion. The fact that I'll get about 200 unique readers and 600 views over the same time period on EnduranceWriter suggests that actively continuing the blog site is the way to go. Thanks gentle readers, for providing me a potential pathway toward changing the world.
Here, two days late, the latest piece of writing to go where paid journalism dares not. To the truth as I see it.
As an aside, my Quezon City dentist and German drummer friend Nils Sens, an old Asia hand, was so enervated by the piece he sent an excited missive to the NY Times lauding my talents "Writer Damon Shulenberger has INSIDE VIEW on Duterte's Philippines." Pat on the back aside, I guess this is the type of reader (and friend) I appreciate.
Update - The day after this piece came out Duterte apologized "profoundly" for his equivocation of his anti-drug mission to Adolf Hitler's mad killing of (what Duterte estimated) as 3 million souls. I guess my basic reading of the Duterte's strategy and viewpoint was reinforced here. (The fact that the new glocks he has ordered for his country's entire police force are coming from Israel may also be an influencing factor in this retraction).
Ah, but who am I to say what should be? My impression is that Duterte is an old hand, the type that traditionally does business in coastal areas. No one has ever compared him to Hitler seriously — they know the anarchy of everyday life for so many in the Philippines, amidst a sense of just hanging on to survive. Among the barkada, language is regularly peppered with crudities that would make a saint blush.
Filipinos do not know much about Hitler. He is so opposite of their values, in left field. They would never vote for a President who made them work too much, or told them what to think. I mean what the fuck? The Filipinos do not even have a word for that.
As Duterte sees it, in his anti-drug campaign he is only borrowing from the regional Thai and Indonesian playbook of harsh penalties for hard drugs. Duterte sees what he is doing as about ending the country’s reputation as a soft target in the region. Drug operations I guess got introduced from multiple directions — I am no expert, but the problem was pretty widespread. People you wouldn’t expect. And the sense of the Philippines as country of warrior-like––but basically gentle––people changed overnight to one of crazy people. The international shady set had got a foothold.
The masses understand what Duterte says, because he says it in their vernacular. In some sense, any person with the balls to be ready for heavy blowback from the establishment could have done what he did — get elected against corrupt money interests (a legacy, ironically, of the autocratic Marcos family).
To understand Duterte you must realize that he comes from a law background and that his father was intimately tied as an attorney to the Marcos family (Ferdinand Marcos was also a lawyer). This is part of the reason for his views — he was one of those who saw the bright sunshine of the Marcos system, the progress aspect.
As I see it, and I did stand at the periphery of some Duterte election rallies, observing rowdy exhortations in between songs by a country rock band, he is loved because he shoots straight in his unspeakably rude way. With a serious message — the ordinary Filipinos (if not the Badjao or Ati), have woken up to the fact that they––as have-nots––have a ballot box advantage.
Call it the moment of realization that Bernie Sanders almost convinced enough American voters he stood for. Trump stole that thunder, though he did so for the wrong reasons. This is not to lighten what extrajudicial killings represent––Duterte is worse than Trump in certain ways, though not nearly so unnervingly influential on the stage that we call World.
In his own mind, Duterte is determined to make the country come to heel to a new social reality, in which produced value is shared with the ordinary people. A concept of power less tied to indolent and often ostentatious wealth, and more tied to the will of the people. In which multinational mining companies don’t come in and wipe clean the virgin Mindanao environment (silver lining playbook).
Beyond the human rights questions of extrajudicial slayings, which I have been pondering on deeply and with real apprehension, the realpolitik question involves whether laying the groundwork for martial law benefits anyone’s real interests. The risks of fascism resist easy categorization. A glock in every police officer’s hands makes me suspect that the criminals will soon be carrying glocks as well. And then who to differentiate?
As messy as it is, democracy works — this is why Duterte is now president and recognized by other sovereign countries as leader. To disrupt the status quo for too long, with even not-serious shout outs to crazy rulers, risks bringing back the specter of leaders with absolute power. This is paradoxical because Duterte is dependent on a democratic system (with the basic human rights guarantees that this implies) in maintaining a high-profile status in the region.
There is no doubt that the Philippines (as reflected, again, in the votes of poverty-threatened masses) is feeling shortchanged by capitalism and in the short term China, a trading society with traditional roots in the region, has renewed friendship potential. The question is how far they take their game — if the two superpowers can coexist here then we have a new regional stasis.**
My only question is why Duterte feels so impelled to thrust the Philippines so quickly in certain directions. He bases it, I am guessing, on his no holds-barred style, which went down so well in war-torn Davao. It’s like a fighter who remembers only the fights of the past and pushes on in life as if was still in the ring, in constant threat and danger. Duterte for all the barbarism of his approach to crime — which mimics that of the ruthless organizations the was up against — actually forged a working dialogue between Muslims, Christians, and Communists — this requires sophisticated knowledge of human behavior, I am told.
From the view of a world citizen the rise of Duterte is troubling, but it does not end my interest in the country. I respect that each country has its views and cultural peculiarities. I do not judge, but I can respectfully disagree. Duterte sprung up in the Philippine imagination because of the Internet-fanned realization that the 99 percent had been had. If you ask anyone whether the Philippines is corrupt, they look at you like you asked whether the sky is red or blue.
**Stasis is always better than the alternative, war. From a fabric perspective, if any society can practice sustainability it may be one-child policy China, keeping in mind the sobering lessons of what overdevelopment wreaks. If Singapore (and Hong Kong?) is a bell weather, there is hope. Advanced thinkers in the Eastern Hemisphere are working very hard on sustainability, to the point of designing negative-emissions cities.