So-called Dutertards are often accused of drinking the Kool-Aid, the idiomatic expression used to mean the absolute internalization of a doctrine or complete fixation upon something or someone to the point that no possible flaw or fallibility can be attributed to it.
Drinking the Kool-Aid means losing sensible or critical thinking; the phrase’s origins in a real-life cult mass suicide is the most tragic example of this. But with regard to Kool-Aid drinking, right now it’s not so much the Dutertards I am concerned about as I am about Rodrigo Duterte himself.
Though said after his official State of the Nation Address had ended, it is still in heat of his tirade against the Left that Duterte unflinchingly called for the bombing of Lumad communities and schools as he promised to strengthen the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
In the press conference after the SONA, Duterte was recorded to say: “Those Lumad schools, those are operating without the Department of Education’s permit. Because their schools are teaching subversion, communism… So you better leave. I’m telling the Lumad right now, leave. I will bomb [your place]. I will include your structures. I will use the Armed Forces, the Philippine Air Force.”
It is clear from this pronouncement, and others afterward that Duterte has drunk the Kool-Aid of the rightest-most wing of the Armed Forces and of administrations past that anyone with a grievance with the government (particularly the Lumad and their schools and communities) are “enemies of the state” that deserve to be bombed, to be assaulted by the Armed Forces that he has so proudly declared will receive his unwavering support in all forms.
It is dismaying that Duterte is now brandishing this anti-Lumad schools line, when his entire campaign and persona was built upon his being Mindanawon, and Dabawenyo at that. His own son Paulo Duterte had been to the evacuation center in Haran. He would have been more than welcome to visit at any of these community schools.
It is infuriating that Duterte is now brandishing this line, with the matching bombast of the zealotous convert. Just as fanatical are his underlings who went on an emboldened spree against small-time criminals and suspected drug users when, for example, Duterte first declared the war against drugs. Every minute that Duterte does not detract his statement, he has allowed more time for preparing for his “commands” to be carried out.
But there is something more potent and poisonous in the President’s drink that has more far-reaching consequences. This issue of red-tagging communities and individuals is a particular consequence of the President imbibing a political viewpoint no different than that of other traditional politicians gone before him, a political viewpoint whose ingredients are a bald fixation upon electoral votes, a sense of leadership and power centered upon himself, and, as if as a dark underside of that mystified sense of pop-votes and pop-ego, dependence upon the full force and machinery of the military.
All three were present during the SONA. Recall how Duterte taunted the Left in his SONA that they had never won any popular election. Though this taunt laughably comes back at him (as he fails to see that first, revolutionary movements do not mean to “win elections”, and that second, the guns, goons and gold way to win seats in Philippine government should hardly be a more preferable method of effecting change), it has shown us how important the popular count is for Duterte as the proof of political validity and power. It should be no wonder, after all, as he has never lost in any election he has run. If Duterte has anything close to what we could call faith, it is completely understandable that he would wholeheartedly place it there.
It is this “popularity” which perhaps gives Duterte the fervent sense of self-assurance to assume all duty and responsibility to himself and to himself alone. In the SONA, Duterte claims in advance all the miscarriages of justice done under his Martial Law declaration. Afterwards, speaking on the SONA protest stage, he appealed that he be given more time, free from the interference of civil society and the progressive movement, in order to accomplish what he wants to do.
Such moments may have been intended by Duterte to project his leadership, but they instead come off as resoundingly hollow. With regard to this first, while we certainly want accountable leaders, this self-imposed burden feels less a sacrifice for justice than a free pass for his troops, a guarantee that they will not be punished. With regard to the second, as Teddy Casino said, it is not the pacing of the programs that is the problem, it is the direction of the programs that is the problem. In this regard the Left has not been remiss in extending a helping hand precisely so that Duterte would not have to go it alone. In the legal arena, they have taken up the challenge of having members in the Cabinet and in crafting pro-people legislation. Those in the armed underground have even offered military assistance in the fight against terrorism during the Marawi siege.
But still, the people he has turned to instead are his now much-pinalangga Armed Forces, to whom he has promised more incentives, more benefits, more arms, and much more leeway of authority under Martial Law.
These three show that the President has clearly imbibed and digested the Kool-Aid of the traditional politician, of the worst, authoritarian type. Not only has he parroted the line of the AFP and the increasing number of militaristic elements in his government with regard to the Leftist progressive movement, but he is in line to become just the latest in a long line of traditional-politician presidents, electoral system dogmatists, military panderers, self-fashioned saviors, dictators.
What to do now? Ah, but Duterte is a politician after all, and with all the attendant limitations. These limitations will make him say and do things that are detrimental to the welfare of the most marginal among us, which should continue to properly be met by criticism and demands for accountability.
But to the credit of the early months of the regime and whatever progressive relations had existed prior to Duterte’s drinking of the Kool-Aid, the window opened for discussing and campaigning for social reform, national industrialization, the peace talks, environmental protection, and an independent foreign policy has more fully opened, and must, as much as possible, not be allowed to be shut again.
What should be done then is that the drumbeating of the banner calls of the Comprehensive Agreement of Socio-Economic Reforms be intensified. Alongside the passionate criticism of heads of state that the Left is known for, the opportunity to just as fervidly push for genuine socio-economic alternatives is here.