After Senator Leila de Lima, Senator Trillanes now seems next in line for Malacañang’s retaliatory moves against prominent critics.
In both cases, the purposive arbitrariness of Malacañang has been on full display. In De Lima’s case, intimate sexual relations — otherwise deemed personal and beyond the scope of state encroachment — were highlighted. In Trillanes’ case, procedural technicality was invoked. This recent move is clearly suspect, not only because revoking amnesties has never been done before but also because Trillanes was not the only military officer involved in the mutiny/amnesty being questioned. Why then were the other mutineers such as Nicanor Faeldon (now part of Duterte’s government) spared from the same fate? Malacañang’s issue thus is not the mutiny or the amnesty, but Trillanes himself. In the vernacular, we have a term for this: “hinanapan lang ng butas.”
In a democracy, no one is supposed to be penalized for holding and expressing his or her political beliefs. This latest episode thus begs the question: Are we now under a dictatorship? Is Rodrigo Duterte a resurrected Ferdinand Marcos?
The demobilization of the opposition through force is often the distinguishing mark of a dictatorship. Such demobilization also happens in democracies, but in dictatorships, it is done through illegitimate or duplicitous, coercive means.
According to Mark R. Thompson in his 1995 book The Anti-Marcos Struggle: Personalistic Rule and Democratic Transition in the Philippines, “Marcos demobilized much of the traditional opposition by abolishing Congress; shuttering pro-opposition newspapers, radio stations, and television stations; banning demonstrations; and imprisoning many leaders of the opposition.”
Similar developments have taken place: (i) while Duterte has not abolished Congress, he has captured the legislature through a “supermajority” in the House of Representatives and the removal and/or weakening of opponents in the Senate, (ii) Duterte has also tried to “shutter” media institutions such as Rappler, ABS-CBN and Inquirer, (iii) Senator de Lima has been in jail for one and a half years and Senator Trillanes’ arrest now seems forthcoming, and (iv) Duterte’s intervention in the Judiciary has also been revealed in the ouster of Chief Justice Sereno through a quo warranto. Moreover, just like Marcos, Duterte has been looking to the military and the police as a base of support.
Both Marcos and Duterte also made/make use of “enemies” as mobilizing factors. Communists for Marcos, drug users and pushers for Duterte. Consolidating around enemies was/is the way by which these leaders separate/d the grain from the chaff: those who did/do not acknowledge the (identified) “enemies of the state” are also their (Marcos’s and Duterte’s) enemies.
Marcos’s type of dictatorship, prevalent in the ‘70s — the kind that demobilizes traditional opposition and directs and mobilizes the political apparatuses of the state to centralize power in a military junta or a “strongman” — has been labelled by some scholars, most notably by the Argentinian political scientist Guillermo O’Donnell, as “bureaucratic authoritarianism.”
In the regimes between Marcos and Duterte, demobilization of the opposition also happened but it came in the form of capturing hitherto opposition forces through material inducements and political horsetrading (e.g pork barrel). What sets Duterte apart from these regimes and makes him more similar to Marcos is his use of force to quell dissent and mobilize support.
All this has fostered a politics of fear and a culture of violence — exactly what Marcos built and what Duterte is now rebuilding. In Marcos’s time, this kind of politics and culture resulted in more than 70,000 imprisonments, 34,000 torture victims and 3,240 deaths (as per Amnesty International). In Duterte’s time, the number is just as alarming: more than 20,000 deaths. The dominance of fear and violence makes Duterte’s regime a de facto dictatorship — even without the Marcos-style proclamation of martial law.
One observable difference between the Marcos and Duterte regimes is the level of political cohesion within their ranks. Marcos’s Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL) was monolithic. Meanwhile, Duterte’s PDP-Laban — the once irrepressible opposition party that challenged the Marcos dictatorship — has splintered into factions. Very recently, we saw — on national TV — the in-fighting between Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Pantaleon Alvarez for the House Speakership post. Before that, we saw the political skirmish between Alvarez and presidential daughter-Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, between Alvarez and Congressman Floirendo, and, between Congressman Fariñas and the Marcoses. Even on the federalism issue, we see a divide between Duterte’s political operators and his economic managers.
While Duterte’s camp lacks political cohesion from within, it has something that Marcos did not have: a massive, popular support base. Thus, while Marcos was “bureaucratic authoritarian,” Duterte has been labeled as “populist authoritarian.” Duterte may not have a KBL (although Sara Duterte’s Hugpong is probably on its way to becoming a KBL) but he has the DDS and a number of Mocha Usons in and outside of government.
The presence of these supporters creates a semblance of democracy and this, in turn, provides justification for the Duterte camp to deny any suggestion that Duterte is indeed dictatorial. For them, the DDS are an indicator of inclusion and pluralism, not dictatorship.
Duterte’s supporters are, in fact, active, not passive — owing in large part to the effectiveness of the rhetoric and imaging that Duterte has been carrying. Unlike Marcos who presented himself (and Imelda) as some sort of royalty, Duterte has projected himself as hoi polloi — no different than the common tao (common man, to be exact). His manner of dressing, speaking/cursing are all tailor-fitted to that image. Even his rape jokes are presented as ordinary or commonplace.
Despite this rhetoric and imaging, Duterte is actually surrounded by rich business people more than “ordinary people.” This alliance with the elite (most likely the elite displaced by the previous government) is something that Duterte has in common with Marcos. In both cases, the preference for the elite and the middle class and the disregard for the lower classes (the poorest of the poor) are apparent — in practice.
From the lens of class, Marcos and Duterte are thus comparable. From the lens of human rights, they too are comparable although the institutional-structural violence under Marcos was more pronounced and visible (given also the length of the Marcos dictatorship). From the lens of gender rights, Duterte is the worse dictator.
The question of “who is better/worse” may actually not be the most essential of public conversations. What we probably need are long conversations on why we keep on producing leaders with very authoritarian ways.
I see at least two reasons why: (i) because, after Marcos, our fundamental political-economic structure remained unchanged in the sense that sections of society were always excluded — and these sections readily serve/d as potential/actual base for whoever promises social inclusion, and (ii) our social institutions — our families, schools, churches, social and political movements — are highly hierarchical and undemocratic; we have no culture of democracy; dictatorial rule is thus always a temptation.
Marcos and Duterte may not necessarily be of the same mold, but dictatorship, regardless of “type,” is always damaging to a nation’s political development, economic potential and societal fabric. And the damage is always deep, multi-dimensional and far-reaching.
The best analogy I can think of is rape. No matter the circumstances, the effect of rape is always the same: human and societal brokenness. Hindi mahalaga kung sa talahiban o sa kwarto nangyari ang rape, kung kakilala o di kakilala ang rapist, kung bata o matanda ang na-rape, kung “mabait” o sira-ulo ang nang-rape, kung “malaswa” o mala-birhen ang na-rape o kung maganda o pangit.
Rape is rape. Dictatorship is dictatorship.
Carmel V. Abao is a faculty member of the Political Science Dept of the Ateneo de Manila University. She teaches political theory and international political economy.