Anti-empire ‘bandido’ Duterte raids from the boondocks
Convert the island of Samar into “a howling wilderness.” General Jacob Smith ordered his troops in revenge for the ambush of fifty-four soldiers by Filipino revolutionaries in September 1901. After the carnage, three bells from the Balangiga Church were looted as war trophies. Few in the U.S. know this. Nor would they have any clue about the 1913 massacre of thousands of Muslim women, men and children resisting General Pershing’s army in Mindanao where President Rodrigo Duterte today resides.
Addressing this dire amnesia afflicting the public, Duterte began the task of invoking the accursed past. He assumed the role of oral tribune, with prophetic expletives. Like the guerillas of Generals Lukban and Malvar who retreated to the mountains (called “boondocks” by American pursuers from the Tagalog “bundok,” mountain) and condemned as “bandidos,” Duterte seems to be performing the task of reclaiming the collective dignity of the heathens— eulogized by Rudyard Kipling, at the start of the Filipino-American War (1899-1913) in February 1899, as “the white men’s burden.”
At least 1.4 million Filipinos died from the President McKinley’s scorched-earth policy. His armed missionaries were notorious for Vietnam-style “hamletting.” They also practised the “water-cure,” or “water-boarding,” torture now legitimized in a genocidal war of terror (Iraq, Afghanistan) that recalls the ruthless suppression of Native American tribes and dehumanization of African slaves in the westward march of the “civilizing Krag” to the Chinese market.
U.S. “tutelage” served as a laboratory for crafting methods of surveillance, “brain-washing,” propaganda, and other modes of covert and overt pacification. Mass arrests of dissidents, torture and assassination of “bandits” protesting landlord abuses and bureaucratic corruption led to large-scale killing of peasants and workers in numerous Colorum and Sakdalista uprisings. Today the struggle at Standing Rock and Black-Lives-Matter are timely reminders of that “first Vietnam.” This pattern of racialized class/national oppression via elections and disciplinary pedagogy culminated in the Cold War apparatus devised by CIA agent Edward Lansdale and Magsaysay’s technocrats to suppress the Huk rebellion.
The Cold-War Leviathan continued to operate in the savage bloodletting during the Marcos dictatorship. The Marcos family was rescued by President Reagan. After Marcos’ death, the family and the despot’s cadaver were allowed by Fidel Ramos to return. Given the re-installment of the feudal-comprador elite due partly to the failure of progressive forces to educate and organize the masses, the Marcos family recovered institutional power. The reactionary Supreme Court justices and Duterte’s link to the Marcoses are a symptom of fierce internecine conflict within the oligarchic bloc. It fosters sectarian partisanship and opportunist fantasies. The controversy over Marcos’ burial cannot be fully assayed without factoring in this conjunctural crisis the role of patronage-clientelism syndrome and the U.S.-oriented bureaucratic-military apparatus of a decadent oligarchic elite.
US Cold War Realpolitik defined Corazon Aquino’s “total war” against nationalists, Igorots, Lumads—all touted by Washington/World-Bank/IMF consensus as the price for enjoying individualist prerogatives, especially the right to gamble in the capitalist casino. U.S.-subsidized counterinsurgency schemes continue to prolong the moribund status quo plagued by seemingly durable disparity of wealth and power. This monstrosity is being challenged by the communist and Bangsa Moro insurgencies with whose leadership Duterte is trying to negotiate a peace deal.
Duterte reacted to Obama’s scolding with a declaration to “separate” from US hegemony. Not a single mass-media article on Duterte’s intent to forge an independent foreign policy and solve corruption linked to narcopolitics, provides even an iota of historical background on the US record of colonial subjugation. This is not strange, given the long history of Filipino “miseducation” documented by Renato Constantino. The dismissal of the collective experience is due to the unconscionable glorification of America’s success in inducing the natives to speak English, worship the “American Way of Life,” and indulge in ersatz consumerism.
What is scandalous is the complicity of the U.S. intelligentsia in sanctifying corporate barbarism. Every time the Filipino essence is tagged as violent, foolish, cunning, etc., the evidence cites the careers of iconic landlord-politician, bureaucrat, savvy merchant, or rich entrepreneur. Unequal groups dissolve into these select representative types: Quezon, Magsaysay, etc. What seems self-incriminatingly ironic is that after a century of massive analysis of the colony’s underdevelopment, we have to tolerate Stanley Karnow’s verdict that, really, the Filipinos and their character deficits are to blame for their poverty and backwardness, for not being smart beneficiaries of American “good works.” “F—ck you,” Duterte might respond.
An avalanche of media commentaries, disingenuously claiming to be objective news reports, followed Duterte’s campaign to eradicate rampant drug addiction. No need to cite statistics about the criminality of narcopolitics blighting the nation, from slum-dwellers to Senators and moguls. Without any judicious assaying of reports of EJKs (extra-judicial killings), mainstream media concluded that Duterte’s policy—based on his macho vow to kill all drug lords—caused the death of innocent suspects. His method of solving this symptom of class-induced misery impressed the academics as Hobbesian, not Machiavellian.
What is certain is that the killing of Mayor Espinosa betrays the corruption of the police bureaucracy by narcopolitics. Its genealogy is tied to the return of dynastic politics and jueteng warlords. To be sure, Duterte has yet to clean his stables. Nonetheless, corporate publicity manipulates the politics of knowledge about criminality (witness the Delima case). The imperative to sensationalize and distort by selective framing governs the style and content of profit-centered communication. Hence we get the fabled “collateral damage” bewailed by the bishops and local pundits associated with the defeated parties
(epitomized by the photo of a woman cradling the body of her husband, blown up in Time and in The Atlantic). This irked the “thin-skinned” mayor whose lack of petty-bourgeois decorum became the target of unctuous leftist/rightist sermons.
What finally gave the casuistic game away is the piece in the November issue of The Atlantic entitled “Duterte’s Anti-Americanism.” The proof: Duterte’s suspending joint military exercises and deviating from U.S. foreign policy by initiating friendly cooperation with China in the disputed South China Sea—in short, promoting what will counter the repeated U.S. violations of Philippine sovereignty. Duterte is thus guilty of diverging from public opinion, meaning Filipino worship of the U.S. But there is not a whisper of the sustained US imperial exercise of power. This Atlantic polemic-cum-factoids concludes with a rebarbative quip: “Washington can tolerate a thin-skinned ally who bites the hand that feeds him through crass invective.” When compatriots in 1972-1986 protested with “Down with the US-Marcos dictatorship,” the media denounced their “anti-Americanism.”
Cold War paranoia grips the Washington Establishment. The ruling elite are not worried about Duterte’s “murderous” and “authoritarian” ways (epithets applicable to U.S. drone warfare and police-killing of African-Americans) as they are disturbed by Duterte’s rapproachment with China. His pivot to China panicked Washington, belying the Time assertion that Duterte “can’t really stand up to China unless the US is backing him.” A blowback occurred in the boondocks; the thin-skinned “Punisher” of drug lords triggered a “howling wilderness” that threatens to loosen the century-long stranglehold of global capitalism on the neocolony.
E. San Juan, professorial lecturer at Polytechnic University of the Philippines, was a fellow of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute, Harvard University; Fulbright professor of American Studies at Leuven University, Belgium; and emeritus professor of Ethnic Studies & Comparative Literature, U of Connecticut. His recent books are US Imperialism and Revolution in the Philipppines (Palgrave) and Between Empire and Insurgency (University of the Philippines Press).
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