[My third article in the Catalyst column]
One of the interesting things that came out of the Duterte mauling episode was Vice-Mayor Rodrigo Duterte’s allusion to a feudal set-up obtaining here in the Philippines. He was referring to the patronage culture and system abounding in almost all places in the country. The political component of this system lies in the politician-leader protection of his constituency in return for their votes and loyalty.
It is within this framework that he (and many others) justified the mauling by his daughter, Davao Mayor Sara Duterte, of the court sheriff who, in turn, was implementing a court order for the informal settlers to vacate a private property. The poor sheriff did not have a chance for defying the Davao mayor when he refused her request for a two-hour reprieve.
The matter of the mauling incident has been discussed exhaustively, and many positions, pro and con, have already been taken. It is now in the lap of the national government—the president, DILG, and the CHR—and we expect results soon.
In the meantime, a massive campaign—including expensive media ads, cyberspace offensives, and rallies—in support of the beleaguered Mayor was launched. Some allied media persons even rationalized the mauling, mostly by citing the “defense of the poor” or the “peace and order” arguments.
A running thread that captured the imagination of the public revolved on the use of power—irrespective of due process and the rule of law—to defend the constituency. The strongmen—in this case the Dutertes—won sympathies by championing the cause of the poor whose homes are about to be demolished, a la Robinhood. Of course, the fact that the city government is involved in the demolition—even providing the police to control the crowd—has been glossed over. The quarrel with the sheriff was on the matter of the latter’s haste and disorderly conduct of the demolition. The subtext is that he should have recognized and conceded to the authority of the Mayor.
Mayor Duterte has not yet apologized to her victim. Her vice-mayor father and councilor brother advised her not to do so. The one who strangely apologized was the mauled sheriff. Even the judge who ordered the demolition blamed the sheriff.
All of the actors have exhibited the behaviour consistent with the “feudal” set-up that Vice-Mayor Duterte spoke of. The lords of the castle have spoken, and the words defined the reality.
The “feudal” set-up is none other than the traditional politics taken to its extreme logical, and ultimately, undemocratic end.
It may not seem similar to the “guns, goons and gold” routine but the substantive handling of power is the same. In the Davao scenario, the identification of the people with the castle lord is strong, particularly because of the economic and security benefits provided by the latter. The Robinhood, champion of the underdog, and “knight in shining armor” images have always resonated and have been a strong cultural influence on the political choices of the masses.
What is disturbing in the Davao scenario is the unbounded expression of power and its personalization. The message that comes across is that the Dutertes are power personified and that they are untouchable by law. It is interesting how the national government will respond, since we have a unified republican state in the Philippines and power is concentrated at the national level.
It is also interesting how this will impact our fragile democracy, with its broken institutions and weak governance. The Dutertes, despite their formal support to Lakas-Kampi candidate Gilbert Teodoro, have admitted their secret support to the present president, Noynoy Aquino. They enjoy widespread support in Davao City, including the far Left groups normally critical of the current state.
Will the Aquino government apply the full force of the law in the mauling case? Or only a light tap of the wrist will do?
Events have conspired in this case to make the handling of the Dutertes a test case of the Aquino government’s human rights policy, its vow to dismantle warlordism and warlord armies, and its “matuwid na daan.”