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Is there a land more deserving of change than the Philippines? Probably not. Isolated on the fringe of global capitalism the Philippines has for over a century been a pawn for US imperialists. And as a result it has suffered greatly.
A hundred million people strong, the Philippines is a country controlled by a tiny elite (not a 1% but a 0.1%). Consequently it has poverty levels equivalent to those found in Haiti.
Twenty five percent of the Filipino people live below the poverty line. That is, 25 million Filipinos live on less than a dollar a day. And the vast majority of the rest live on just a few dollars more a day. It follows that income inequality in the Philippines is the greatest in East Asia.
In reality this means, for example, that 60% of the Filipino population will die without seeing a health professional. Which is absurd because in the English speaking world so many of the health professionals are Filipino.
For nearly all the Filipinos emigration is the only solution to this misery and injustice. Around 10 million Filipinos live and work abroad. And every year a million more try to join this extraordinary exodus (one that began in a systematic way in the 1970s). And the money sent home from this enormous migration (approximately $30 billion a year) keeps the Philippines alive.
Another solution to Filipino misery and injustice is armed rebellion. For decades significant numbers of Filipinos have picked up the gun to fight for change. Communist and Islamic insurrections on the one side and military coups on the other side haunt the country. As does the US military which has recently been invited back into it’s old imperial bases.
Yet another solution to the misery and injustice is the limited democratic vote. And last Monday (May 9) the Filipinos used it in a desperate but imaginative way by voting into power an outsider. On Monday Rodrigo Duterte, the longtime mayor of a provincial city (Davao), was elected President of the Philippines.
This popular outsider is infamous for his crude language and crude policies. Linked to distasteful profanities and disturbing death squads, the new leader is anything but a member of the Manila elite and it’s Americanised hypocrisy. Dressing like a common man and speaking like a common criminal Duterte comes from the guts of Filipino society. And for that reason he is a realistic representation of the Filipino state. This is ironically a welcome change.
The vote for Duterte is a rejection of “business as usual”. The vote suggests that Filipinos are fed up with the corrupt status quo. Instead of continuing with the dead end norm they are willing to take a chance with an alternative populist rather than another elitist. There is hope in this.
Even though Duterte’s plans depend upon the army and police and even raise the possibility of martial law (in the fight against chronic crime) they disrupt the smooth neoliberal and neo-colonial agenda that the outgoing President (Benigno Aquino III) was promoting. So much so that Duterte has reached out to the Communist Party of the Philippines and it’s New People’s Army.
Even though Duterte will seek to maintain economic growth at the current business friendly level of 6% per annum, he speaks of progressive taxation, public investment and agricultural subsidies. Neoliberalism may still be the hegemonic discourse in the Philippines but the indications are that the people’s patience is cracking.
However the greatest hope for the Filipinos and indeed for the world is Duterte’s potential foreign policy. The signs are that he wants to place the needs of the Filipino nation before those of the US empire. During the election campaign he said that he didn’t want to wage a war against China’s actions in the South China Sea. Instead he suggested that diplomacy was the answer. In a few “crude” sentences Duterte derailed US warmongering in Asia. The great hope is that he will do as he says.
Duterte’s politics are eclectic but they are in tune with the times we live in. Throughout the world alternative voices beyond the elite and closer to the ground are coming to the fore. And they are breaking the neoliberal mold. Duterte belongs to this trend. Let’s wish him and our Filipino sisters well. They deserve a change. Let’s hope he directs his crudeness against the real enemies of the great Filipino people (that 0.1% and it’s US master).