Shout-out to the Philippines: Make 2017 'The Year of the Boomerang’

Shout-out to the Philippines: Make 2017 'The Year of the Boomerang’
Photo taken at an anti-Marcos/anti-fascist protest held in the Philippines last month. Photo Credit: Renato Reyes Jr.
What you need to know

'Just the other day I received my first death threat from a loyalist of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos.' When the police come knocking at the doors of the people in 2017, the response might not be as friendly as those in power hope. We should be scared for 2017, but also up for the fight.

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It will get worse before it gets better. Much talk towards the end of the year has been about the catastrophes and tragedies that befell us in 2016. We lost a handful of icons who inspired generations, such as David Bowie, Muhammad Ali and Fidel Castro; at the same time, we saw a rise in the hate, desperation and fanaticism that epitomized the surfacing of popular right-wing sentiments.

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s win caused ripples of racial and sexual discrimination and attacks all over the United States. Right-wing and militaristic movements in Egypt, Britain, Greece among others have also pegged his campaign as a historic victory.

There is no doubting the increasing prominence of ultra-conservative groups and figureheads throughout the world – a trend Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is seen to become part of.

Both Duterte and Trump were elected on the back of immense dissatisfaction with blatantly neo-liberal politics, succeeding Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino and Barrack Obama respectively. Both previous administrations talked up a big game about reform yet squandered public trust by often enacting policies against the interests of the people. This brought about yearning for a more action-oriented governance, a misplaced hankering for anything but the current setup. The failures of a system to meet the basic democratic demands of the people for jobs, education and a better future spurned these new administrations.

Right wing narratives may not have primarily fuelled Trump and Duterte’s win but are likely to take advantage of them in 2017.

In the Philippines, the drug war has ravaged poor communities, being tagged as a drug addict is now a common turn of phrase even for children, militarism rules the countryside, draconian proposals have become a fad in congress, there is constant talk of a Martial Law revival. Just the other day I received my first death threat from a loyalist of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos. I am surprised it took them this long.

At this point, the New Year seems cold, uncertain and unforgiving. We should be scared for 2017, but also up for the fight.

When Fascism does a throwback

A slew of draconian throwbacks is poised to take place next year. The revival of the death penalty (abolished in 1987) is well on its way in the Philippines. The few lawmen who have opposed bringing it back, such as Bayan Muna (People First) representative Carlos Zarate, have noted that in the past mostly poor Filipinos were dealt the sentence. Those with money to pay for lawyers, high-profile defenders or even buying out the courts have rarely met this kind of judgment.

As a way to appease the critics of extra-judicial killings under the drug war, administration ally Congressman Rodolfo Farinas said that a “judicial killing is better than an extra-judicial killing.”

I struggle with the logic behind his words.

General Eduardo Ano, the “rebel hunter” has also recently been appointed as the new military chief. Ano was involved in the abduction of activist Jonas Burgos in public in 2007. He was also behind the Paquibato Massacre last year that saw three national minority activists killed and a 12-year-old wounded. Ano has been a pillar for human rights violations under previous administrations and has once again risen to prominence to lead the military in their ongoing counter-insurgency efforts under the Oplan Bayanihan program. In recent months, the Oplan Bayanihan endeavored to pacify critics and activists while illegally encamping in peasant communities. Since August, the military has conducted operations in around 500 barrios nationwide.

The Peace Talks between the government and the revolutionary forces of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) are on the rocks. On paper, Duterte has in some way conceded to the demands of the NDFP by declaring the 50 out of the 432 political prisoners be released and that Oplan Bayanihan will be discontinued before the year ends.

But Duterte has a tendency to backtrack and show more bravado than actual steps towards resolutions with the demands of the people — militarization has continued and the release of political prisoners has apparently been stalled due to a multitude of tedious processes.

An example of backtracking is that days later, an army spokesperson announced the implementation of an “Enhanced Oplan Bayanihan” for 2017, which they say will retain the same “concept and strategic objective.”

According to the NDFP, “The revolutionary forces are extending their patience and giving the Duterte regime up to the month of January to comply with its obligation to release all political prisoners. The Duterte regime’s compliance will be taken as an indication of its ability to stand by its word. If it fails, the Duterte regime will not only forego the possibility of forging a bilateral ceasefire agreement but will risk cutting short as well the mutual interim ceasefire declarations with the NDFP, especially amid the continuing military deployments and operations in the countryside.”

The detainees are people and not political chess pieces of the state; they deserve to be released. Duterte is going against his word and the agreements forged by both parties earlier. Also, if Oplan Bayanihan’s fascist ways persevered during the interim ceasefire agreement, what kind of repression will it dole out in the absence of one? With relatively less scrutiny it looks bound to repeat the operations that made it infamous a few years back.

In the guise of the Oplan Tokhang (“to knock and approach,” a colloquial name for the police operations of the drug war), six peasant activists were arrested, tortured and charged with drug-related offenses. Joel Lising, an activist and tricycle driver also from Tondo, was shot dead this month allegedly due to involvement in drug trade.

Oplan Bayanihan and Tokhang are already overlapping. Both programs are spreading fear and terror amongst the poorest sections of the country. Both programs engage in fascist attacks against the people to discourage them from any sort of critical viewpoint against the new administration.

Days before Christmas, Duterte remarked that the president should have sole power to declare Martial Law. The legal safeguards put in place after the Marcos dictatorship, such as running it by Congress, are impediments to national emergency situations.

This comes after only a month since the nation was rocked by the decision to comply with the wishes of the Marcos family that their late patriarch be honored as a hero by the state. Which, incidentally alongside the drug war, is the only campaign promise Duterte has kept in his half-year action plan.

The combination of these events and assertions have set the stage for a more conflict-ridden 2017. Death sentences, rebel hunters, militarization and a possible breakdown of ceasefire agreements spells a rowdier and rougher ride for the entire country.

‘Year of the boomerang’

This could all blow up in the faces of the establishment. That was the message behind influential Algerian revolutionary Frantz Fanon in his seminal book, “The Wretched of the Earth.” Political backlash and mass mobilizations are bound to intensify amid the worsening socio-economic conditions of the people.

Trump’s win was greeted with a militant welcome — the first in the history of the U.S. Which shows there is a section of society that does not see the new regime as a counterpoint to Obama’s failures but the American political system’s turn for the worse.

Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek says, “Only some kind of a shakeup can save us. And one good thing about Donald Trump — and it's an obscenity to call this a good thing — is that he put [the system] into great disarray; it almost fell apart. The main thing now is political mobilization.”

Filipinos can still turn it around in the new year. We have done it before. When push comes to shove, ultimately the administration’s efforts will be gauged on the response of the people.

There are thousands awakening to a more radical outlook due to the roller coaster of Philippine politics. When the police come knocking at the doors of the people in 2017, the response might not be as friendly as those in power hope.

Editor: Olivia Yang