A combination of weak liberal institutions and democratic traditions in the Philippines empower the populist-authoritarian rule of President Rodrigo Duterte, said Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG) Chair Temario Rivera.
In a forum held prior to the President’s fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA) last July, the center in its own forum, July 19, examined current issues faced by Filipinos under the Duterte Administration.
Rivera’s discussion on the structure and practice of politics in the last three years focused on the implications of having a populist-authoritarian rule like Duterte’s, which he argued is also unique because of the electoral mandate the President possesses.
According to Rivera, who was a former chairperson of the UP Department of Political Science, there are three conditions that allow the Duterte Administration to thrive: (a) there is a certain social crisis that (b) traditional elites and existing institutions cannot solve; thus, (c) the President presents itself as the only solution to such a crisis.
He specified that crisis to be the so-called drug problem that has otherwise prompted the Administration to perform its war against drugs—a move, among others, that many have attributed to the rise of extrajudicial killings in the country.
Looking back at political practices
Rivera pointed out how the tradition of political dynasties gives a populist-authoritarian government the opportunity to wield with an iron fist. According to him, the fragmented bodies of power and interest make it more difficult to make a cohesive approach to issues faced in the country.
While Rivera lauded the fall of certain political families in some local governments, he showed his wariness of the change this may actually bring to the system, as some dynasties have only stumbled because of the election of a different political family.
Similarly, Rivera discussed the spirit of the Philippine party system, which he claimed is weak. He explained that typically, a President represents a political party which helps give direction and unity to governance. Like the tradition of political dynasties, weak political parties also “legitimize” a rule, Rivera said.
He also brought to attention the observance of a lack of accountability at present, particularly because of weak liberal institutions and democratic traditions. Rivera added that this accountability ought to come from “relatively independent… other institutions,” such as Congress and the Judiciary.
“Enemies of the People”
Rivera saw similarities of the Philippine experience of identifying “enemies of the people” with the current trend in Western countries to identify immigrants as “enemies.” In the Philippines, the government has identified its “enemies” to be those linked to the drug problem which is said to be dealt with in a simplistic or quick fix solution as would usual strongmen do, explained Rivera. “If the basis of your popular support is the ability to convince the people to support you, kailangan bigyan mo rin sila ng idea na madaling solusyunan ang matitinding mga problema na ‘yan,” Rivera said. “It requires, for instance, looking at the problems of poverty, broken up or broken families, ‘no? Real, psychological, or medical problems. It requires putting up rehabilitation centers—community-based rehabilitation centers—para ma-sustain ‘yung kailangang tulong ng mga drug victims na ‘yan, ‘no?”
Another so-called enemy are those believed to be corrupt and individuals belonging in the Left, Rivera noted. He criticized the ‘personalistic’ manner in which officials are simply removed from their positions without going through institutional and administrative processes. When it comes to the Left, Rivera said an all-out war is an “extremely misguided policy” of the Administration, especially considering that it had already gone on its way in terms of the peace process.
Scholars and experts in governance provided their insights on the various implications of Duterte’s Administration, three years in their term, during CenPEG’s forum. These brought to light the issue of transparency and accountability, among others, in various fields such as economics, public and foreign policy, media, elections, and gender equality.