The rise of a new authoritarian regime in Asia
Let’s start by examining the title of the article so that you understand why I chose it. Of course, we are talking about the Philippines.
- Rise means economically and socially upward bound. It does not mean crashing into a pile of misery, poverty, and rubble. It means the economy will, after passing through an adjustment cycle, regain its robust growth. It means there will be opportunities for self-fulfillment for a greater share of the population than is the case today.
- New means President Duterte’s Administration, and so does authoritarian.
- Regime means the whole of government. In its current democratic form . . . which may be fleeting . . . it means President Duterte commands the cooperation and compliance (authoritarian, remember?) of the Legislative and Judicial branches of government. Those who refuse to cooperate or comply will be removed from the regime, or their voices will be severely diminished.
- Asia means Asia, and Asia will be the dominant integrated region in the world for the remainder of earth’s term.
Why do so many feel their Philippines is collapsing in a heap of bodies, unfairness, and nonsense, while so many, many others are inspired by what is occurring? By the raw, manly power of what is occurring? By the opportunities for fulfillment available to them, soon?
The former will be removed from the economic and social equation, one way or another, perhaps faster than any of us expect. The latter will thrive, barring any unforeseen interference from the UN, Western nations or Philippine military.
Those who are discouraged and dismayed at what they see believe the nation is going down the wrong path, and this cannot end well. They live under . . . and passionately care for . . . global norms of civility and human rights, and compassion and diversity among peoples. They like the freedoms assured by democracy, and the chance to compete for a good job on a democratically fair playing field and operate competitively on a capitalistically fair business playing field . . . not fields where power and position determine what is fair. Figure that the discouraged represent about 9 percent of the Philippine adult population, plus or minus whatever you want to throw in.
We are striving for concepts here, not factually pure details.
I’d hazard a guess that what this small, well-educated, prosperous, high-principled (in democratic terms) segment of the population objects to is not the collapse of the Philippine nation, exactly. But the collapse of their own personal lifestyle. Their beliefs and values. Their opportunities.
The Philippine nation will persist . . . and that nation will change dramatically if President Duterte achieves his goals. For sure, it will NOT continue with a framework of democracy and lavish freedoms, or the values you and I live by. The Philippine nation will operate, and thrive or fail, on a completely new framework and set of values.
The socio/political/economic disease of the past . . . government cheating taxpayers . . . will be cured the way drug usage is being cured. By using authoritarian means that favor the now-entitled. The now-entitled will get their riches from commerce and the taxpayers, the latter allotted as decided by the regime.
You gotta obey to play.
I originally titled this article “The rise of Little China in Asia”. But that suggests an allegiance of the Philippines to China, in nationalistic terms, and I’m not sure that is what will transpire. I do think there will be an alliance of interests and values, better than that today between the Philippines and US. But the Philippines will not be a lackey of China, I think. She will stand on her own two authoritarian legs. Nevertheless, it will behoove China to make sure she coddles and encourages . . . and pays . . . the Philippines to succeed.
China’s interests are advanced because the Philippines will have removed herself as a key barrier to China’s expansionary aims. China can move past the Philippines. The Philippines will not care if China moves past her to the second island chain (Wiki: “Island Chain Strategy”), although there will likely have to be some deal-making on the West Philippine Sea and Benham Rise. The US will care. But what, really, can she do?
Let’s get to the fundamentals here. The enthusiastic masses of people who support President Duterte. Why don’t they care that democracy in the Philippines will likely not exist in the future?
They don’t see the gains or esoteric values of freedoms and fair play. Plus, people in need don’t have time for democracy to work its slow, process-bound way forward. Democracy takes pains to listen to all voices and try to find the best path among them. It is not able to deal direct and fast and accept the risks of bad or unpopular decisions. Philippine democracy has not given Filipinos broadly what they have so long wanted . . . a sense of self worth and food on the table,
When people can’t get what they want, they may be able to get what they need . . . in this case, power acquired by helping to destroy the people and systems that did not give them what they wanted. Cue second Rolling Stones song. (Lyrics: “You can’t always get what you want“)
That idea is complex, but work your way through it. It is important. The nine percent are aghast that support for President Duterte is so broad and so passionate. They don’t have the same set of needs, resentments, or aspirations as do those who have been used and disadvantaged by Philippine government for so long. That government, term after term, has added to the normal lethargy of democracy by putting corruption and entitlement into the mix, thus abusing . . . and deeply offending and angering people far and wide.
The current movement is not attributable to the failings of any one President’s administration. Other than President Marcos, I suppose. This is not a revolt against President Aquino and his yellows. They are just a convenient means, a way to disparage opponents, a way forward.
And on that note, we move to the crucial distinction between President Duterte and prior Philippine governments, except President Marcos.
The Duterte value system is distinctly Chinese. The MEANS of achieving the goal are morally irrelevant. What drives EVERYTHING is the achievement of those goals. Acts may vary and contradict one another on the fly. This is necessary to make sure the march forward is successful. Barriers and roadblocks are consumed as they arise. Compassion and fairness and human rights, or what other nations try to impose on the Philippines, don’t matter. “Get them outta here”, and attach a swear word to the order to depart. The old Christian moral standards no longer apply. RH, divorce, death penalty . . . these are some of the means for the new value system.
Success matters. That is the only value.
What are the goals of the Duterte Administration? Their first goal (conceptually like a first island chain) is control of the mechanisms of government. Beyond that, I don’t know, but autonomy for Mindanao is probably in there (second island chain). Perhaps the third island chain is family rule, or long term endurance of the power and riches acquired.
How does the economy get through such a brutal change? How do we get from Western call centers and investments to something else? By trading little pieces of sovereignty, and the resources under them, to China in exchange for their investments and business engagement in the Philippines.
The business environment is soft right now. Weaker peso, foreign money coming out of stocks. The greatest risk is an abrupt pull-out of BPO firms and a real estate and banking collapse. So there is a certain incentive for the Duterte Administration to ease forward with the new model, and not just tell the West to “get out!” The Administration has to retain a certain normalcy and stability in commerce.
But as for free press and open governance? Forget it. You will know less and less about what is happening, and who is paying the price for change. In terms of Christian values? Forget it. The churches can operate under the new rules or close down. The Philippine government will get what it needs, and wants.
If you don’t accept these ground rules, you have three choices, as I wrote about a week ago: fight, flee or obey. Those who obey are likely to find a certain satisfaction in getting . . . if not what they want, exactly . . . what they need. They will participate in the rise of a very different nation, and that nation will be more successful at imparting loyalty and enthusiasm than any democratic president was able to pull off.
Those who fight will find they are meeting a powerful borg-style resistance, for the people in President Duterte’s inner circle are not dumb. This is a brilliant, dynamic, tough . . . yes, brutal . . . rising authoritarian regime. Don’t let President Duterte’s rambling, rude macho style mislead you. He has not changed that style because he is doing something important. He knows what any chemist knows, reactions occur faster when heat is applied. And he is doing what martial arts winners do. They keep their opponents off balance and guessing so it is easier to push them around.
Those who flee? They will take some brains, wealth and skills out, but not enough to cause Rody and Bong to blink.
I reflected for a time about this blog’s byline. Keep it or put it away.
“O’ rise, ye land of happy fools!”
But I think it need not change. I think the Duterte regime will fail if the nation does not rise. And failure is not an option.
And as for me personally?
I’m hung up on “fight, flee or obey”.