Absurdistan: the Philippines under Duterte

By Joe America

My thanks to contributor and blogging colleague Irineo B. R. Salazar (Filipino-German Learning Center) for the perfect characterization of the Philippines in 2017.


  • It is absurd when killing is adopted as a state-enterprise, in the guise of fighting drugs . . . without the compassion that recognizes drugs are a symptom of the deeper issues of poverty and unresponsive health care.
  • It is absurd when the government’s justice department aligns with criminals to persecute and prosecute decent people.
  • It is absurd when the state’s communication framework is built on deceits and an army of manipulators, while the state touts transparency and the brave boast that it is doing all this “for the people”.
  • It is absurd when the state aligns with an acquisitive, hostile empire and pushes away the security offered by the most powerful nation on the planet, a nation that only wants good things for the Philippines and Filipinos.
  • It is absurd when a President sleeps in and misses Independence Day ceremonies while a Philippine flag is tearfully raised next to a battlefield to the noise of jets dropping bombs and while soldiers are being shipped home in caskets.
  • It is absurd when legislators who were elected under a constitution, and recited its oaths, betray the voters who put them in office by dismantling the democratic framework that prizes independence for the three branches of government and assures citizens of representation, freedom, fairness, and opportunity.
  • It is absurd that citizens are complacent in the destruction of the nation’s promise for a vibrant, richer, kinder land in which their own children can thrive, rather than suffer.

And then we have the biggest absurdity of all.

That this is what Filipinos . . . in government, in industry, in churches, in schools, in farmlands across the nation . . . believe is the best that they can be.


57 Responses to “Absurdistan: the Philippines under Duterte”
  1. nice new name for the country–wasn’t there a legislator proposing a change of name for the Philippines ? Then we have the new DOT slogan….”Experience the Absurd” would be really appropriate. Waiting to hear from the president on the first year of his reign, 16 days from today. Hope he won’t call off sick again…

  2. karlgarcia says:

    I google translate Absurd it gave me “walang katotohanan.” or absense of truth
    That would make us all fakes, or the capital of fake news.
    We will have the Lord of the Lies as our leader.

  3. NHerrera says:

    Wiguirristan — the absurdity of the Department of Justice administering Injustice.

  4. chemrock says:

    “Every absurdity has a champion to defend it.” Oliver Goldsmith

    Pacquiao is but one champion,there are many others.

    • NHerrera says:

      Methinks Pacquiao is a boxing champion — really, truly, no question — and quite a package of absurdity rolled into one. 🙂

  5. Mann Aquino Gooriad says:

    Joe…I’m not sure
    You wrote the piece or our friend Irineo?
    Again it hit a nerve … thank u.


  6. Grammy2342 says:

    I am heartbroken and cannot say anything anymore. I am bogged down by the blindness of my countrymen that have allowed these absurdities to happen and continue to happen.

    • For me, I think ordinary people live confined, subsistence lives. They look for simple emotional solutions and Duterte fits the bill. The dismay for me is with legislators, educators, and businessmen who seem to think this is all okay. They don’t seem to ever consider how the nation got into its poverty-wracked third world state. They just help remain in it, without lifting a patriotic pinky finger to be better.

      • They are opportunists for the most part… some of them were on the “correct” side for a while – Cayetano against Binay, or Aguirre against Corona. At least half of the bad reputation of “yellow” was because of opportunists of various colors, including PNPs Alan Purisima I think.

        Contrast the attitude of most Christian lowlander (colonized Filipino) leaders with the sterling qualities of Baguilat (Ifugao) or Norodin Alonto Lucman of Marawi who has been proving his mettle recently, and one might surmise that colonial evolution favored spineless creatures. Exceptions such as Edcel Lagman prove the rule. But then again the concentration of people from Bikol among those opposing Duterte is another matter from which I recuse myself…

        • sonny says:

          “… the concentration of people from Bikol among those opposing Duterte is another matter from which I recuse myself…”

          Would regions be a significant factor? Intuitively & objectively, I would say yes. Especially when speaking of subsidiarity.

          On solidarity:
          For starters, the family is the primary source of cohesiveness, individuation of the members is derived much more from this unit and traditionally too the (urban & municipal) school is the closest surrogate, as is the clan network. Information and values are hatched, nurtured, sorted and internalized in this context. Simulations of real-world competition are also started and validated here.

          On subsidiarity:
          The jump from familial environment to democratic competition is more discontinuous here than the acquisition of coping skills learned from the clan and the municipality.

          I submit that principles of public administration and competitive industry and infrastructure be learned as early as what reasonable pedagogy recommends and be institutionalized from the top through a strong and well informed executive implementation.

    • alicia m. kruger says:

      A very apt name for now until everybody wakes up before it’s too late.

  7. Bill In Oz says:

    Meanwhile Bob Martin web site has become a source of local information about what is happening under Martial law on Mindanao. Also important many local expats there are adding comments about how it is impacting them. So far apart from the need to have ID at all times and show it at check points, very little has changed from before.

    There are also frequent notes by commentators about how ‘professional ‘ and ‘courteous’, the armed forces personnel are when doing the ID checks on Mindanao. Not the usual characteristic listed for an Absurdistan.

    As any link I put here may lead to this comment going to spam, Bob Martin’s Martial law post can probably be found by Googling : “Bob Martin, Martial Law Update”

    • NHerrera says:


      Much as Filipinos — especially some of the armchair-writers — talk or write of “colonial mentality,” the fact is, Filipinos generally, and this applies to the armed forces people, defer to the Caucasian more than they do to their own Filipino-native kind. This is something that pains me to write, but I believe, it is still true.

      This kind of situation is related to the absurdity of life in PH.

      • Besides, the AFP is the least absurd of all institutions at the moment. If not for their present professionalism (in contrast to the Absurd Forces of the Philippines during Marcos’ time) things would have played out with them fighting alongside MNLF and NPA minus the USA…

        Joe, thanks and Karl your memory is as usual excellent. Question is, why do Filipinos think what is now is the best they can be? Low self-esteem maybe? MRPs sad last comment in my blog points in that direction: “as long as Filipinos don’t love themselves things will not change”.

        Low self-esteem leads to a lot of issues. Disliking people who have good things going for them – like many “yellows” who are usually successful professionals, far from being so-called oligarchs. I read postings from Dutertians calling “yellows” things like “Starbucks democrats” – and the ones posting them don’t look so poor as if they couldn’t afford to travel or go to “Istarbak” in Manila, so there is some sort of deep envy at play here, even deep hatred.

        Low self-esteem can also lead to liking someone because he fulfills ones lowest expectations. Hey, he dresses sloppily, curses always – he is just like us, cool. There used to be ghetto types in the USA who did not like those in the hood who started “talking and acting white” and getting ahead professionally. To continue with that analogy, Duterte and Mocha fit exactly into the imagery of gangster rappers. A certain defiance towards the clean-cut, disente image.

        The other part of low self-esteem is hating the old keepers and disseminators of knowledge and replacing Raissa, Maria Ressa and more with Mocha, Sass Sasot and Thinking Pinoy. The defiant attitude of “we also have our way to knowledge” – a way that used to be barred to them by a bad educational foundation, including some who indeed kept things exclusive. But the pushback by democratic forces also includes memes and summarization for that crowd.

        What is also part of the defiance is a reaction I got to posting Raissa’s article about Honeylet shopping in HK on my blog’s FB page. People not pro-Duterte at all told me “you would be surprised what some of our OFW countrymen buy now!” – something like “we have been at the bottom long enough, won’t you let us have our opportunities”? The age-old suspicion of the upper classes as not wanting that for the rest came through. Binay and Duterte benefitted from this “one of us” attitude which one should NOT underestimate. There you go for now..

        • http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/905338/koko-pimentel-enjoins-public-to-rally-behind-duterte – just an example of the kind of rhetoric that makes certain people hope for change:

          The senator noted that the thrust of the Duterte administration was “to provide the basic needs of our people who have yet to experience any assistance or upliftment from the elected and appointed officials.

          think of how many OFWs and migrants have experienced the Philippine government – as a hostile and haughty force. Many think Duterte is their one true champion, and that entrenched (yellow) forces are holding him back. How does one disprove what people choose to believe?

          • I wonder how much tarnish a popular hero is allowed. Is he allowed to lose a battle or sleep through patriotic rites? When the price of rice has doubled, will he be a hero? Or will all that be the fault of the ‘yellows’, too.

            • Patriotic rites… are being spun as a mere “flag ceremony” – which for the ordinary Filipino is just as much going to the motions and repeating barely understood words as going to church. Losing the battle – there is this really evil spin against especially Risa Hontiveros going on. She is being made to look like a terrorist sympathizer. One should not forget that impressions stick with that crowd, remember Yolanda? Sleeping through – they are now rehashing how Duterte was meeting coffins the night before. The spin is “real people count, not empty ceremonies”.

              Price of rice and other basic commodities – that would make its way into the grapevine of the common people even of the OFWs soon. Little to spin there, even if they jail the opposition. They are diverting back to Aquino’s mistakes now. Signs of desperation? I really wonder.

              • One should know how a certain crowd lives (and I don’t mean the affluent pro-Dutertes) to get how they are easily fooled. They see the titles of news on their mobiles, don’t click to read – they do look if it is a video. They gossip with friends while cooking Filipino food in their kitchen. They might be listening to Tulfo on the radio. If we are lucky they are listening to Leni Robredo! She has a rather pleasant aura there, somehow the Bikol accent comes out more than the college graduate slang – good thing because that it sounds friendly and not at all elitist. But these are exactly the communication/thinking habits of that crowd – visual first, auditory next, reading and writing at the very last. And yes, their priorities are more the price of rice and whether the sinigang na bangus is boiling over while they chat or listen to the radio / livefeed or talk tsismis with their friends. Reaching them is a totally different ballgame. Leni is capable of reaching them, so on one hand Duterte respects her, on the other hand others “chop wood for her coffin with his ax” – to paraphrase a Portuguese song, meaning try to diminish her slyly.

              • Absurdistan is a surreal place where fictions are facts and what you hear is what you see.

    • Bill In Oz says:

      N’Herrera, I apreciate your comment. However most of the people making comments are ‘caucasians’ with Filipina wives, fiancees or girl friends living in Mindanao. And there are also Filipinos adding comments as well about living with martial law.

      I think there is a certain irony in this blog’s subject : advertising the Philippines as an”Absurdistan”..While we watch the armed forces of the Philippines carefully and bravely, go about the task of destroying the terrorists who have occupied Marawi while also trying to protect the civilians caught up in it.

      And all the while the pollies in Imperial Manila play games.

      • chemrock says:

        You missed the big picture Bill.
        Everybody would be behind the president leading an AFP assault on Marawi without the island wide ML.
        There was no Imperial Manila pollies playing games during Zamboanga (except for Binay) because there was no ML.

        • Bill In Oz says:

          No Chemrock..I don’t think I have missed the big picture. You are saying that Martial Law is the ‘wrong’ and folks are determined to ‘stop’ it.

          If you look back I have made almost no opinion in my own right about Martial Law. I’ve left the comments on Martial law in Mindanao to Mindanaoans..Hence my interest in Bob Martin’s posts and especially the comments made by readers in Mindanao.. There are a mix of expats and Filipinos represented there expressing opinions.

          Meanwhile in Rappler is a long article about Duterte hijacking the Mindanao narrative; hijacking it in a way that emphases the settler narrative and ignores the indigenous and Moro very different ones..

          That I find interesting but would like to know more from other folks who know about this aspect of the Mindanao people.

  8. popoy says:

    I said it here already, hindi ba? Meron kasing Sharlene of Hollywood, meron din tayong Charlene at saka Pearl of the Orient Seas, sabi ko yung citizenry at yung miembrong matataas ng gobierno eh Challenged. Puedeng bagong pangalan Challengia of the Orient Seas, medio Christian sounding country pa. .

    • popoy says:

      Kung ABSURD yung lugar at mga tao na ang proweba eh yung inilista dito, di ba challenged yun mga yun? Parang ABSORB na absorbed eh.

      • popoy says:

        sa isang kanto sa Makati noong 1950 yata
        sabay-sabay sabi ng mga tambay sa dumating tsokaran
        Pare wala kaming atik, pa-fity sa yose.
        Saan ka nanggaling Pare?
        Mga Pare ko, kasisindi lang mamaya na
        pagkalahati na. Sa Poblacion Pare, daming nagwawala
        inaagapan yung sunog, walang tubig yung bumbero.
        Wala namang lootin pero Galit ang mga tao Pare.
        Nagwawala? Mali Pare, kalmada naman ang mga tao eh.
        Sanay naman pag meron gulo.

  9. Yes, Filipinos are good at improvising… at dealing with all kinds of unusual situations..

    I remember how self-regulating the chaotic traffic in Metro Manila was most of the time..

    BUT you can only go so far with improvisation and self-regulation – because of the following:

    1) interdependent subsystems become too complex (Metro Manila is too complex as a whole)

    2) points of failure become harder / impossible to improvise (aspects of MRT for example)

    This is where the “barangay mind” is clueless, does not find a way out of the issues.

    Duterte was a crazy pilot in his youth, I have read. But just like a Mayor skilled at finding improvisational solutions may find his level of incompetence (Peter’s principle) at national level, someone who can barnstorm with a Cessna CANNOT do the same stunts with a 747 or an Airbus.

    • sonny says:

      🙂 Off-track. Speaking of ascending complexity, take for instance Data organization: hierarchy (IMS), relational (DB2), network (IDMS). PiE, are these still around? I realize these belong to IT of yesteryears.

      • DB2’s children (Oracle and MSSQL) are still widely in use. IMS and IDMS are pretty rare now.

        SAP has its own totally new database called HANA which (broadly speaking) indexes both rows and columns, making evaluations possible in minutes which used to take days/weeks..

        • chemrock says:

          Sony is funny, but he has company.
          Just want to say one can still survive witout plugging into the ever world face of IT. Recently I had malware in my system. I think it came about from some sites when I tried to download cracked versions of some appl. Sorry,I’m a cheapo. It actually was an adware, gave me advertisements of damn images purporting benefits of sexual stimulants. I used 4 anti-virus apps and still could’nt kill it. There is nothing added in Registry nor programs, just 2 folders each in root C and D drives. The folders contain 10 files each and files were jpg, doc, xlxs, and mdb, pem, rtf. Folders and files are about same size, names appear random, meaningless. Each time I deleted the folders, 2 new ones appear, bearing different folder and file names. So I checked what programs were used to open these SQL and MDB files in properties, it showed Windows Shell. I’m not IT guy but I had a rough idea what that means. So I changed file properties and got these 2 files to open under any app, I just chose paint. And it worked. Damn adverts gone. But the folders and files are still there.

          • sonny says:

            “… I’m not IT guy but I had a rough idea what that means.”

            Just goes to show some guys have it more than the rest, chempo! Cheers to you & Irineo. L’chaim! 🙂

  10. NHerrera says:

    The sign (propaganda material) Otto Wambier is alleged to have tried to steal from a North Korean Hotel — which resulted in his being sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in Korea, but recently released after suffering from coma since March 2016, shortly after his trial — reportedly says: “Let’s arm ourselves strongly with patriotism.”

    Thank goodness we in PH have not come to that sorry state yet.

    (Lesson learned: next time, just take a photo.)

  11. edgar lores says:

    1. Of course, life is absurd.

    2. How do Filipinos cope with life’s absurdity?

    3. I think there are two main line of defenses: Religion and Tradition.

    3.1. Fully 97.6% of the population profess a foreign Faith. Catholics comprise 81% of the population, non-Catholic Christians 11%, and Muslims 5.6%. A further 2% practice indigenous Faiths.

    3.2. However, the foreign Faiths are embedded in Tradition because we do not adhere strictly to our adopted religious norms. I would identify our Tradition as Datuship.

    3.3. Our Traditional norms of amoral familism and amoral clanism predominate. These two isms form the base of our amoral political polarization. (That polarization is not fixed but fluid, changing poles as the isms demand.)

    3.4. These two defenses are very strong and blind us to the sense of the absurd. This is evident in the absurdities listed in the main post.

    4. It is ironic that our lack of sense of life’s inherent absurdity forces us to live with such absurdities.

    5. The sense of life’s absurdity is very important because it leads to the examined life and to the search for meaning. This inevitably leads to the identification of Virtues and Values.

    5.1. If we are completely armored in Religion and Tradition, we do not fully open ourselves to life’s full possibilities. More importantly, we do not see Truth because we think – no, we know — we are already in full possession of it.

    5.2. Thus, secure in our Faith, Custom, and Knowledge, we only open ourselves to a life of selfish hedonism. We are all about Fun and its shadow companions of Anger and Hate. If we do not get satisfaction, we become angry and hate.

    5.3. To be open to Life and the Other, to be able to see the Truth, and live a life of Values, we must be aware of the Absurd, make ourselves vulnerable, and search beyond our conditioning.

    • The two defenses… one is taught implicitly in the Philippines that what is outside Tradition and Religion is somehow an aberration and.. that what cannot be does not or should not exist..

      So one either looks away for as long as one can (slums being overlooked) or one tries to destroy what should not be (the Drug War) – since there is no room for contradictions.

      Probably it is the addicts who are among those who have realized many absurdities and are outcasts because of exactly that – and have no way of dealing with it except escape?

      • edgar lores says:

        1. What you say is true. There are three recourses that parallel the instinctive Fight, Flight, Freeze response.

        1.1. There is the clinging to one’s truths, which is the Freeze response.
        1.2. There is the turning away from the truths of others, which is denial and the Flight response.
        1.3. There is the attempt to destroy the truth of others, which is fundamentalism and the Fight response. As you say, there can be no contradictions. Or, as Sonny has pointed out, q cannot be Q.
        1.4. Above the instinctual responses, there is the fourth response of rationality in the form of tolerance, but not acceptance, of the truths of others. This is accommodation or modus vivendi. In this recourse, a middle ground can be achieved and sustained… for a time until Power and Ambition disrupt the harmony.

        2. I said that the two defenses are strong, but inevitably there are cracks in the walls precisely because contradictions abound and they cannot be papered over. It is not just a matter of q not being q… because q is not binary and has an infinite number of possible values.

        2.1. No matter what station we occupy in life, we will be pummeled with contradictions. Filipinos will cling to Religion and Tradition, but the contradictions will seep through our defenses and cause our lives to be misaligned. We can consciously acknowledge the seepage or not.

        2.2. If we acknowledge the seepage, we can turn, as I pointed out, to the examined life or, at least, to a life of accommodation. Most Filipinos, from the highest to the lowest, from senators to tricycle drivers, tend to ignore and suppress the seepage. Almost no one lives a life of mindfulness and integrity. (That includes me.)

        2.3. The suppression of seepage results, in various degrees, to despair which is denied, overcome, and expressed through various means.

        o On any social media platform, one can sense the extent of this desperation in the excesses of commentary. (Stop a moment and recognize this fact.)
        o Here at TSH, we sublimate our despair with insights and humor.
        o Senators can easily disport themselves with the distractions of the high life. They will not admit to the vulnerability of despair. No way.
        o But poor tricycle drivers, feckless youth and adults have not much choice and some will seek refuge in the relief and alternate reality provided by shabu.

        2.4. The poor tricycle driver may have a wife and children. He may have married in church and had his children baptized in church. He may mumble a prayer and make the sign of the cross as he begins his day’s work. That would be the extent of his religiosity.

        He may have approached a politician to be a sponsor at his marriage, and he may have accepted a few giveaways and a few pesos in exchange for his vote. He may also exchange tagays with friends now and then.That would be the extent of his custom.

        According to his lights, he is a responsible husband and father but he dimly senses the drudgery of his life, his hand-to-mouth existence, and that he will never live the life of a senator. So he needs this me-time to escape, as you say, into some state of bliss or land of mystery and to make his life worthwhile.

  12. Edgar Lores says:

    “It is absurd when a President sleeps in and misses Independence Day ceremonies…”

    The people are not being informed of the President’s medical condition.

    Malacañang should be posting regular bulletins of his progress — or lack thereof. What is there is 3 days of silence. Who is managing the Republic?

    Turnover procedures must be in place.

    • http://www.nytimes.com/1970/07/28/archives/salazar-ruler-of-portugal-for-40-years-dies-salazar-dies-in-lisbon.html?_r=0 – a weird anecdote from history (NYT of 7/28/1970)

      LISBON, July 27—Dr. António de Oliveira Salazar, ruler of Portugal for 40 years until he suffered a stroke in September, 1968, died today at the age of 81. He suffered a heart attack and vascular collapse two weeks ago.

      Salazar died without knowing he had been replaced as Premier. Fearing the shock might kill him, his doctors and colleagues did not tell him that Marcello Caetano had been in stalled as Premier on Sept. 21, 1968, while the former economics professor was in a coma following brain hemorrhage.

      They kept up a charade of talking with Salazar as though he were still head of state, nodding accord to his directives. He was denied access to newspapers, radio and television on the ground that they might overtire him.

      Occasionally, Salazar would appear in public in a wheel chair and it was apparent that his right side was paralyzed. He continued to live in Sao Bente Palace, the Premier’s official residence, from which his successor refused to dislodge him.

      Several times over the last two years. Salazar’s housekeeper of 40 years, Mrs Maria de Jesus, tired to persuade him to “resign” because of health, but, she said, he would always reply, “I cannot go. There is no one else.”

      • NHerrera says:

        Hahaha. A “believe it or not” item. I love that note from him, “I cannot go. There is no one else.” This is a case where the housekeeper has more sense than the supposed ruler. Lots of those these days, it seems.

    • sonny says:

      On an ominous thought, this detail is reminiscent of the loud absence of FM at the time of Ninoy’s assassination. Heaven forbid something similar is afoot.

    • Maybe he did not come back from buying salt and vinegar (so he can eat terrorists’ livers) yet? 🙂 Pardon me for being absurd.

      Funny that the article below was published in April but has this paragraph:

      “He has warned he may place the southern Philippines, scene of a decades-long Muslim separatist rebellion, under martial rule if terrorism threats spin out of control.”

      So PRD acted with premeditated design to proclaim ML in Mindanao?


    • karlgarcia says:

      Wait ! The Premiere was replaced by Caetano?

    • Edgar Lores says:

      And on June 16, 2017, we have Schrodinger’s President.

  13. Peter Paul Ratilla says:

    It is abdurd indeed but still hoping for a change of hearts for each Filipinoes blinded by fanatism, bigotry, and ignorance.

  14. jamesb says:

    Finding duterte
    – In rehab
    – In china for more treatment
    – In cloud cuckoo land
    – watching ‘dirty harry’ movies

  15. “Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.”
    ~ Voltaire

    Though Voltaire said it in context of religion, the quote is also relevant to Joe’s article. The main point is: Please stop being sheeples or you might be goaded to do something you will regret or will not be proud of. Ben Franklin once said, “It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority.” (He was probably imparting Socrates’ philosophy when he said it.) Even Einstein has these wise words, “Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth.” Blind loyalty disables not only the sight but other faculties as well. It makes one mute, deaf, paralytic and gullible.

    I know some of us were taught to never question authority and do what we are told especially by authority figures and our elders when we were young. Now that we are mature enough to discern situations, we know that certain scenarios require us to ask difficult questions and weigh the factors logically. Each of us have the power to turn the absurd into the rational and sensible.

    Progress is a journey, we need to take the steps to get there.

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