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Libingan ng mga Bayani

On Culture and Fascism under the Duterte Regime

in Arts & Literature/Countercurrent
by Alejo Nicolas

President Rodrigo Duterte’s regime can now appropriately be described as a looming fascist dictatorship: one wherein mechanisms, operations, and systems are being put in place towards a full-blown resurrection of the Marcos authoritarian rule, which in 1986 was ousted by the people’s collective action.

The term “fascism”, first used to denote ultranationalist and right-wing governments in Europe, is understood in the Philippine context as rooted in bureaucrat capitalism. In Philippine Society and Revolution, Amado Guerrero discusses how the country’s political landscape changed from direct colonial occupation under Spain, Japan, and the United States to a neocolonial republic ruled by a succession of Filipino puppet regimes since 1946.

Led by bureaucrat capitalists, these regimes continue to protect imperialist and feudal interests by maintaining a deceptive bourgeois democracy supported by the entire state machinery of the military, police, courts, penal system and cultural institutions. However, such a regime can revert to outright authoritarian rule when the people’s resistance threatens the existing order, as shown by Ferdinand Marcos’s imposition of Martial Law in 1972.

Fascism and Philippine culture

The past two-and-a-half years under President Duterte were marked by the regime’s increasing use of deception, threat/intimidation, coercion, and armed violence against the people.

Its campaign, through police brutality and reckless killings, against the proliferation of illegal drugs and its counterinsurgency plan of deception and “all-out war” against the advance of revolutionary and progressive forces have left tens of thousands dead or displaced. The breakdown in the peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) was followed by crackdowns: illegal arrests, enforced disappearances, and false charges against hundreds of civilians. Martial Law in Mindanao was declared in May 2017 during the armed conflict in Marawi. It has been extended three times until the end of December 2019.

In October 2018, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) fanned the false alarm of a “Red October” destabilization plot as a pretext for expanding such repression to the rest of the country. Although the faked destabilization plot has been thoroughly exposed, the security forces have continued to sustain it as a reference point for its expanded counterinsurgency operations.

The Philippines is witnessing the turn towards fascism across different fronts. It is crucial to consider this rising state of tyranny not only in the military and political spheres, but also in the field of culture which is part of the arena of class struggle. Culture encompasses all spheres of social behavior while art distills, reflects, and refracts human and social experience. How is state violence reinforced, reflected, diffused or deployed by cultural institutions? How does it appear across everyday discourse, popular culture, mass and social media, the visual arts, film, literature, architecture, and more? And lastly, how is the people’s anti-fascist struggle conveyed across culture and the arts?

Signs of tyranny

Fascist rule in the Philippines is reinforced in the way the state wields culture and art to, first, openly suppress and demonize the people’s struggle through censorship and harassment. On the other hand, it also selectively patronizes and supports initiatives that whitewash and sanitize the repression of the regime. Over the past two and a half years, the following developments can be noted:

2015: The President as populist but anti-people personality. Since the start of the presidential electoral campaign in 2016, Duterte’s outrageous conduct, language, and gestures have generated controversy and aghast. His years in power, however, have been marked by more vile, sexist, misogynistic, anti-religious, and anti-people statements.

Since assuming office, he has threatened and began to slaughter suspected drug addicts, to bomb Lumad schools. He told a United Nations rapporteur on human rights to go to hell, denigrated the International Criminal Court prosecutor for being black, and ordered troops to shoot woman rebels in the vagina. Recently, he urged street idlers to rob and even to kill bishops critical of his war on drugs and EJKs, and described rape against overseas Filipino workers—whom he referred to as those “working as slaves [overseas]”—as “com(ing) with the territory, ‘kasali sa kultura (it’s part of the culture).”

These can not be dismissed as simple rhetoric, as they reflect and symbolically justify actual states of violence happening everyday. As a key political figure—the head of state no less— Duterte’s every word and action is covered and amplified by mass and social media, reaching and influencing millions of people inside and outside the Philippines and enabling public acceptance of fascist rule.

A succession of spokespersons for the regime’s propaganda machinery, each worse than the previous one, adds to the circus of disinformation and lies. These messages, many of which express the disregard for human rights, feed a populist cult of personality which breeds blind obedience to the President, fueled by a paid social media army of trolls.

2016: Memorializing a tyrant and reinstating fascist figures. Among the first nationally-condemned acts of Duterte as President was to enable the family of the fascist dictator Ferdinand Marcos to bury his remains with military honors at the Libingan ng mga Bayani in September 2016, with the backing of the Supreme Court. The occasion also gave the Marcoses air time to sanitize and whitewash their family’s history of bloody fascist rule.

Allowing the dictator’s remains to rest in the country’s supposed memorial cemetery for heroes sends a strong symbolic message to the Filipino people: that a deposed and dead dictator can be valorized, honored, and restored to state power. It is an insult and assault to past and present generations who resisted Martial Rule.

This enabling and restoring of proven fascist figures was again unabashedly shown in July 2018, when former President Glora Macapagal-Arroyo, questionably acquitted of plunder by the state courts in 2016, crawled back into the halls of power and installed herself as the Speaker of the House of Representatives. She has since engineered the passage by the House of a joint resolution of both legislative chambers calling for changes in the 1987 constitution that, among others, removes the ban on political dynasties and term limits to all elective officials, and insidiously aims to cancel the May mid-term elections to prolong her and other incumbent officials’ terms until 2022.

2017: Rising state impunity and EJKs. The “war” on illegal drugs was a campaign platform of Duterte. Tokhang operations, surveillance, and extrajudicial killings (EJKs) of suspected drug addicts started in mid-2016 and he has vowed to continue the drive till the end of his term—without assurance of winning the “war”. The number of estimated drug suspects killed since July 2016 ranges from 4,251 to over 20,000 people.

The government continues to deny that a culture of impunity exists and to downplay the gravity of the deaths. Outside of official reports, however, the frequency, undeniability and brutality of the EJKs in the drug war is documented by media workers and reflected in the many artistic works or initiatives that represent the drug war as a theme, setting, or reference.

Examples from Philippine films of 2017, for instance, include Bubog, EJK, Neomanila, Respeto, The Right to Kill, Madilim Ang Gabi, Adik, Double Barrel, Durugin Ang Droga, Kamandag Ng Droga and Si Tokhang At Ang Tropang Buang. Some films support an anti-drug stance that does not deviate from the government’s own discourse, while others more critically reflect how the drug war has affected lives, for worse, across urban to rural communities.

Government propaganda campaigns aiming to justify this state of impunity have intensified. The Philippine National Police (PNP), for instance, stepped up initiatives such as the 1st PNP Anti-Illegal Drugs Festival in July 2017. And resigned PCOO Undersecretary Mocha Uson attempted to parade fake Lumad leaders in hopes of discrediting genuine community leaders.

2018: Heightened attacks and counter-insurgency. The ever-increasing influence of the AFP is reflected in the militarization of the Duterte Cabinet and the sabotage of the peace process towards an all out war against Philippine revolutionary forces led by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), the New People’s Army (NPA) and the NDFP. By December 2017, issuances such as Proclamation 374 declaring the CPP-NPA as a terrorist group set the stage for heightened assaults against both revolutionary forces and civilians critical of the regime. Since entering the second half 2018, the AFP has been fanning the flame of imagined destabilization plots and has been similarly extending the timeline of these to the end of the year.

This counter-revolutionary war against “terror” led by the AFP in the countryside continues to target and displace the broad masses from countless communities. There is nothing more fascist than the current killing spree of activists, civilians and progressives across the country. The EJKs, massacres, harassments, and arrests of activists and members of progressive organizations have risen sharply since 2017, mostly targetting farmers, lawyers, indigenous peoples, health and Church workers, media workers, union leaders, and environmentalists.

The counter-insurgency drive is also expressed in forms of harassment, such as the circulation of black propaganda and red-tagging of civilians and attacks against institutions of mass media, which attempt to paint all dissenters to the regime as “destabilizers” who must be neutralized. Individuals, schools, universities and institutions or organizations holding cultural, media or educational activities critical of the regime are now being openly red-tagged.

Art and culture for the anti-fascist struggle

The culture of impunity and fascism unleashed during the past two and a half years under Duterte underscores the looming danger to all revolutionary and progressive forces. On the other hand, it also points to the regime’s increasing desperation over the rising popular unrest fuelled by worsening socio-economic crisis in semi-feudal and semi-colonial Philippines. The lingering discontent over high inflation rates, rising prices, dislocation of communities due to neoliberalization, and lack of employment and substantive development in urban and rural areas only gives rise to more expressions of collective dissent.

“This rise of fascism is not a sign of strength but in essence is show of despair and weakness,” Guerrero noted in Philippine Society and Revolution during the pre-Martial law era, adding:

“Fascism is on the rise precisely because the revolutionary mass movement is surging forward and the split among reactionaries is becoming more violent…the exposé of the violent character of the reactionaries will only teach the masses to defend themselves and assert their own power.”

These words ring as true then as in the present time. When words and gestures fail to deceive the Filipino people into submission, the state apparatus of force and repression kicks into high gear. The worsening culture of impunity, terror and fascism that has defined the Duterte regime so far reflects how the reactionary state now resorts to desperate measures. The proliferation of trolls, paid hacks, fake news, disinformation and black propaganda only emphasize how the reactionary regime is quickly mobilizing resources to discredit the recent gains of revolutionary and militant struggle by the people.

On the other hand, the threats under a fascist dictatorship have done little to deter and prevent Filipino artists, cultural and media workers, organizations and communities from expressing the anti-fascist struggle through creative and collective means. If there is anything that history and the past years under Pres. Duterte have emphasized in the field of culture, it is how art that has resisted fascism possesses great potential to mobilize and agitate diverse sectors of Philippine society to collectively act against the threat of tyranny and dictatorship.

The Filipino people’s cultural resistance against fascist rule has, across time, yielded compelling forms and practices that exposed the depravity of the state’s counter-revolutionary campaigns and the extent of human rights violations against the people.

Through such efforts, the Duterte regime, for instance, has been mocked and unmasked early on as another iron-fisted and essentially anti-people fascist puppet regime. It has been exposed as a railroader of socio-economic policies that reinforce neoliberal and feudal class interests and drag the Filipino toiling masses into more poverty and hardship.

Lastly, the people’s cultural resistance has also documented, made vivid and advanced the growth of the mass movement and the revolutionary armed struggle in the countryside. As the Party observed its fifth decade of advancing the Philippine revolution, these efforts help show and testify to how struggle and optimism continues to grow amid heightened counter-insurgency by another puppet regime.

Marcos’s Burial is History’s Reversal

in Countercurrent
by Bukang Liwayway

The overthrow of the Marcos regime by a people’s uprising in 1986 was historic for the Philippines. The growing people’s war in the countryside had steadily weakened the regime’s military clout and political grip on power and gave the urban-based anti-dictatorship struggle the opportunity to oust the hated regime. President Ferdinand Marcos and his family, aided by the US imperialists, fled the country in fear. Corazon Aquino and a new administration rose to power.

That would have been the end of the Marcos family’s political rule. Instead, the last 30 years have seen the steady rehabilitation of the Marcoses and their return to national politics through ruling class accommodation, compromise and opportunism. Six consecutive administrations played their part, culminating in the burial of the late dictator at the Libingan ng mga Bayani in November 2016 under the Duterte government.

The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) sharply pointed out: “The hero’s burial accorded to Ferdinand Marcos virtually completes the political rehabilitation of the Marcoses and the revision of the historical judgment against the crimes of the Marcos family”. The Filipino people’s verdict in 1986 was clear: the Marcos regime was guilty of puppetry to US imperialism, gross bureaucrat capitalism, and ruthless fascism. What happened?

 

Corazon Aquino’s magnanimity in victory

Ironically, the refurbishing of the Marcos family’s political fortunes started under the watch of Pres. Corazon Aquino whose family is supposedly the main political rival of the Marcoses.

Pres. Aquino set a compromising tone early on. “I can be magnanimous in victory,” she declared. Evading the problem of dealing directly with the fate of the deposed dictator, she allowed US imperialism to facilitate the “graceful” exit from the country of the late dictator and his family aboard a US air force plane on February 25, 1986.

More than that evasion of responsibility to exact justice for the people, the new administration and supposed return to democratic rule did not mean any real change in elite-driven and anti-people governance. Repressive and anti-people laws, programs and policies of the Marcos dictatorship quickly became manifest under the Aquino regime, especially after Pres. Aquino, in March 1987, “unsheathe(d) the sword of war” against the revolutionary forces and the people in general.

The Aquino regime used the vast powers of government to reapportion the economic spoils of political power with the previously excluded economic political elites. Compromise deals were sealed to recover the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses and their cronies. In the end, foreign corporations and local oligarchs close to the Aquinos took hold of erstwhile Marcos and crony resources for their own profitable ends. The US-Aquino regime ensured the consolidation of its ruling clique and of elite rule over the country.

Cronyism continued with, for instance, Aquino’s brother Jose Cojuangco and her brother-in-law Ricardo Lopa. The Lopez family was handed back Manila Electric Company (Meralco) and ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation on a silver platter. The Presidential Commission for Good Governance (PCGG) itself, purportedly created to fight corruption, was rife with gross irregularities.

Soon after assuming the presidency, Pres. Aquino also said: “I would like to show by example the sooner we can forget our hurts, the sooner we can start rebuilding our country.” This notion of ‘moving on’ would be echoed 30 years later by the Marcoses themselves.

It was then left for the Filipino people to neither forgive nor forget the horrors of Martial Law (ML) and to seek and fight for justice. In April 1986, the Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (SELDA) with the victims and their families filed a class action suit against the Marcoses at the Federal District Court of Honolulu in Hawaii. Almost 10,000 victims won this landmark Hilao vs Marcos Estate case six years later in 1992. The court, in 1994, awarded a minimum of US$1.2 billion from the Marcos ill-gotten estate as indemnification.

On November 4, 1991, President Corazon Aquino allowed the return of Imelda Marcos, ostensibly to face trial on tax fraud. She was arrested the day after she arrived but posted bail (for US$6,340) and never spent a single day in jail.

Without legal impediments Imelda Marcos brazenly ran for president in May 1992, if not to win then certainly to condition the electorate to their family’s return. The rehabilitation of the Marcoses was thus well underway by the end of Pres. Aquino’s term in 1992.

 

Ramos-Marcos reconciliation: Marcos (body) returns

Pres. Fidel V. Ramos followed suit. On September 7, 1993, he allowed the return of the dictator’s body to the Philippines. Pres. Ramos proceeded to negotiate compromise deals with the Marcoses themselves. The first attempt was a 75/25 sharing of US$400 million of the Marcos’ wealth, brokered in 1993. The second was a 50/50 split of US$100 million negotiated by the PCGG with Robert Swift—lawyer of the victims who filed the class action suit—in exchange for dropping the suit against the Marcoses. But the victims protested so Pres. Ramos was unable to finalize these deals.

No help was given to ML victims during the Ramos administration, despite the NDFP’s demand continuously in the peace negotiations with the Ramos regime for the indemnification and compensation of the victims. It succeeded to have this support to victims enshrined in Article 5 of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).

But justice continued to evade the Filipino people. On September 23, 1993, Imelda Marcos was finally sentenced 18-24 years in jail for graft, with permanent disqualification from public office. But Mrs. Marcos was allowed bail by the court and was set free while the decision is on appeal. She again ran for public office in 1995.

The Ramos administration saw the Marcos family quickly regaining their political ground with the dictator’s son, daughter, and wife taking political office. Bongbong Marcos was elected Representative of the 2nd District of Ilocos Norte from 1992-1995. He failed in his first bid for the Senate in 1995 but became governor of Ilocos Norte in 1998 until 2007. Imee Marcos meanwhile took over as Representative of the 2nd District of Ilocos Norte in 1998 and similarly held this position until 2007. Imelda Marcos became representative of the 1st district of Leyte from 1995-1998.

 

Estrada’s loyalty is to the Marcoses

The country’s next president, Joseph Estrada, was an unabashed Marcos loyalist. Imelda Marcos again ran for president in 1998, hoping still that a Marcos can reclaim the presidency, although she later withdrew to support Estrada.

Pres. Estrada showed his loyalty and gratefulness by also initiating compromise deals with the Marcoses. He did a 75/25 sharing similar to the one by former Pres. Ramos. Another one was worth US$150 million involving Atty. Robert Swift, legal counsel of the latterly-formed group Claimants 1081. It took protests by SELDA, the victims and their families to again prevent these compromise attempts from succeeding.

In October 1998, barely six months from office, the Supreme Court (SC) under Estrada reversed its earlier decision and acquitted Imelda Marcos of corruption. (Under Ramos, the SC, upon Imelda Marcos’s appeal, upheld the 1993 guilty verdict of the former first lady by a lower court. In its decision the court downgraded to 12 years Imelda’s prison sentence and asked for a fine of $4.3 million).

It was Pres. Estrada who first proposed, in 1998, to transfer the late dictator Marcos’ body from Ilocos Norte to the Libingan ng mga Bayani. This plan was thwarted by the instant vigorous and widespread protest by the people.

The NDFP continued to press for justice for the victims of martial law especially when the CARHRIHL was signed. But nothing came of it as the Estrada regime eventually suspended the peace negotiations with the NDFP as he declared an “all-out-war” against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Even after Estrada was ousted in 2001 on charges of bribery, graft and corruption, betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the reactionary Constitution, the Marcoses remained in solid control of the 2nd Congressional District of Ilocos Norte and of the province’s governorship.

 

Remaining 15 years and next

By the abrupt end of Pres. Estrada’s term, just 15 years after the Marcos dictatorship was overthrown, the Marcos family had not only preserved huge amounts of their ill-gotten wealth but had also used this to rebuild their political alliances with traditional politicians especially, but not only, in the northern part of Luzon. Their re-entry into Philippine politics was complete, moving from local politics to national positions.

The two consecutive regimes of Gloria Arroyo (2001-2010) and even that of Corazon Aquino’s son, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino (2010-2016) did nothing to push back the restoration of the Marcos’ political fortunes.

In 2004, the Arroyo government sought “closure of the Marcos issue” and started negotiating yet another compromise agreement. This was stopped by the militant protests of ML victims and people’s organizations. The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) sharply pointed out: “Successive reactionary regimes from [Corazon] Aquino to Arroyo have failed to mete out swift and appropriate justice on Imelda Marcos and the Marcos cronies because of their interest in the Marcos’ ill-gotten wealth.” It went on further to remind that: “The people’s history has adjudged Ferdinand Marcos as the Philippine Hitler.”

Pres. Noynoy Aquino meanwhile delayed the passage and implementation of the Marcos Victims Compensation Bill or the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013. By the end of his term, only 23% of the 75,000 applicants/registered victims were processed. He could have expedited the process—especially because most of the claimants have become old and sick—aside from more aggressively going after the Marcos ill-gotten wealth.

Even as this was happening Imee Marcos remained as governor of Ilocos Norte and Imelda Marcos the Representative of the 2nd District of Ilocos Norte since 2010, with both on their third terms.

But it is Bongbong Marcos who has been groomed to be his dictator father’s heir apparent. He was Representative of the 2nd District of Ilocos Norte until 2010 when he passed this to his sister, Imee, and took a Senate seat from 2010-2016. In 2016 he ran for the vice-presidency in a virtual ticket with Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte. While Duterte took the presidency, Bongbong Marcos closely lost to Leni Robredo but is currently contesting this. He is generally believed to be gunning for the presidency in 2022.

That the son of the reviled dictator is so close to the country’s highest office says much about the rottenness of Philippine politics. Reactionary politicians from the ruling classes have allowed and even supported the Marcos’s return to power—as much for their own narrow, opportunistic and self-serving interests as to deny the Filipino people of their victory of thrashing the Marcoses after 14 years of dictatorship.

As matters stand, the rehabilitation of the Marcoses rapidly picked up under the Duterte administration. At his proclamation rally in February 2016, then candidate Duterte outright declared Marcos as “the best president ever” with the qualification “ïf not for the dictatorship,” as if this was not at the core of his tyrannical rule. He even went on to cite economic programs that he said were worth emulating.

Pres. Duterte downgraded the annual commemoration of the EDSA “People Power Revolution” in February 2017 and did not even bother to attend it. And there was of course his orally ordering the burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani of the dictator’s remains including a vigorous defense and justification, as if this was the most natural thing to do.

The CPP denounced this act of burying Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. In a statement it said the heroes’ burial “was an act of great reversal of the historical judgment of the Filipino people against the US-Marcos dictatorship and a completion of the political resurrection of the Marcoses.” It called on the Filipino people to demand from the Duterte regime to reverse the historical wrong it committed against the people and end all the legacies of martial law.

But the Duterte regime seemed far from heading towards this direction. It would still be up to the Filipino people to put an end to the Marcos rehabilitation as they once did to the Marcos dictatorship. History will be the final judge.

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