‘Tatay Digong’ and China

Nick V. Quijano Jr.

“The war bogey has been rejected soundly by Filipinos.

If one is a firm believer in our Republic, one has all the right to demand President Duterte change his course over China.

Being a firm believer in the Republic means subscribing to the idea of republicanism: The idea that sovereignty resides ultimately in the popular will and that in a just state the governed must have some role in governing.

By adhering to republicanism, we can begin to understand the political meaning of the recent Social Weather Stations (SWS) poll showing that four of five Filipinos rebuffed the government’s approach to the territorial dispute with China.

The poll, taken from June 27 to 30, shows that 81 percent of Filipinos believed it was “not right” for the government to allow China’s militarization of our claimed reefs in the Spratlys.

What this means for the fortunes of the administration, acting Supreme Court Chief Justice Antonio Carpio correctly puts it is: “the Duterte administration is going against the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the people.”

Nonetheless, the clarity of where current public opinion lies on the Spratlys issue is still somewhat lost with some of Mr. Duterte’s supporters.

It is a serious political question since if they have not changed the comfort of their convictions, a comfort they still go to any length to defend, why do they continue to do so?

Perhaps those convictions are still framed on the fear that only war results—where we will surely lose and where no one will help us—if we protest vigorously against China’s intrusions.

Perhaps those same convictions drive the government not to seek help from the international community to enforce our victory over China in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague; and instead to argue that we should set aside the ruling in exchange for aid and investment from China.

But the war bogey has been rejected soundly by Filipinos who clearly say only diplomacy and help from other nations are the necessary and best options to take on the Spratlys issue.

Since many still trust the administration’s tact, I strove to understand that support and it led me to the ancient idea of paternalism: it gave somewhat of an explanation.

Moreover, the idea popped as scores of Mr. Duterte’s avowed supporters are enamored withpaternalism—scores of Mr. Duterte’s supporters keep on calling him “Tatay Digong!”

“Tatay knows best” is the comment often made and it means many believe Mr. Duterte’s political instincts trumps being reasonable; and, maybe in the Spratlys issue, majority public opinion.

It also means that a number of Filipinos believe in the authority of Mr. Duterte as a natural leader who alone is said to be capable of forging the country’s destiny.

Powerful enablers in government also do not shy away from exploiting paternalism. In Mr. Duterte’s forthcoming third State of the Nation (SoNA) address, Malacañang wants President Duterte projected as the nation’s father, according to the film director hired to direct the presidential speech.

“They wanted me to show the manner how he addresses the nation. They wanted the audience to know how he will speak as mayor, as a father and as President,” Joyce Bernal told reporters. She said she plans to make the mood during the SoNA “patriotic.”

“Paternalism is still the notion of princely rule. It is not democratic rule.

If that is so, then we have not progressed much. Paternalism is still a shopworn idea, a depressing feudal throwback even if it is qualified by a hallucinating notion the father figure is a “benign patriotic” one.

Paternalism is still the notion of princely rule. It is not democratic rule. Paternalism’s chief claim is still—and it is the same principle apologists for tyranny tacitly assume—that if happiness is the aim of political society it is only through direction from above that citizens can achieve it.

Which is ironic because scorning direction from above was exactly what catapulted the administration to power. Scorning the elites of our cacique democracy, whom Duterte supporters derisively label as “dilawan” for not delivering on their promises unleashed a delirium of political anger.

But the funny thing is that these same elites, even if they disguised it with democratic processes, also firmly believed in directing the broad masses from above.

It’s still the same depressing elitism; except one goes by the name of cacique democracy and the other by cacique fascism.

Nonetheless, the anti-cacique anger is ably utilized by using Mr. Duterte as the representative of some sort of “all-powerful political will” towards a mythical new dawn.

So much so that this dawn allowed that nothing should stand in the way of this “all-powerful political will”—not constitutional institutions, not an independent press, not an independent judiciary, not the threat of continuing violence and the like.

But now? This same “all-powerful political will,” at least on the Spratlys issue, is saying that Mr. Duterte does not represent this same political will.

What then are we to make of this particular political moment except to speculate how long Mr. Duterte stays on his stubborn course?

Reach me at [email protected]

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