Editor’s note: The following is an interview conducted by Rado Gatchalian. Gatchalian is one of the lead initiators of various DDS global events, DU30 Correspondent for Australia Blogger and organiser of RaDU30 Advocacy and The FILOsopher. He asked Eurasia Future’s Adam Garrie the following questions about President Duterte and The Philippines.
RG: Given the current political climate in the Philippines wherein the Oppositions strongly call to save democracy against the tyranny of President Duterte – how would you convince the minority, meaning the few Filipinos who do not support Duterte, that Duterte is indeed an epitome of democracy?
AG: The problem with democracy is that few actually understand what the word means. In terms of the linguistic background, the word as we know it is derived from the ancient Hellenic word δημοκρατία or dēmokratía which itself is derived from the word dēmos meaning the people and kratía which simply means power or rule. In this sense, that which the people lend their numerical power to support is necessarily democratic.
As Duterte has remained consistently popular since his election in 2016, Duterte is by definition a democratic leader who the people support for the self-evident reason that he represents their aspirations at both a national level and in terms of his style which emphasises his links with his fellow Filipinos rather than the old elite of Imperial Manila.
RG: As a foreigner, how would you react to some criticisms that you do not hold a personal and moral integrity to give opinions about Philippines and Duterte?
AG: We live in a world that is more interconnected than ever before in history. This is the case not only in terms of the power of information technology but in terms of how events in one part of globe effect ordinary people on the other side of that shared globe. As such, we should all have the right and perhaps a duty to comment on events in a world that effect all of us. Just consider that which Duterte is fighting: political extremists terrorists (the NPA), jihadist terrorists (Maute group etc) and narco-terrorists. Look also at how Duterte is trying to make major constitutional reforms to break the stranglehold of both the old political elite and business oligarchs – the rice barons for example.
Such issues are easily extrapolated into many if not most nations and cultures on earth. Thus, when Duterte does something positive for his nation, other can and should learn from this very strong example of modern reformism.
Furthermore, it often helps to hear the constructive opinions of outsiders. Just as a friend may understand why a couple divorces more than the couple themselves, sometimes the best analyst of any situation including geopolitics is someone at least partly removed from the physical heart of the matter. This is why for example a wide angle lens has a purpose as much as one that can zoom in with the utmost detail.
Lastly, people across the world based on our very humanity are able to instinctively tell when someone’s heart and mind are in the right place. The best judge of truth, justice and someone’s intention is the healthy mind of a fellow human being. Thus, people can take or leave foreign commentary on national events (of any nation) on that basis or as Duterte might say “if you don’t like it, feel free to go to hell, I will not stop you”.
RG: Would you consider President Duterte as a populist? If yes, how would you respond to this common political and philosophical concept that populism endangers the spirit of true democracy?
AG: It depends on how one defines populist. There are many often conflicting definitions and among global liberal elites, their definition is almost always deeply negative. My definition happens to be a positive one. I believe a populist is essentially someone who is democratically successful in so far as the populist knows what his or her people seek from a politician. The populist understands that a people’s aspirations cannot be separated from one’s cultural characteristics and that furthermore at the moment a political class takes on the characteristics of feudalism, royalty, elitism or self-described divinity, it loses its touch with the people.
In this sense, Duterte is a highly successful and well meaning populist.
RG: Looking at the recent social phenomena where strong political figures such as Libya’s Gaddafi, Russia’s Putin, and China’s Xi Jinping are being perceived as “authoritarian” – will you align Duterte in this category?
AG: I personally define an authoritarian as someone who prioritises centralising power within a single individual over serving the people by whatever means necessary. In this sense. none of the above are authoritarian as each presided over peaceful societies that become economically stronger as a result of their respective leadership.
When a leader is truly hated because of authoritarian tendencies, such a leader will eventually be overthrown either by the people or the military. I’m of course talking about real revolutions rather than those which result from foreign funded provocations. In this sense, Duterte is not an authoritarian at all and nor does he censor critics. Duterte’s critics are louder than a heavy metal concert in so far as their screams against him are concerned. If the yellow factions see this as censorship, they have very strange understanding of actual censorship.
RG: Looking at the recent developments in the Philippines – there is now a critical question on the veracity of historical events such as Marcos is a great leader as opposed to Ninoy Aquino who was hailed as a hero but now being perceived as a traitor to our country. As a question of interpretation – who will be the unquestionable authority now in terms of historical truths? With this premise – will Duterte, who is now considered as a great leader, become the exact opposite of this in the future? What is your view on this?
AG: One of the great tragedies of Cory Aquino’s period of rule is that rather than calling for national reconciliation she acted like a boxer trash talking her opponent as he is lying bloodied on the floor of the ring. This is the politics of envy, vengeance and spite – it is not mature in any sense.
Take for example Lee Kuan Yew. Lee was initially a strong supporter of Malaysian integration who literally wept when Singapore became a sovereign state and had to go it alone. Lee wished no ill towards Malaysia let alone to Singapore’s Malay population but instead carried forward policies for internal unity and a pragmatic and respectful approach to all foreign powers, including difficult ones.
By contrast, Cory Aquino turned her dead husband into a cult figure whose legacy could not be questioned. Ninoy Aquino was a man and so was Ferdinand Marcos. Filipinos of the 21st century should not be divided by either of these men but should look at each one’s legacy objectively and then move on.
This in many ways is the brilliance of Duterte. He has allowed for a more objective and less hysterical view on Marcos to be aired in public but he has not spat on the legacy of Ninoy Aquino even though his supporters continue to spit on Duterte.
Duterte is trying to play the role of national healer and yet he is being sabotaged every step of the way. That being said, when the dust settles and Liberals become more and more exposed for what they really are, I believe Duterte will be looked at as a great man for allowing the past to be viewed objectively rather than through the narrative of one faction alone.
RG: One of the key arguments of anti-Duterte people is that Duterte garnered 16 million votes which is 39% of the total number of voters. This figure does not represent a majority number of Filipinos. With this premise – they would like to contest that President Duterte does not have a vast number of supporters in the Philippines. In their minds a “silent majority” exists. What can you say about this?
AG: This argument stems from a position of supreme ignorance regarding how most presidential elections work. The vast majority of presidential systems in the world require a second round (sometimes called run-off) of voting when no single person achieved more than 50% of all votes cast during an initial round of voting. In such a system, the first and second place candidates will complete against each other in the second round in which someone is consequently guaranteed to gain a simple majority.
In The Philippines, it does not work this way. Whoever wins in the first round becomes President in The Philippines. Thus, by gaining 39% of the vote in a field of five candidates, Duterte has done very well by the standards of a first round of voting which is what in effect all Philippine Presidential elections are.
RG: What are your objective thoughts on the below key topics?
a. Appointment of Supreme Court Chief Justice Teresita de Castro – to serve for a very short period of two months.
AG: I think this shows the stupidity of forcing a judge to retire early. I’m opposed to term limits for the same reason. So long as someone is competent and honest, they should be able to stand for re-election or continue working as a judge. Thus, I find it a bit sad that she’ll be forced to resign shortly after being appointed.
b. Revocation of Trillanes’ amnesty – a question of law.
AG: Just recently President Duterte stated that only the President can offer amnesty. It cannot be given by a member of the Cabinet and be legitimate. In this sense, the legal issues facing Trillanes seem fairly open and shut.
c. Philippines’ inflation rate – how is Duterte governing effectively in terms of economic progress?
AG: First of all, it is hard for Duterte’s voice to be understood correctly on inflation with the yellow media blaming him for external factors (mostly from the US due to the trade war with China, a strong dollar/low dollar supply and accompanying comparatively high interest rates) that have led to inflation not only in The Philippines but in Turkey, South Africa, China, India, Pakistan, Argentina….in almost all of the emerging markets of the world.
The biggest obstacle The Philippines has in respect helping people at a time of consumer price inflation is restrictions on imports and an unfriendly investment environment, even though Duterte has made great progress in this last area. But to solve the issue in a more meaningful way, is time to trash the 60-40 rule on FDI (foreign direct investment) from the Constitution in order to bring in forward thinking investors at a time when a strong foreign currency goes especially far in The Philippines due to a weak Peso.
I certainly hope that Duterte and his House Speaker former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo go in this direction. I have great hopes that they will.
d. Vice-President Leni as a fake VP
AG: The election was clearly scandalous and yet the recount is taking so long that it may be a moot point by the time the truth behind the irregularities of the election are fully known. In any case, Leni is clearly too stupid to be a Vice President. It makes The Philippines look less serious in the eyes of international partners when there’s a VP who doesn’t know basic mathematics, who doesn’t know anything about political geography and who thinks a Holocaust memorial is a place to take selfies. She’s simply a disgrace.
e. Joma Sison versus President Duterte – side topic: Is Communism dead?
AG: The kind of terroristic communism and street fighting communism of Sison is clearly dead. People see him for what he is – an opportunist who is rapidly running out of opportunities. He is no idealist and doesn’t even have a genuine ideology. He is just a thug wrapped in a red flag that Filipinos rejected decades ago.
f. Mainstream media and Duterte – a question of press freedom.
Again, one must turn to Lee Kuan Yew who in the following video from the late 1980s spoke some very important truths about the state of media in The Philippines and why it has been harmful to national progress, development and enlightenment.
Of course today, media is very different in the world as a whole including in both Singapore and The Philippines. The key today is for non-MSM platforms to be given more space in the wider public square. In this sense, The Philippines is far more advanced than the United States or Europe where alternative platforms are scoffed at and suppressed. In The Philippines, the success for example of Mocha Uson shows that the people are listening to new media more than the old MSM in many respects.
I personally don’t see a single MSM outlet being suppressed. Rappler looks as though it has broken the law on corporate ownership structures yet they are barking away every day. The only danger to press freedom in The Philippines is if foreign tech companies begin censoring people like Mocha in the way that companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter are for example censoring pro-Trump opinion right in the United States. This is why I believe that Filipinos should develop their own social media platforms while also using both Chinese and US social media platforms. The more options – the better.
RG: President Duterte is often critical to religious concepts of God particularly against the teachings of organised religions. Will you consider him agnostic or a freethinker who wants to shake the ill beliefs of the population. How can you convince the predominantly Catholic population in the Philippines to become more rational and at the same time faithful to their beliefs? What is your view of Duterte’s famous statement of “Your god is stupid?”
AG: If you’ll pardon the pun, Duterte’s attitude towards organised religion is a God send. For centuries, the Roman Catholic Church has been holding The Philippine nation hostage by acting not as a source of spiritual guidance at a personal level but in shaping, manipulating and meddling in the politics of state. This was how the Spanish conquered the land and it is how the Catholic priests and bishops today try to meddle in the temporal politics of The Philippines.
When Duterte said “God is stupid” his full statement was that “your God is stupid”. He defined who he was addressing in multiple speeches. For Duterte, a God of wisdom and compassion is a fair and intelligent supreme being while that which is worshipped by bishops dripping in gold while people starve is the deity of the indolent, the crass, the cruel and the corrupt.
Religion functions best at a personal level and at the level of a family. The minute organised religions with vast amounts of money (including from overseas) starts to meddle in the political affairs of the nation, it becomes not a real religion but a fifth column out to harm the nation and its people while only enriching itself.
Someone needed to put the Catholic Church in The Philippines in its place long ago. Duterte is doing this. His message is simple: ‘Restrict yourselves to private religious matters, stay out of politics and show some meaningful atonement for years of hypocrisy ranging from taking money off the poor to multiple cases of child abuse’.
RG: What is your idea of a Utopian society and a great ruler? Does Greek philosopher Plato’s ‘Republic’ resonate to your idea of a wise ruler? Objectively, will you consider Duterte as a symbol of a model leader in this modern time?
Plato was an idealist, albeit a very rational one. Still, I do not think anything close to a Utopian Platonic republic is possible in the real world. That’s why I tend to look more towards Confucius who offered a pragmatic yet ethical approach to life. Furthermore, the approach of Confucius is highly instructive to a political leader particularly when he said,
“When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps”.
In other words, do not be a coward just because you get slapped down when pursuing your goals. At the same time do not be a fool in thinking that a failed method of attaining your goals will work if repeated a second time.
I believe that Duterte’s approach lies somewhere between the ethical and pragmatic authority of Confucius and the strategic genius of Sun Tzu. Duterte is able to remain honest and dedicated to his principles, flexible in his action steps and yet he is always able to keep his opponents on their toes. They simply do not know that steps he will take next and this is hilighly important in any political system based on adversarial relations. This is in my world, a great leader by any stretch of the imagination.
RG: What do you think are the five strengths of President Duterte as a leader?
1. Compassion for his people
2. A sense of duty derived from humility rather than egotism
5. Forward thinking
RG: Objectively, if you can advise three things that President Duterte must change or improve, what are they?
1. Go not only for federalism but for a unicameral national parliamentary system at the same time. There is no time to waste. Too much time has already been wasted
2. Ditch the 60-40 FDI rule as soon as possible
3. Bring back capital punishment
RG: You both support Federalism and Revolutionary Government. Between the two, which one will you prioritise and why? Do you think the Philippines is ready for this?
AG: Ideally federalism could simply be implemented after a normal legislative process but if the legislature realise that federalism will weaken their power, they may obstruct the president not out of sincerity but out of greed.
If this is the case, I believe a temporary Revolutionary Government might be the best opportunity to move the country forward rather than being held back by the old corrupt and dishonest elite of Imperial Manila.
RG: After President Duterte ends his term, is there any hope for the Philippines that change will continue? Will you support his daughter Davao City Mayor Inday Sara to succeed as the President of the Republic of the Philippines? How will we respond to the criticism that this supports political dynasty?
AG: I hope that by 2022 there will be a Prime Minister rather than a strong political President but in any case whether PM or President, I believe Mayor Inday Sara would make an excellent political leader of The Republic of The Philippines. While I’m not fond of political dynasties, I do not think having a political father or mother should automatically (key word) prohibit one from a political career either.
Singapore is among the most meritocratic nations on earth and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is of course the son of Lee Kuan Yew. I believe that in playing a crucial role in accompanying President Duterte on a number of his foreign visits, in addition to being a very productive Mayor of Davao City, that Inday Sara would make an excellent future leader at a national level.
RG: Democratically, it is necessary and essential for political oppositions to exist. This secures checks and balances. Having said this – how will you appreciate, if you can, the presence of Senators Trillanes, Hontiveros, Drilon, and Pangilinan?
AG: A healthy and patriotic opposition is essential to the national life of any democracy. In Russia for example, many are surprised that I support a Russian opposition party, the LDPR, even though I often write about some of the positive achievements that Russia is making, for example the free trading agreement between the Russian led Eurasian Economic Union and China. This is because while I oppose the ruling party of Russia, the main opposition parties are constructive in their criticism and are all equally patriotic.
This is how a healthy political opposition operates. An opposition holds government to account and offers what it believes are better alternative policy proposals than the current status quo. What a good opposition does not do is undermine the institutions of state, attempt to weaken the nation’s diplomatic standing by sowing discouraging internal chaos and an opposition does not act in a manner that is hysterical and often anti-national.
I cannot ascribe any positive attributes to Trillanes, Hontiveros, Drilon or Pangilinan. In fact they are the opposite of what a good opposition ought to be. This is another reason I support a parliamentary system. Opposition and government can both hold each other to account in the open in such a system while the weaknesses of both sides can also be scrutinised in real time.
RG: Looking at the Philippine history where we were colonised by Spain for 333 years, then consequently purchased by USA for $20 million, then occupied by Japan during the World War 2 – with Duterte as the leader of this broken nation and corrupted culture: is there any hope for the Philippines that we will one day heal as a united and progressive country?
I believe Duterte represents a great ray of sunlight in a history of a land blackened by foreign occupation, internal pessimism and a regressive political culture (particularly since 1987). The greatest legacy Duterte can give his nation is a new political system that allows for the next Duterte to emerge. The danger is that after 2022 the old Imperial Manila oligarchy will take back power and undo all of the good that Rodrigo Duterte has done. This cannot happen.
A federal parliamentary system and a completely new more forward looking and more outward looking Constitution is necessary in order to avoid post-Duterte stagnation. If Duterte can deliver this, he will have been the greatest leader in the entire history of The Philippines.
RG: Finally, what is your message to the Filipino people?
My message today remains the same as it was when you first interviewed me:
Never listen to critics who want you to be like someone else. Be the best for yourselves. Learn from positive examples, but use this to develop a better society that reflects your own characteristics. Remember that in the future, the countries that thought less of you, are now diminishing themselves while you are rising. Never be afraid and always be proud.