There exists a tremendous information deficit, as well as a context deficit among those who frequently lambaste the democratically elected and consistently popular President Rodrigo Duterte of The Philippines as a “dictator”. In order to be a dictator one typically attains power through force or manipulation, one rules by decree rather than by the rule of law and one disallows any meaningful opposition. In The Philippines, Duterte won a fair election in an incredibly difficult and convoluted political system, he continues to not only rule within the existing political system but seeks constitutional reforms which would limit the power of any future leader in ‘Imperial Manila’, whilst his opposition are so vocal that they threaten and lie about not only Duterte’s domestic supporters but his foreign admirers. Furthermore, Duterte has frequently stated that under the right conditions, he is more than willing to retire before the end of his term in 2022.
Whilst vowing to uphold the law of his land, Duterte recently gave an address in which he lambasted not only the lawlessness of coups against legitimate government, but the very futile nature of military coups. Duterte highlighted a trend throughout the history of nations prone to military coups in which the military exploits a time of discontent in order to remove the leadership of a nation – only to install the official or de-facto opposition in the wake of the coup.
Instead Duterte stated that if there is going to be a (hypothetical) coup, it should be against the entire political class – including both himself and his opponents. The Philippine President stated that in the event of a coup, the military should simply “drop all politicians”. He continued:
“The problem with you guys… is you go on a mutiny, rebellion, you do it, you time it [when] there’s a disturbance… in society, a political turmoil… If you win, you give the power to the opponents of the leader you had just deposed”.
Duterte instead suggested that should there be a coup, it should replace the entire political class with between 10 and 15 “bright young leaders”. Duterte reiterated:
“Drop all politicians, including me. I can swim slowly. I can always go home to Davao swimming. One kilometer a day would be fine..
…[Assure] them [the new leaders] of protection. Give them a salary of… ‘Okay, I’ll give you 10 million a month. You fuck up, we will kill you. You do good, we will increase your salary by the year”.
Here Duterte challenged his opponents to do one of the many things they have thus far proved incapable of: introspection. Even as China recovered from the tumultuous period known as the Great Leap Forward, in the aftermath of Mao’s temporary retreat from policy making, those responsible for the failures of the Great Leap Forward engaged in public self-criticism which at least somewhat demonstrated an ability to reflect on the failures of the recent past, rather than ignore them or perversely take pride in them.
By contrast, whilst Duterte’s main opponents offer The Philippines nothing but a ‘great leap backward’, they refuse to understand that of the many reasons that Duterte remains popular, is the fact that he represents a clean break from the past. But while Duterte’s opponents want to cling onto a society where old people promulgate old and failed ideas, Duterte himself realises that it is right for the next generation of principled reformist Filipinos to take up the mantle of leadership when he goes off to the happy retirement which he against stated that he looks forward to.
In this sense, while Duterte is clearly against coups and has not even invoked the constitutional principle of Revolutionary Government in order to resolve the country’s lingering systematic political problems, he is willing to state on the record that he’d rather have a transition to a youthful leadership led by soldiers than one which simply trades one existing discredited side for another. In other words, even in what would hypothetically be the worst of times, Duterte’s aim is to inspire win-win solutions.
This is all the more reason why Duterte’s words should be taken as a clear indication that in order to avoid the kinds of political situations that would lead to a hypothetical coup that few (including Duterte) want, they ought to actively promote a shift to a federal-parliamentary system, whilst also adopting a new constitutional order which forsakes restrictions on an open FDI friendly economic environment.
The countries that pursue such reforms not only become places that can give the best opportunities to the young, but generally become magnets to the young from abroad as is the case in Singapore, Hong Kong and more recently in mainland China.
It is therefore most pathetic that those who obsess with Duterte’s use of pointed language cannot see that his use of poetic licence is to hammer home points which are far too profound to be easily encapsulated in the prose of outmoded political rhetoric.
Duterte has issued a plea for a youthful revival of Philippine politics and it is one that political leaders across the spectrum ought to take notice of – assuming they want to avoid a future coup as much as President Duterte does.