BOOK REVIEW: AUTHORITARIAN DISASTER: The Duterte Regime and the Prospects for a Marcos Presidency
Editor: Regletto Aldrich Imbong
Contributors: Karlo Mikhail Mongaya, Patrick Torres, Ma. Diosa Labiste, Jose Monfred Sy, Marie Rose Arong, Jerry Imbong, Carlton “Cobbie” Palm, Phoebe Zoe Maria Sanchez and Regletto Aldrich Imbong
Published by Nova Science Publishers, Inc., New York, 2023
CEBU CITY (MindaNews / 1 June)—“Rodrigo Duterte is perhaps the most contentious while widely studied president of the country’s postwar political landscape,” thus wrote Regletto Imbong in his Introduction of this book. More than a dozen books and journal articles have been published during and after the end of Duterte’s regime (e.g., Walden Bello 2016/17, Nicole Curato 2016/2021, Jose Mario Francisco SJ 2021, Richard Heydarian 2018, Christopher Ryan Maboloc 2020, Joshua Makalintal 2018, Ronald Pernia 2019, Nathan Quimpo 2009/2017, et al).
There are those who claimed that Duterte was the best President the Republic of the Philippines ever had. But, on the other hand, a segment of the country’s population vilified him as an authoritarian dictator with no regard for human rights, gender sensitivity and climate justice. Thus, books written on Duterte have reflected this binary opposition.
What about AUTHORITARIAN DISASTER: The Duterte Regime and the Prospects for a Marcos Presidency? Does it praise Duterte to high heavens or does it debunk the Duterte mystique that would ruffle the feathers of the loyalist Dutertards across the land? Dr. Gerardo Lanuza, Professor of Sociology of the University of the Philippines – Diliman, wrote the following excerpt of his blurb for this book:
This book which is “a collection of scholarly but academically engaged essays on Duterte’s fascist rule and continuing grip on Philippine society is a long overdue book but it is very timely. What makes the book different from other similar anthologies on Duterte’s regime, is that it embraces the polemical label of fascism with all its ideological ramifications while remaining historically faithful to the current Philippine class constellation.”
There are eight essays included in this anthology, apart from Imbong’s Introduction and an Afterword written by Phoebe Zoe Maria Sanchez. The authors are mainly philosophy professors of the Visayas State University, Silliman University, University of the Philippines-Cebu and UP Diliman. They included the following with the titles of their respective essays: Karlo Mikhail Mongaya (Fascism, Fascisation, and Neoliberalism from Marcos to Duterte), Patrick Torres (Expanding the Executive: The Civilian and Military Infrastructure of a “populist” Presidency), Ma. Diosa Lebiste (Punitive Populism and Disinformation as Legacies of Duterte), Jose Monfred Sy Indigenous Education as Contentious Politics: Lumad Schools in the Face of Duterte’s Authoritarianism), Marie Rose Arong (Sisyphean Cycle of Duterte’s Environmental Management), Jerry Imbong (The Philippine Church and Post-Duterte Politics), and Carlton Cobbie Palm (The Rise of Authoritarianism and the Fall of Peace: Factors and Implications for a Post-Duterte Philippines).
Just by reading the titles of the eight essays one can tell that this collection of philosophical treatises comprehensively cover all the important hot issues that bedeviled the Duterte administration from the controversy surrounding his drug war (a war which resulted in thousands of extra-judicial killings) to the collapse of the GRP-CPP/NPA peace talks, from how media was censored to the use of social media for purposes of disinformation, as well as from how it unjustly treated the Lumads’ aspiration to have schools in their own backyards and its inability to protect their ancestral lands from the onslaught of mining firms and other ecological disturbances.
And at the center of all the discourses is the assertion of all the authors that Duterte’s regime was one of populist authoritarianism where both the civilian and military infrastructure were at the service of the regime’s reign of impunity.
As the essays were written at the tail-end of the Duterte regime and the return of another Marcos administration was imminent, a few of the essays also dealt with the prospects of a second Marcos government. Clearly, the authors shared a common perspective on how they viewed the legacy of the Duterte administration. Unlike other books which have placed Duterte on a pedestal, this US-based publication provides a profile of a fascist President ensconced in a populist mode of governance.
The authors characterized this regime as having adopted a reign of impunity to wage a drug war, resorted to red-tagging to silence critics, including media and church personnel, and empowered the military to suppress the rights of indigenous communities. Imbong’s Introduction clearly posited this collective opinion, namely, that “(g)iven how the regime has boldly displayed its power to maneuver control over its perceived opponents and the Filipino people, from its aggressive attacks against the political opposition and the media, through the expanding power of the executive relative to the other two branches of the government, to the secularization of even the socio-medical concerns of the Philippines (drug addiction and the pandemic), one can hardly deny the authoritarianism of Duterte’s style of governance.”
Given the academic background of the authors who had finished graduate studies in Philosophy, Philippine Studies and related Social Sciences, it is to be expected that their essays appropriated or referred to mostly Western theorists. The names that appear in these texts include Alain Badiou, Ernesto Laclau, Chantal Mouffe, Nicos Poulantzas, Karl Marx, Albert Camus and so many others. Clearly the authors assert that their scholarship can serve as a “political practice which aims to elucidate a theoretical position that intends not only to understand authoritarianism but also to imagine the prospects for a democratic future.”
However, despite what could be perceived as a book meant mainly for those in the academia, this book enters the sphere of praxis bridging the value of theory into practical applications. This is where engaged scholarship committed to truth-telling has a great value in extending the public sphere as well as empowering civil society organizations. To ground their essays into the actual realities that unfolded during the Marcos regime, the authors compiled materials from a wide range of sources from news reports to documentations prepared by human rights groups, social media postings to church documents, fact sheets prepared by government institutions and CSOs as well as their own observations of how these events impacted our citizenry’s lives.
One can only hope that this book reaches a wide circle of Filipinos and can help us to discern how we collectively must act to order to assure that this Republic truly becomes a free, just, democratic and sovereign nation-state. In this book there is a warning that we Filipinos need to heed as articulated by Karlo Mikhail Mongaya:
“The Marcos-Duterte clique’s taking the helm of the Philippine peripheral state augurs a decade of more intense social struggles. Amidst the challenge of countering more intensified fascist revival, progressives must forge workers-led class alliances that reach a wider mass and go beyond the narrow interest of any one social group for the purpose of building a national-popular counter-hegemony for national and social liberation. This is imperative if they are to seize the moment when, sooner rather than later, most people realize that the full-blown revival of fascism is never the answer to the crisis of neoliberalism and the neo-colonial ruling system.”
(Note on where the book is available: As it is published by the Nova Science Publishers, Inc. based in New York, clearly the book is expensive for now. However, there is a plan to have a Philippine edition. For inquiries on this book’s availability for the moment, contact the Editor: Regletto Aldrich Imbong email@example.com.)
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar is Mindanao’s most prolific book author. Gaspar is also a Datu Bago 2018 awardee, the highest honor the Davao City government bestows on its constituents. He recently moved to his new assignment in Cebu City.)