The many uses of war

Cebu Daily News - - OPINION - Xhatchng@ya­

The first year of Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte’s ad­min­is­tra­tion was rocked by var­i­ous con­tro­ver­sies, such as his grant­ing of a hero’s burial for the for­mer dic­ta­tor Fer­di­nand Mar­cos, the ac­cu­sa­tions of mas­sive ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings in the anti-drug cam­paign, the in­creas­ing Chi­nese oc­cu­pa­tion and mil­i­ta­riza­tion of our is­lands in the West Philip­pine Sea, and his own lack of tact in speeches that have of­fended many peo­ple here and abroad. These is­sues po­lar­ized the na­tion and led a lot of his for­mer sup­port­ers to dis­il­lu­sion­ment.

Yet, in spite of these con­tro­ver­sies, the Pres­i­dent’s war on drugs has re­mained pop­u­lar. And there was yet an­other is­sue that made him pull it through: The sud­den out­break of ter­ror­ist at­tack in Marawi. Along­side the war on drugs, Duterte now has to wage an­other mas­sive war: the war on ter­ror­ism.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ef­forts to quash the ISIS - Maute ter­ror­ists that in­vaded Marawi gave Duterte an­other im­pe­tus to ask the Filipinos to unite and back him up. All other is­sues were swept un­der the rug as the pub­lic threw its sup­port on the Pres­i­dent. Even the op­po­si­tion and his left-wing al­lies ex­pressed sup­port on the mil­i­tary as the Com­man­der-in-Chief ral­lied the na­tion in the fight against ter­ror­ism.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion found a good rea­son to de­mand the im­ple­men­ta­tion of Mar­tial Law in Min­danao. Dis­sent was weak as re­vi­sion­ist nar­ra­tives of Mar­tial Law dur­ing the 1970s, which painted a “Golden Age” in Philip­pine his­tory, be­came pop­u­lar in the so­cial me­dia. Fears of the re­turn of mil­i­tary atroc­i­ties and hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions were largely ig­nored as most peo­ple were will­ing to give up their lib­er­ties if only to grant the ad­min­is­tra­tion the iron hand to crush the ter­ror­ists.

Duterte de­mo­nized hu­man rights in his speeches say­ing that it stands in the way of the govern­ment’s ef­forts to wipe out crim­i­nals and ter­ror­ists. His sup­port­ers lauded the killing spree that came in the wake of such state­ments as a clear act of po­lit­i­cal will.

Duterte’s two-pronged war on drugs and ter­ror­ism strength­ened the nar­ra­tive that this na­tion needs a strong leader to be able to de­feat these demons. In fact, based on his own pro­nounce­ments, what this na­tion re­ally needs is a dic­ta­tor like Mar­cos. Duterte’s con­tin­ued pop­u­lar­ity is proof that many of us are will­ing to grant him that sta­tus at the ex­pense of our own rights and lib­er­ties.

His­tor­i­cally, war has al­ways been used to jus­tify au­thor­i­tar­ian rule. The ex­pe­di­en­cies of war makes it easy for a pop­ulist ruler to per­suade the pub­lic to ig­nore atroc­i­ties com­mit­ted by the armed au­thor­i­ties pur­port­edly made in le­git­i­mate op­er­a­tions against the en­emy. War makes it easy for the Strong Leader to de­mo­nize his en­e­mies.

We are see­ing this in how Filipinos have be­come numbed or even glad at the rise of killings con­ducted al­most ev­ery day as part of the war on drugs. We are play­ing blind to the bla­tant dis­re­gard of due process as those killed were among the dreaded “list” of sus­pects in­volved in the drug trade.

Amid ob­vi­ous cover-ups and de­nials in the messed up op­er­a­tions, the pub­lic sup­ported the po­lice ver­sion of the story. We all wanted to hear such sto­ries as we want to be­lieve that the Pres­i­dent’s war is work­ing.

Learn­ing from his­tory, Duterte un­der­stands the im­por­tance of war in en­sur­ing pub­lic sup­port for his claims to erad­i­cat­ing crim­i­nal­ity and ter­ror­ism. War is a nec­es­sary process of “cleans­ing.” And, ac­cord­ing to this ter­ri­fy­ing tale, this na­tion has to be cleansed with the blood of crim­i­nals and ter­ror­ists. This blood­bath is thus con­ducted with our con­sent, of­ten ex­pressed in our si­lence and lack of out­rage.

Learn­ing from his­tory, Duterte un­der­stands the im­por­tance of war in en­sur­ing pub­lic sup­port for his claims to erad­i­cat­ing crim­i­nal­ity and ter­ror­ism.

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