Duterte’s Banana Republic

Opinion & Analysis Philippines Sep 5, 2018 at 2:05 pm

Duterte-TrillanesDuterte campaigned on being a “change” politician – a breath of fresh air from the putrid-smelling “trapos”. But with the order to arrest Trillanes, it’s business as usual in our banana republic.

Tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme, a banana republic makes a beast.

By José Victor ‘Jayvee’ Salameña

From the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

Banana Republic: a small dependent country usually of the tropics; especially: one run despotically

Leave it to Duterte to give me an emotional roller coaster like I used to have as a teen, from the highs of hanging out with a Filipina girl that I was obsessing crushing heavily on, to the crash and burn of hearing the dreaded words that would send a teen to the relationship purgatory colloquially known as the Friendzone: “I only see you as a friend.” (I’m married now so that was a long time ago.) Duterte gave me this high and low last (North American) Labor Day Monday. The “highs” came as Facebook videos of Duterte fans in Israel showed the adoring throngs of OFWs that happily greeted the President, as he was hosted by Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu. The “crash and burn” soon came swiftly after, as news reached that Duterte has revoked the amnesty given by NoyNoy Aquino to Antonio Trillanes IV, and has ordered for his arrest in his role in the 2003 Oakwood mutiny and the 2007 Manila Peninsula incident.

Even more disheartening is the rejoicing of fellow Duterte fans, who rejoiced on social media at the news.

But all I could think of was one of my best friend’s assessment of Duterte. I asked him, shortly after the 2016 election, what he thought of the new President-elect at that time. He said that one thing worried him about Duterte: he holds grudges and took things too personally. Sadly, his analysis proved right.

To anyone who has followed the news in the last few days, Duterte and Trillanes have been having a very public spat and war of words that intensified over the last few days. Trillanes called Duterte the “laziest, craziest and the worst president this country ever had”. Duterte then remarked that he wonders how Trillanes survived the Philippine Military Academy despite his “low IQ” (“Ang IQ niya siguro mga sais lang, syete”), to which Trillanes publicly challenged the President to an IQ test.

Does it not seem strange that this order to revoke the amnesty come at the time after they had this very public spat?

No, I am no fan of Antonio Trillanes IV. (It’s a good chance that any person who has ‘the third’ or ‘the fourth’ as part of their name in the Philippines is part of a family that is fully entrenched with the oligarchs that are the source of the ills of the Philippines). I too hollered and laughed at his response when a journalist asked him if he was a democrat. “No,” he replied, “I am a member of the Nationalista Party.” I too wish that he was held accountable to the failed coups that he helped orchestrate.

But to resort to this level of pettiness is just a sign that we are still very much a “banana republic.”

When I supported Duterte in 2016, it was because he wasn’t a “trapo.” (The term “trapo” is the short form of “tra-ditional po-litician”. It’s a great witty wordplay on the “trapo”, or a rag that’s used to clean. Eventually, a cleaning rag that’s overused becomes dirty, just like traditional politicians in the Philippines.) Other than the “trapo” candidates that came from oligarchic families like Grace Poe and Mar Roxas, Duterte talked about getting tough on crime, tax reform to spur investments, more autonomy for Muslim Mindanao, and of course, the hallmark and cornerstone of his campaign – the much needed charter change that Filipinos have been clamoring for years, especially the shift to federalism and to a parliament or semi-parliament form of government.

Finally, a candidate that recognizes the need for a federal Philippines! Finally, a candidate that is open to charter change to allow a semi-Parliamentary form of government! The hope of much-needed charter change was at hand.

Duterte was supposed to be a “change” politician. Not a “trapo.”

But putting your predecessor and your political opponents to jail has become so commonplace in our “banana republic” full of “trapo” politics. His predecessor, Benigno Aquino III (again with the Roman numerals, as if they were kings or popes or nobility), prosecuted and put to jail his predecessor Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. She did the same with her predecessor, Joseph Estrada. For Duterte to put to jail Senators DeLima and now giving the order to arrest Trillanes shows that it’s business as usual in our banana republic.

As a sports fan, they say it’s best to have low expectations. The Blue Jays will always miss the playoffs, the Raptors won’t make it past the Eastern Conference Finals, and the Leafs will somehow find a way to disappoint every year.

The imperial presidency strikes again. Why should I even be surprised? No matter who sits on the throne … ever just the same, ever a surprise, ever as before, ever just as sure, as the sun will rise. Tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme, a banana republic makes a beast.