BACOLOD

Ombion: Rise of strongman rule and wars in Asia

Perspective

LOOKS like Philippines and most parts of Asia are going through difficult times, rapid changes which highlight among others, trade wars, economic meltdown, breakdown of liberal systems and processes, the rise of liberation movements and the strongman rule, and threat of bigger regional wars

After the end of the Soviet era and China without Mao Zedong, the demagogues and strongmen emerged to monopolize powers and propel their economies to race with the G7 or advanced industrialized countries. The heavy handedness of the Beijing leadership in Tiananmen Square, and recently in the case of Hong Kong and territorial waters of the Philippines have shown the strongman thrust of China.

The retreat of militarist rule in Indonesia and Malaysia have given way to new breed of strongmen leaders who toy with neo-liberalism and neo-fascism. So the same in Singapore, Taiwan, Cambodia and Myanmar. Japan has also abandoned its pacifist role when Abe rose to power. The opening of Vietnam to world trade organization and neoliberalism has likewise shaken and now put into question its socialist direction.

Trade wars and protectionism have heightened despite the hollow calls for regional economic cooperation. Regional conflicts and the threat of wars have increased with the deepening conflicts over territorial borders and rights claims.

In our own backyard, the rise of strongman Duterte has already caused so much disruptions in the entire politics, economics and culture of the country, and in the country's foreign relations.

While the strongman administration has called for more order and discipline, its calls seemed to have brought different signals to state security forces and its fanatic supporters. The campaigns against illegal drugs have caused thousands of killings, victimizing mostly the poor. In recent months, it has expanded its target by including the leftists and administration critics.

Its campaign against corruption has been relentless but some circles have opined that the administration's targets are businesses and families who are not aligned with the administration's politics, strengthening by the public perception that Duterte is building his own group cronies, while exonerating and freeing jailed and convicted politicians, drug personalities and those identified with the past presidents and winning them over to the administration side.

The administration campaign for peace has been stalled few times, and ended in all-out-war against the CPP-NPA-NDFP, considered the biggest, highly ideological, dynamic, resilient and most influential armed insurgents in the country. But this has only emboldened the resolve of the revolutionary group to intensify with war against what it perceived as a neo colonial and puppet state.

Perhaps, the consoling works of the administration is the surrender of the erstwhile stronger Muslim armed groups, the MILF, which has been given a political clout in the administration of the Bangsa Moro Autonomous region. But even this remains shaky especially in how far can the Duterte administration satisfy the goals and demands of the MILF, and in relation to other armed Muslim groups who have not totally submitted themselves to the Duterte administration.

Another consoling achievement is perhaps the greater control of DILG now over the LGUs, which are perceived to be the biggest headache to the central government because of the dominance of old political families and clans over them. However, the DILG is demonstrating some tendencies muddle the basic challenges and tenets of good governance by trying to align the entire local government with the strongman track of the administration now working on a more active anti-terrorist and anti-communist campaigns.

The strongman rule of Duterte has entered into a more critical phase as it calls for intensified attacks against all its critics, armed left and even the democratic and progressive organizations now mostly red-tagged as fronts of the communists. He does this because of the massive support he gets from the military institution many of whom, the retired generals and other officials, are now occupying strategic posts in his bureaucracy. This is notwithstanding that Duterte has now majority of supporters in the House and the Senate, including the DOJ, Supreme Court and other government agencies.

He is also emboldened because of the renewed support of the country's long-time ally, the United States, even as he tries to also consolidate his Chinese connection and support for whatever it may help him most.

As in many parts of Asia, strongman rule survival depends on the support of the ruling elites and state security forces including promise of more aid from powerful states also ruled by neocons and military hawks. And the more it gets their support, the regime becomes brutal in defending its rule and those of its patrons and allies.

But in the medium run, it has been and still is a fact that strongman rule only exacerbates poverty, backwardness and class conflicts, thus fuelling resistance and wars. The public order and discipline that this regimes wishes to instill may have some element of good will, but soon it will just turn out to be creating a counter movement to those who challenge the bankruptcy of its program, and the rising tide of resistance for real social change.

The same could be said on the current Asian realities. Just a perspective.


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