MUCH has been said about President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to ban Rappler’s Pia Ranada and Maria Ressa from Malacañang. The ban does not really have an effect on Ressa, who may not even be interested in going to the Palace or meet the president. Ranada is assigned to the Malacañang beat, so she is the one affected, though I would say not helpless.
As what happens in a polarized society like ours, the president’s move is both reviled and defended. The ban is aptly described as an assault on press freedom considering the circumstance; Rappler’s coverage on Malacañang has been unbending and Ranada has been uncompromisingly forthright. Their freedom to cover Malacañang has thus been suppressed.
But what interests me is the manner Duterte supporters defended the ban. Presidential Communications Office Assistant Secretary Margaux “Mocha” Uson, leader of the so-called Diehard Duterte Supporters (DDS), is going around town presenting her own take on the issue. That, for one reason or another, she does not fully understand the concept of press freedom is a given. That her take is “personalistic” sums up the DDS ideology.
Because of government’s failure to pursue genuine land reform, a good part of the country has remained feudal, dominated by the land-owning class that extracted strict allegiance from the tillers of the soil. This developed a fidelity that is not attached to abstract concepts or even to country but to the person who “owns” the land the peasants farmed. The feudal lord can do no wrong and, in many instances, he is deified.
“Kaya lang nawala na ‘yung tiwala ng pangulo nitong Rappler…” Uson said in one interview. Another line: “Napakabait pa nga ng pangulo dahil ngayon lang n’ya binan (si Pia) eh..pasok-labas ‘yan ng Malacañang, ngayon lang nangyari.”
The feudal thinking seeps deep into the collective consciousness of the DDS, making the verbal exchange between them and the Duterte critics futile. This is because the Duterte supporters are in a different plane with the critics. While critics insist on placing the Pia Ranada ban in the context of press freedom, the DDS sees this in the context of loyalty to the feudal lord (the president).
Feudal thinking, though, blankets not only the DDS but also the trapos (traditional politicians) surrounding the president. This is so not because of anything economic (some of these politicians are even richer than their boss). Rather this is a matter of power. Whoever wields it personifies the feudal lord, with the trapos willingly placing themselves under his servitude to acquire a piece of that power.
During the Medieval period, these trapos can rightly be described as vassals to the feudal lords. Here the feudal lord does not bestow property (fiefs) but control over their political turfs. Vassals are not only persons but clans, or in the present setup political dynasties.
What this means is that our politics is a feudal construct, a by-product of the still prevailing feudal setup in the countryside. It’s a system that may not change unless the feudal setup is broken, like in now economically advanced countries, through genuine land reform.