It’s easy for Filipino Americans and abroad to criticize the 2019 Philippine election results that had President Rodrigo Duterte’s allies win a clean sweep of the Senate.
It’s easy for the international press to condemn strongman tactics when many of the countries these journalists are reporting from do not have to deal with the level of poverty and corruption that have historically crippled the Philippines’ growth. Projecting our own values, our own social and economic models onto the rest of the world have always been a high-brow, centrist habit of Americans.
So it’s not a surprise that there is a schism of support for Duterte (and his allies) between Filipinos who live in the Philippines and Filipinos who live abroad, particularly in the U.S.
Filipinos in the Philippines see Duterte as a strong reformer and break from the elitist politicians that took over since the EDSA revolution. Many of these pro-Duterte Filipinos have not seen their standard of living improve through the Aquino, Ramos, Estrada, Arroyo-Macapagal, nor Aquino III (all privileged presidents) administrations.
Duterte, a son of Davao City, came from a geographic and cultural origin far from the center of national power, Manila. Likewise, Ilocos son Ferdinand Marcos, the nation’s first strongman-autocrat, also had an outsider origin that made him appealing.
It’s understandable that Filipinos are drawn to Duterte as a “one-of-us,” populist politician; that he is to some the political hero-villain to deliver on all the things disenfranchised Filipinos have been hoping for, no matter how he accomplishes them.
He may also have been successful to some in his first three years in areas such as boosting the country’s economy (despite the brief recession) with new sources of foreign investment from China, helping to build infrastructure, and suppressing an uprising in Mindanao.
Case Against Duterte
But given all these reasons why Duterte could be reasonably seen as an able president, enough for voters to elect his allies in this Duterte-referendum midterm election – the Filipino voters failed to see the bigger picture and the potential harm to Philippine democracy.
There is a clear line between being tough on law and order and exacting terror onto a sector of the population, drug addicts or dealers. There is moral bankruptcy in a leader of a country and citizens who support that leader when a means to an end (winning a drug war) include extrajudicial killing.
Once a line of government-accepted brutality has been crossed, who knows where it could lead. The target might be drug dealers now; but tomorrow it could be political opponents or any other group – this is the slippery slope when dictators and their mob rule.
The idea of “safer” streets with Duterte as president – which is why many support Duterte according to pollsters – couldn’t be more blind-sighted and suggests that it’s acceptable to kill just as long as those murdered are drug users and dealers (and are not connected to myself and my family).
Filipino voters got it wrong in their political calculous this midterm. Clearly many voters do not condone extrajudicial killing, but turning a blind eye to basic human rights and security by supporting Duterte allies will not make the killings stop. And for what? Because voters might benefit from an economy favorable to them; benefit from free government paid education; benefit from jobs in infrastructure; benefit from potential China deals to enter the country.
What Filipino voters have done is hand over a supermajority (influence of the Senate, House, and Supreme Court) to a dictator who has already proven immoral leadership. The last institutional guard of democracy and justice in that country is now the Philippine free press, which Duterte has already shown disdain for.
The Philippine midterm had other sub-headlines worth mentioning: the continuity of political dynasties (namely Imee Marcos win in the Senate and the Duterte family wins in Davao), massive vote-buying, widespread violence, malfunctions in automated vote-counting machines, celebrity winners and losers, and voter intimidation – all features not new to Philippine election.
But the main headline that summarizes the midterm, sadly, is that the “Philippines Voted for Autocracy; Philippine Democracy Is Now in Peril.”
Enough Is Enough, Stop The War Train Heading to Iran?
U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard might have a mixed Progressive Democrat report card ranging from A to C on various issues; but the presidential hopeful scored big approval points from multi-sectors of Americans for her recent outspoken criticism about going to war with Iran. Gabbard, who is a member of the House Armed Services Committee, was spot on her assessment.
She told ABC News she believes actions coming from Trump and national security adviser John Bolton, “are dangerously escalating us closer and closer towards a devastating war with Iran.”
“I think what we’re seeing, unfortunately, is what looks a lot like people in the Trump administration trying to create a pretext or an excuse for us to go to war against Iran.”
She said a war with Iran “would actually undermine our national security, cost us countless American lives, cost civilian lives across the region, exacerbate the refugee crisis in Europe and it would actually make us less safe by strengthening terrorist groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda.”
Gabbard said a war with Iran would prove to be far more costly, far more devastating and dangerous than anything that we saw in the Iraq war.
Another Trump Lie
Trump, as a presidential candidate, appealed to millions of Americans who opposed the hawkish U.S. policy in the Middle East. He criticized the U.S. invasion of Iraq. He criticized the way Americans were lied to in order to justify war with Iraq. He promised no more unnecessary stupid wars.
What do we have now with Trump as president
War Drums Beating Louder
The Trump administration is accusing Iran of planning an attack on U.S. interests in the Middle East and has begun fielding increased military presence near Iran. Warships and bombers have already been sent to the region.
The U.S. also ordered nonessential staff out of its diplomatic posts in Iraq, another sign of moving away from diplomacy and closer to war.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Baghdad and told Iraqi intelligence that the United States had been picking up intelligence that Iran is threatening American interests in the Middle East. But Pompeo had offered no details of the alleged threat.
Trump has as his National Security Advisor John Bolton, one of the chief architects of the invasion of Iraq.
Trump has also selected Patrick Shanahan to be the next secretary of defense, a post usually filled by former military generals. Shanahan has spent decades as a Boeing executive. Boeing is one of the largest weapons manufacturers in the world that reported revenues in just last year of $101.127 billion. His appointment should be red-flagged as a conflict of interest and certainly sets the stage for potential war-profiteering.
Cost of War to date
The Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs at Brown University released an eye-opening study last year that puts the cost of U.S. wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Pakistan since 2001 at a staggering $5.9 trillion.
How does that compare to the U.S. federal spending? That total is almost $2 trillion more than all federal government spending during the recently completed 2017-18 fiscal year.
Between 480,000 to 507,000 people have been killed in those wars.
Even if the wars are ended by 2023, the U.S. is still on track to spend an additional $808 billion in total to bring the total to $6.7 trillion.
The study does not even project the cost of future wars such as a conflict with Iran which experts say could be far more costly, lengthy, and devastating than the Iraq war, and could also broaden to include conflict with Russia.
A war with Iran could potentially triple war expenditures nearing $20 trillion; and who knows how many more lives lost.
For perspective of what $20 trillion is. The entire U.S. gross national debt (government debt and public debt combined) is around $20 trillion.
In other words, a war in Iran could potentially double the nation’s entire national debt.
All this talk by Republicans against spending too much, lowering the national debt, and their reasons against Medicare for All or the Green Deal as being too costly – just wouldn’t make sense should the GOP stand with the President and rally for a war in Iran.
Enough is Enough
American foreign policy in the Middle East and the U.S. push for war in that region have been too costly, chaotic, impulsive, and counterproductive.
Americans have allowed war hawks to lead the nation into war far too frequently for unjustified reasons. Americans should be asking themselves: who really has benefited? Who is profiting? And why are we here once again, at the brink of yet another possible major war?
The fact that Pompeo is not even willing to articulate these alleged threats that Iran is posing to U.S. interests and for the U.S. to have already sent war ships to the region, amplifying aggression -- is unacceptable and reckless.
How much longer will Americans allow this war culture to continue?
Kudos to Gabbard, Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono, and other leaders who are saying no to the war train headed to Iran.
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