President Rodrigo Duterte is the man of the year; but this is not his year, this is the year of the Mindanaon.
Duterte is the Mindanaon who made history when he became president of the Philippines. This alone is enough to recognize Duterte’s enormous impact in the local political landscape.
But beyond the Duterte persona, it is more important to highlight the potentially radical symbolism of his victory. A Mindanaon politician disrupting the electoral plans of Manila-based political parties, an outsider dominating the political center, an elected president who flaunts his friendly ties with Muslim and communist rebels.
Lest we attribute Duterte’s victory to his frequent headline-grabbing outbursts, it is useful to understand how the so-called Davao’s ‘Dirty Harry’ came to embody the aspirations of ordinary Filipinos.
Duterte is part of Mindanao’s ruling elite but he was seen by many as a non-traditional leader who is determined to challenge the oppressive status quo. Duterte, the politician, articulated what people wanted to hear during the campaign period. But this could only become effective if there’s a popular resentment against the mainstream political system.
Duterte’s rise to power was made possible because the people overwhelmingly rejected the corruption, incompetence, and criminal rottenness of big political parties. Through Duterte, many voters felt they could finally beat the trapos and landlords in government.
But the people’s resistance didn’t end in the voting centers. Again, it was another Mindanaon who personified the struggle for meaningful change in society. This Mindanaon is the Lumad.
Displaced by development aggression, they chose to fight rather than surrender to the tyranny of transnational beasts and paramilitary thugs.
If the narrative of the Lumad campaign is familiar, it is because it reflects the history of Mindanao and the Mindanaon people. How the violence of a colonial army and the greed of corporations plaguing the land inspired the gallant resistance of the native population.
The Lumad today are rightfully acknowledged as the Mindanaons who are asserting their independence and defending their heritage.
For example, rather than passively waiting for Duterte’s goodwill, the Lumad embarked on a militant protest caravan (Lakbayan) from Mindanao to Manila in order to present their legitimate demands to the national government.
This defiant political stance has become a sterling example of the people’s heroic struggle for national democracy. If in the past, indigenous people are pitied because of their marginalization, today they are recognized as brave warriors resisting subjugation.
Supporting the Lumad struggle is the revolutionary New People’s Army. If news reports are accurate, it seems the NPA has a solid base in Mindanao. And this army composed mainly of landless peasants has thrived in recent months and in the past year despite the deployment of supersized battalions in several regions of Mindanao.
The NPA has a nationwide presence but it is in Mindanao where its strength is most apparent. In the eyes of the exploiting classes, this is a troubling indicator of political instability. But the oppressed appreciate the growing strength of the NPA because it means liberation is near. And while total victory is not yet imminent, at least an army exists whose raison d’être is the defense of the weak against plunderers, despotic landlords, and hired goons.
The spirit of resistance is alive in Mindanao. The historic struggle for lasting peace, genuine prosperity, and people empowerment continues in the hills and valleys of Mindanao.
What a rare historic moment and opportunity that while the liberation movement is gaining ground, a Mindanaon is at the helm of the Manila government.
Will Duterte deliver deadly blows to the corrupt system dominated by a few families and subservient to the dictates of foreigners? Will he honor the legacy of the Mindanaon, the fighting subaltern?
Sometimes we see glimpses of this outstanding Mindanaon. This is Duterte threatening large-scale miners, drug lord protectors in the military and police, and rapacious oligarchs. Like a true Mindanaon, Duterte understood the necessity of talking peace and initiating reforms as a basis to achieve peace based on justice. Perhaps as a Mindanaon, Duterte felt it is relevant to identify and correct historical injustices. This attitude is evident in his repeated assertion to pursue an independent foreign policy which he premised on the need to end the country’s unequal relationship with the United States.
But there is another side of Duterte which does not reflect the long-term interest of the Mindanaon. This is Duterte disregarding the plea of human rights groups to rethink the bloody ‘war on drugs’. The politician Duterte endorsed the hero’s burial of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. And despite his posturing as a socialist, he has not repudiated the anti-poor economic policies of his predecessors.
Will the Mindanaon president succumb to the seductive appeal of Imperial Manila? Or will he remember the progressive heritage of being a Mindanaon, the Mindanaon who battles colonizers and imperialists? Will he join forces with the Lumad in expelling the evil miners and foreign plantation owners? Will he make peace with the NPA by implementing land reform and addressing the socio-economic needs of the people?
Duterte made history this year by becoming president. But the future of Mindanao, the future of this country, will not be decided by him. It is the struggle of the people, the Lumad, and the revolutionary forces which illumines the way to a brighter future. Duterte, the Mindanaon, has to choose whether he wants to preserve the present which his politician friends prefer or he can side with the people in building a society where genuine freedom, democracy, and justice reign supreme.
Mong Palatino is a Filipino activist and former legislator. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org