Determining Duterte: Imperialism, Neoliberalism, Stalinism

Determining Duterte Imperialism Neoliberalism Stalinism

  • 22 April 2021
  • 11:00 - 13:00
  • FREE
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Scholars explore the rise of controversial Philippine President Duterte

Determining Duterte: US (Neo)imperialism, Philippine Stalinism and (Neo)liberal Crises

Co-hosted by the School of Humanities and English Department, Ateneo de Manila University (Philippines) and the Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries, University of Portsmouth (UK)

Chair: Dr Roderick Galam, Oxford Brookes University (UK)

Since his election as President of the Philippines in 2016, Rodrigo Duterte has been waging a bloodthirsty “war on drugs” that has so far killed an estimated 30,000 mostly poor, working-class Filipinos.

The four scholars on this panel examine several important long- and short-term determinants of Duterte’s rise, amongst them the recent complicity of Stalinist groups inside the Philippines, the longer-term impacts of Western neoliberal economic policy on Philippine society and the legacies of US colonialism.

The Political Economy of an Authoritarian Insurgency - Prof Walden Bello, University of the Philippines

This paper will discuss the roots of Rodrigo Duterte’s triumph in the 2016 presidential elections and the 2019 mid-term elections in the neoliberal economic policies and elite electoral monopoly of the so-called EDSA Republic that reigned from 1986 to 2016.

Dutertismo: Empire’s Veritable Wet dream or Perfumed Nightmare? - Dr Oscar V. Campomanes, Ateneo de Manila University

Around 1908, Philippine Commission member W. Morgan Shuster acknowledged the extreme difficulty of attracting Americans to settle in the Philippines, and expressed anxiety over the unpromising future of US colonial administration of the islands. (Contrast this with the urgent appeals of Hong Kong Consul-General Rounsevelle Wildman to the State Department, in early 1898, for directives on how to handle the constant stream of ordinary Americans heading for the Philippines, on the mistaken notion that the Philippines was an American ‘territory,’ at that point.)

Although Shuster does not state it, it was the grisly Philippine-American War, which Theodore Roosevelt had ended by presidential fiat in 1902 but continued to rage in various parts of the archipelago, that might significantly explain this alarming development. Shuster, in the grip of developing American imperialist and orientalist ideas about their new ‘natives,’ did not particularly relish the prospect of handing the fledgling colonial bureaucracy to an emergent native elite. As the problem persisted, the US, ever the ‘pragmatic empire,’ eventually formed and heavily relied on this emergent comprador class to rule the Philippines as its surrogates.

In my remarks, I argue that Rodrigo Duterte is only the latest (although iconoclastic) spawn of the ‘cacique democracy’ fostered by the USA in the Philippines as a consequence of this major policy shift. I critique certain historical blindspots (concerning the US colonization of the Philippines) in the continuing orientalist rhetoric on, and imperialist representations of, the ‘postcolonial’ Philippines as recently constellated around Duterte as mutational symbol and sign.

Call of Duterte: Complicity, Moral Inequivalence and the Limits of Western (Neo)liberal Media Discourses - Dr Tom Sykes, University of Portsmouth, UK

The chaotic and contradictory nature of the Duterte regime is matched by confusion, hypocrisy and inaccuracy in its coverage by establishmentarian British and American journalists on all points of a narrow political spectrum (conservative at one ‘extreme’ through to left-liberal on the other) that is delimited by market pressures and elite ideological assumptions.

The result is that most so-called journals of record in the West offer partial, unreliable explanations for Duterte’s gruesome necropolitics, and their vocabulary is bereft of catalyzing phenomena such as neoliberalism, Western ethnocentrism and US imperialism past and present. While certain Western writers reach for the timeworn trope of ‘Oriental despotism’ (Grosrichard) in their constructions of Duterte and to denounce the fear, populism, political divisiveness, summary executions and administrative catastrophes he is no doubt responsible for, they are oblivious to the contribution of decades of Western neoliberal policy to the social conditions that fomented ‘Dutertismo’, not to say the complicity of the Western armaments industry in Duterte’s oppression of his own people.

Such analyses are further hampered by chauvinistic double standards, from the assumption that Duterte’s mass-murder of 20,000 drug addicts and pushers is qualitatively worse than the millions killed by recent Western wars of choice, to the notion that Duterte’s crimes are more deserving of Western ire than those of other (hazily defined) ‘authoritarian populists’ around the globe such as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s connivance in communal massacres and political assassinations.

#Embracing a Fascist: How the Communist Party of the Philippines Facilitated and Endorsed Duterte's Rise to Power - Dr Joseph Scalice, Nanyang Technological University

This talk will examine how the Communist Party of the Philippines, and the various organizations that follow its political line, made possible Duterte's rise to national prominence and stabilized his hold on presidential power. While they now denounce the president as a “fascist”, they campaigned for him in 2016, declared him to be a "progressive" and even offered to assist in the prosecution of his murderous war on drugs. I argue that the programmatic roots of this endorsement rest in the party's Stalinist nationalism. I will explore the character of this program, its political ubiquity, and the vicissitudes of its development over the last four years.

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