Violence, Human Rights and Democracy in the Philippines: Historical (Dis)continuities and Spatial Variations
Time & LocationSession 7
Thu 13:30–15:00 Room 1.403
- Jeroen Adam Ghent University
Save This EventAdd to Calendar
- Explaining the Authoritarian Turn Before Duterte: Political Violence in the Philippines, 2001–2016 Sol Iglesias National University of Singapore
The authoritarian reversal in the Philippines is commonly characterized as abrupt, with the ascension of Rodrigo Duterte to the presidency in 2016. This paper offers a short history of the central-local dynamics that paved the way to Malacañang for a local strongman like him. It argues that the national and parochial uses of political violence changed from 2001, ushering in a period of democratic and institutional disruption; and that central-local dynamics explain the changes in the initiation, scale and conclusion of political violence.
From 2001, the Philippines experienced a recalibration in the scale of political violence. Political violence between 2005 to 2007 reached a peak not seen since the bloody political transition after the “people power revolution” that ousted the Marcos dictatorship in 1986. With the heightened use of political violence, mostly state-sponsored, the violation of basic civil and political rights became increasingly routine. This eroded the quality of an already precarious and unconsolidated democracy, built upon a famously weak state. This period paved the way for President Duterte’s presidency and its death toll of an estimated 13,000 killed in the first 18 months of the so-called “war on drugs”.
Central-local dynamics explain these patterns of political violence: while central government participation is required to escalate the levels of violence, the violence was worst when it was driven by local actors and their particularistic interests. The empirical evidence suggests that the literature on the Philippines that focuses on only either electoral violence or insurgency-related conflict tends to overlook their pernicious interactions. Moreover, the sustained use of violence for social control first emerges during this period in parts of the country—most significantly, in Davao City where Duterte was a longtime mayor.
The paper is drawn from an original database of over 1,890 cases of political violence in four regional groups: Northern Luzon (Ilocos, Cagayan Valley and Cordillera regions), Central Luzon, Eastern Visayas and Southern Mindanao. This database includes case files from investigations of the Commission on Human Rights, reports from human rights NGOs and daily newspaper scans.
This study offers a unique perspective by explaining variations in temporal, spatial, scale, onset and termination aspects of political violence in the Philippines.
- The Dynamics of Local Violence: Explaining the Sub-National Context of War on Drugs in the Philippines Brian Ventura University of the Philippines, Visayas
This paper examines the sub-national context of violence related to the war on drugs in the Philippines. The prevalence of violence in many democracies has been a puzzle that many literature in political science has tried to resolve for many decades. There are at least two ways that this problem is explored. The first approach focuses on macro structural condition such as the legacy of state formation; the problem of politicized military; and the intractability of insurgencies, ethnic and religious war, and secession. The second explanation focuses on more contextualized sub-national level of analysis, explaining the variation of violence within a given state. Among the explanations under this view are the dominance and violence of political dynasties; the prevalence of criminal activities in the area; the intense competition among political machineries and network of patronage. Uncovering the factors contributing to the spike of violent law enforcement in the current Duterte administration in the Philippines requires a focus on subnational comparative analysis, such as by comparing various local government units, or examining two to more cities or communities in the war on drugs. Accounting for local variations can help explain why, for instance, some local politicians readily jump into the bandwagon of violent war on drugs while others try to resist and explore other methods. Drawing from the case of war on drugs in the Iloilo City, Western Visayas in the Philippines, the data reveals that factional competition and the insecure position of local politicians contribute to their lack of autonomy vis-a-vis the local implementation of national policies. More specifically, the presence of competing factions create opportunities when the existing leaders confront vulnerabilities ensuing from their relationship with the national government. At the same time, the weakness of the support base of those in the position make them less able to challenge the push coming from the national government. The result is that the violence ridden war on drugs policy gets implemented by the national bureaucracy in the local level with little resistance or even widespread support from local politicians.
- The Presidency of Murderers Joel Ariate University of the Philippines, Diliman
Before Rodrigo Duterte, there was Joseph Estrada, before Estrada there was Ferdinand Marcos, before Marcos there was Jose P. Laurel, before Laurel there was Emilio Aguinaldo--five of the sixteen Philippine presidents either confessed to have killed another person or was accused of killing one. Joseph Stalin was said to have said, “Death solves all problems. No man, no problem.” This paper is a reflection on what these five individuals were trying to solve when they were accused of murder while president of the republic (or for some even before assuming the highest political office in the land). It is a reflection that casts a critical understanding on how machismo and the supposed preservation of a presidency rely on the logic of violence that equates potency with impunity. The lives of these five men represent distinct eras in the life of the Philippine republic, hence they also embody the functioning of a democratic state that accepts, if it is not inured to, the murderous tendency of its political elite.
- Who Mourns for “Collateral Damage” Under Tokhang? Elinor May Cruz University of the Philippines, Diliman
It is said that counting generally means looking for the “ideal,” as in ranking and the “characteristic,” as in representation. But where new “subjects” are said to emerge in new historical developments, as in the victims of Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs, where does collateral damage fit when it resists the state’s supposedly neat category of “drug addicts”? The deaths from collateral damage are not ideal in the sense that they are supposedly too few and tangential compared to the original and legitimate targets; they are also not characteristic in the sense that they are outliers, that is, with too many contradictions to help bring about parsimony. Compared with the “routinized practices” of counting, deaths from collateral damage can make one pause, reflect, and ask why. They can also potentially steer the growing acceptability of and impunity for the killings toward critical focus on what has been, both in theory and practice, a movable boundary between legitimate and illegitimate targets of senseless violence. In the growing archives of documented deaths under Tokhang, this article espouses that the unaccounted for also be the subject of study, where a death, multiplied by the lives surrounding it through grief, with at least a set of parents and grandparents, maybe a wife, son, friend, connected to it, becomes exponential in trauma. It posits the question: under Tokhang’s free-for-all climate of impunity, whose lives and deaths will be fought for, mourned, and remembered? Using select news reports, this article explores the subject-phenomenon of collateral damage, in the backdrop of propaganda numbers that dangerously tread from “states of objectivity” to “states of authority,” toward a more inclusive and just approach to scholarship on violence.
With this panel, a set of original papers are being presented delving into the Duterte administration’s use of violence in its various iterations to govern the country. As generally known, since Duterte assumed office in June 2016, a violent campaign has been unleashed against alleged drug users and pushers. Some killings occurred in the course of regular police operations, but many more are extra-judicial killings committed either by vigilantes or police officers. According to the President’s brazen rhetoric, these deaths are simply the price to pay for solving the drug problem. In his election campaign he promised to get rid of drug criminals within six months. He also warned potential voters that “If I become president, there would be no such thing as bloodless cleansing”.
For obvious reasons, this campaign has generated vigorous and polarized debate among policy makers, civil society activists and academics alike. Too often however, these debates have been driven by biased opinions, rather than conclusive data that are based on primary and careful data gathering. With this set of papers, we wish to tackle this lacunae by focusing explicitly on (1) the complex historical (dis)continuities in the use of violence in processes of state formation in the Philippines; clearly these (dis)continuities go beyond the current Duterte regime, (2) the remarkable nation-wide spatial variations in the manner violence is deployed, (3) the multiple and complex outcomes of this violence on everyday societal processes.