THE president’s incendiary rhetoric against the Lumad of Mindanao has been relentless and unforgiving the past weeks. First, he warned indigenous communities in areas prime for mining and agricultural expansion to prepare for displacement because he will open up these areas to firms of his choosing. Now, he is conscripting thousands of indigenous men and women into the notorious Citizens Armed Force Geographic Unit or the CAFGU, arming and legitimizing the paramilitary groups that have caused havoc in Mindanao’s rural areas.
What has been the practice in the past several years was that members of indigenous communities are conscripted either formally into the CAFGU or informally as government-backed paramilitary groups that supposedly assist government troops in their counterinsurgency campaign. With Duterte’s twin declaration, the link between the government’s counterinsurgency operations fronting for big businesses’ entry into the last ecological and indigenous bastions of Mindanao is finally exposed.
The brutality of Duterte’s plans for his Mindanao homeland and its indigenous peoples does not end here. In a recent speech, he even offered a monetary reward of PhP 20,000 for every NPA rebel that these Lumad CAFGU will eliminate. The reward comes with special instructions for the women NPA rebels that they kill. The president instructed his new indigenous army to shoot female revolutionaries specifically in the vagina eliciting sick laughter from his like-minded macho audience.
The demented statement is befuddling at the first instance. Even to one’s enemies, how could anyone be so cruel? In one statement, he has managed to violate not just international humanitarian law but also even the most basic standards of human decency. But upon reflection, the statement reveals itself as an unforgivable expression of misogyny that has become de rigueur for this president and his administration. He has managed to make it the new normal to hear not just gutter-level language but also the most vile of political sensibilities.
The declaration indicates that he has no qualms presenting himself as the ultimate political messiah, crushing all opposition big or small, just so he could feel safe and unperturbed in his throne. He presents himself as the sovereign, the nation personified, and if it requires the desecration of the bodies of captured enemies of the state, just so as to amplify the state’s power, then fire away, he commands. Better if these are aimed at their nether regions so the violence will serve as a warning to those who dare challenge the power of the sovereign.
The mad king is not a fictional character who is stuck in Westeros, but as real as the paramilitary groups now scouring the Mindanao countryside for rebels and whoever is perceived as a supporter. He is as real as the goons let loose now harassing small farmers and peasants who are members of associations. He has marshaled his own mercenary army who are now doing his bidding under the pretext of martial law and the bogey threat of exaggerated terror. And now he is frothing with absurd orders that will take away many a Lumad son, daughter, mother and father.
Duterte did not invent these brutal methods. The character of the AFP as a mercenary army and an occupational force against our own people had been the enduring legacies of our colonial history especially in Mindanao. Before it was the interest of colonial powers to exploit resources through the colonial administration. Even after their departure, the same interests still define the operations of the Philippine republic and its armed forces, and Duterte, despite his braggadocio, is merely the latest brutal figurehead of the old but enduring oppressive dispensation.
The divide and rule tactic is an old card used by the colonial powers where money, weapons, and favor are dangled and deployed before selected elements of the local populace so that resistance to economic exploitation will go unhampered. While this method is still being employed by the same economic interests to open up new areas for appropriation at present, it also provides the perpetual fertile grounds for a people’s resistance to take root and endure. The important historical lessons taught by the Lumad and Moro resistance in Mindanao, and the establishment of the Katipunan, which continues with the fifty-year peasant and workers revolution are lost to Duterte and his generals.
It is clear that in the emerging narrative of the Filipino nation, dictators and their army come and go. But they are always matched by a vibrant and enduring people’s resistance who will outlast every foul-mouthed and evil tyrant and his mercenary army. The people will always endure.