Duterte’s exceptionalism and the pitfalls of military rule

Duterte’s exceptionalism and the pitfalls of military rule by Cesar Suva, 05/06/2017, New Mandala

Are we witnessing a replay of the Philippines’ recent history in President Rodrigo Duterte’s proclamation of Martial Law in Mindanao to deal with a terrorist threat? Will the Philippines once again be subjected to the perils beset the country by the rule of Ferdinand Marcos? Duterte’s exceptionalist narrative suggests that by taking the same actions as Marcos took 45 years ago, he can nonetheless achieve different results.

On 23 May, Philippine government troops attempted to arrest Isnon Hapilon, the leader of the armed Maute group, in Marawi City, Mindanao. The operation was unsuccessful, but the Maute group’s members retaliated by besieging the city’s jail and the campus of Dansalan College. Residents of the city, overwhelmingly Muslim Filipino, or Moro, were subjected to firefights between Hapilon’s followers and government forces. In reaction, President Duterte cut short his ongoing visit to Moscow to declare Martial Law in Mindanao for the prescribed sixty days, returning home to address the crisis.

The trigger for this proclamation was rebellion against the state and invasion, which is supposedly justified by the presence of international fighters within Maute’s ranks. With characteristic bravado, Duterte boasted to MindaNews.com reporters that this new manifestation of Martial Law—tantamount to military rule—would achieve what practically every government ever based in Manila has not: that is, solve Mindanao’s problems ‘…once and for all’.

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Cesar Suva is Program Development Manager at the Calgary Immigrant Educational Society.

In 2015 he completed PhD research at the Australian National University’s School of Culture, History and Language. His thesis, Nativizing the Imperial: The Local Order and Articulations of Colonial Rule in Sulu, Philippines 1881-1920, is available online here.