Digong: A Small Act Against the Neoliberal Agenda

May 15, 2016



In literature and in real life, words and actions are interpreted as “acts” because they convey not only a message (content) but also expressions: protest, outrage, anger, love, happiness and so forth. Presumptive President-Elect Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s win over Poe, Roxas and Binay was a vote against blatantly elitist politics. It was an expression of protest and rebellion against an existing neoliberal system that repeatedly failed to deliver relief to the masses.


A vote for the unknown


To the middle classes and landowning classes, a vote for Duterte was not a “vote for change” but rather, a vote for the unknown. Digong did not have the feel or aura of Erap Estrada, which made him all the more threatening.  Erap Estrada had the aura of someone who was predictable. Digong on the other hand, included in his political discourse the possibility of reaching out to the Moro rebels and the New People’s Army. Jose Maria Sison, a senior consultant and founder of the CPP-NPA, was Digong’s professor at the Lyceum. As of this writing, Sison had already recommended the imprisonment of outgoing President Noynoy Aquino. Beyond his crass jokes and seeming carelessness in how he handled himself in public, little else is known about the local Davao politico. When Digong visited the Makati Business Club, he confused and worried most of his audience. He was described as “unsure” of what he wanted to do in his term. In a TV interview, a member of the MBC stated “maybe he wanted socialism, to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor? But people have to understand, it’s never free. Socialist countries have a very deep tax base.”


Let’s stop there because nothing could be less interesting than the campaign period. The campaign period, both real and in social media, was the product of calculated moves. The spectacle was manufactured and synthetic. A puppet show for the masses. A song and dance number to make you remember their names. Now that the election is about to reach its conclusion, it’s best to ask ourselves: did we commit a mistake in voting for Digong?


Oligarch vs. oligarch


If we were to examine the path that led to Digong’s victory and how he was embraced by the masses, we can easily see a vote for Digong was a protest vote against the neoliberal agenda. It was a vote against our continued dependence on the United States, the diluted efforts of the government to respond to basic needs of the people and it was also a vote against the oligarchic Aquinos. The point of contention here is the increase in support for BBM (Marcos). Was it amnesia that caused Filipinos to WANT a Marcos back in Malacanan Palace? It’s easy to fall back to a routine blame game where millennials are the target. However, voters come from all segments of society and abroad, older migrant workers voted for BBM. It should be understood in this context that a vote for Bongbong was a vote AGAINST the Aquinos. We have fallen into the trap of fighting the battle on behalf of another oligarchic family. Since Bongbong’s campaign focused on the act of forgetting, it was assimilated easily, because the act of forgetting the horrors of Martial Law was easier for the masses to accept than the act of remembering, which renewed the horrors for everyone. The binary of hope versus fear came into play. The genuine discourse of Martial Law was set aside in favor of the fantasy discourse of Bongbong, which followed the conventional design of promising everything to the masses.


Fantasy and myth-making


Digong’s win represented the utopian dreams of the Filipinos. We are already seeing how his presence is changing people’s behavior on a micro scale. People are attempting to discipline themselves and they are showcasing the idea of “change begins in the self.” Why? Because they are reproducing the fantasy in real life. The viral meme of the bus driver who said he can’t park just anywhere because “Digong might get angry” is proof of the reproducibility of the Digong discourse. The figure of Digong is being assimilated and reinvented so that it would matter to everyone, which is an interesting development because this hasn’t been the case for the past few presidencies. “Tatay Digong” as many would call him on social media, struck more than a handful of chords when he first appeared on national television as a messiah of sorts. Of course, he is not a messiah. He is a local politico, an ordinary man. What is bringing him right now to the peak of power in this land is the democratic will of the Filipinos.


And so we wait, with bated breath, how this small act against the neoliberal agenda will far against the external powers and structures that have controlled us since the Americans first took interest in our fair land.

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