As Above, So Below: One Filpino’s reflections on a flawed past and future

Culture Curmudgeon

Front-running presidential candidate Mayor Rodrigo Duterte poses for a selfie with a supporter on May 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez) Front-running presidential candidate Mayor Rodrigo Duterte poses for a selfie with a supporter on May 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

The Philippines has always prided itself for being the first democracy ever in Asia. But my country’s history is pockmarked with struggles against several colonial masters: the Spanish, Japanese, Americans, and yes, even the British.

So it’s no surprise that we pride ourselves for our hard-won independence. We usually quote late Filipino President Manuel Quezon who said, “I would rather have a Philippines run like hell by Filipinos than a Philippines run like heaven by the Americans.”

While I would like to be one of those Filipinos who says the country’s history of rule has been shaped by our hands more than another country’s influence, a closer look paints a different picture.

At almost every turning point in the nation’s past, some external power or cultural force has exerted some form of influence.

80-year-old Filipino Dioleta Esteban, right, is assisted as she votes at a polling center in suburban San Juan, east of Manila, Philippines Monday May 9,2016. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

80-year-old Filipino Dioleta Esteban, right, is assisted as she votes at a polling center in suburban San Juan, east of Manila, Philippines Monday May 9,2016. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

There are a lot of examples I can point to, but for the sake of brevity I’ll stick to the ouster of Ferdinand Marcos — the strongman who ruled the Philippines for more than 20 years. Most media reports back then would say that Marcos was ousted by a popular uprising in 1986. But that’s an oversimplification.

While Marcos did flee the country mainly because of the revolution, the U.S. government also played a major role. Marcos was refusing to budge and actually came close to ordering the military to crush the uprising. But it was only through the urging of American officials and U.S. Senator Paul Laxalt who told ‘to cut, and cut cleanly.’

Marcos would soon board a U.S. military plane along with his family and be evacuated to Hawaii.


I was actually in front of the Presidential Palace a few hours after he fled. I defied my mom’s orders and snuck out of the house with my uncle. When we got there we witnessed a gleeful mob break into the Presidential compound.

But it’s not just politics. If you ever visit the Philippines, you’ll realize how much of the culture takes its cue from foreign influences, mostly American. I’m not saying that there is a lack of a genuine Filipino identity. However so much of it has been informed by our colonial experiences. From our music, to our obsession with Hollywood, to our love of American fast food and professional sports, it’s clear which country exerts the most influence on us.

Unfortunately the Philippines’ political foibles also closely resemble the American ones. Coincidentally it’s an election year for both countries.

Frontrunners Donald Trump in the United States and Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines are dominating opinion polls and some expect both to win the presidency in their respective countries. But the similarities don’t end there.

This presidential election is another example of how my country’s history echoes its former colonial master. Trump and Duterte’s ascension to the top of the political heap reflects the tremendous upheaval both countries are now undergoing. One glance at media reports from the two countries show that voters share the same sentiments. They’re all disenchanted with the status quo and the lack of economic opportunities.

Even more striking is how both electorates are choosing two candidates who are strikingly similar in terms of political platform and campaigning styles. When I see and hear Duterte speak, he instantly reminds me of Donald Trump. He’s not afraid to offend — often making jokes about his genitals, and worse, rape. But just like Trump, Duterte’s outrageous remarks aren’t getting him in trouble; they’re propelling him to the top. As of this writing, reports out of the Philippines say preliminary results show Duterte has already won the vote.

His American doppelganger is already the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. Some experts believe he may actually win the highest office in the land this November. Just a few months ago, Trump was a novelty who provided us with punch lines to jokes. But just like Duterte, no one expected him to seriously pose a threat to the political establishment. All the laughter has now morphed into gasps of disbelief.

Putting all that upheaval aside, this latest election cycle shows just how both the Philippines and the U.S. are inextricably linked in terms of history, culture, and politics. Sure Manuel Quezon’s defiant remarks still color many Filipinos’ views that their own government ‘ruling like hell’ is preferable to another country’s guiding hands. But the rise of both Duterte and Trump scream otherwise.

Ahmad Coo is a producer and copy editor for the Global Business America show on CCTV America. His analysis represents his views alone.