By Marivir R. Montebon
New York City – At a public forum sponsored by the Fil-Am Press Club of New York (FAPCNY), a bewildered question from Marni Halasa, a Filipino-American lawyer running for a city council seat on the November 7 elections, that sought an answer was ‘why do many people tend to embrace and look up to authoritarianism?’
Veteran Philippine political journalist Raissa Robles had a straight-forward cultural answer to that query at the forum on October 20, 2017 which took place at the St. Francis of Assisi Migrant Center with about 40 people in attendance.
Robles has been eagerly received by the Filipino-American community here, with her book,‘Marcos Martial Law: Never Again,’ all sold-out in her public engagements over the weekend. Aside from that, she has had to deal with a steady stream of apologists, both online and in person, who defend Pres. Duterte from ‘undue criticism’.
Robles replied to Halasa, whose mother is a native of Pampanga, explaining that most Filipinos still have the “datu mentality,” referring to the propensity to look up to and be fond of authorities which has its historical roots.
During pre-Spanish colonial times, natives of what is now called the Philippines were ruled by the datu, or village chiefs and kings that ruled tribes and clans. During the Spanish and American colonial periods, these cultural traditions were maintained through cooptation in order to wield control over the colonial national and local governments.
“To this date, the datu mentality lives, or our tendency to look up to charismatic leaders. Here you have a democracy and yet you have violence. We are actually a very violent society,” she contended.
The public forum, held at the St. Damian Hall, became a deep, insightful, and emotionally charged conversation on the current political situation of the Philippines under Pres. Duterte and his ongoing war against drugs.
Robles’s book demonstrates the intent and schemes of Pres. Marcos in consolidating and perpetuating himself to power through Martial Law and made parallelisms at which Duterte could usher in another authoritarian regime soon, which could be next year.
Margie Lapiz, an attendee, emotionally contended that 99% of the Filipinos love Pres. Duterte and that Robles has to stop criticizing and destabilizing the Duterte government.
The audience had reacted first by asking her to calm down. And Robles responded to her by saying that in the same manner as people have the right to criticize the past Aquino administration’s policies, people who do not believe in Pres. Duterte’s drug war have the right to criticize him as well.
Robles said that she personally believes that Pres. Duterte’s justification for a drug war was “manufactured” in order to create a justification for a nation-wide Martial Law.
Joel Inocencio, a co-host of I am Pinoy, Proud Ako online show, opined that the justice system in the Philippines was in place, and questioned the manner at which Robles conducts her investigative report, citing that the slain woman shown in the slide presentation was a victim of hold-up and not a drug-related crime. Robles corrected Inocencio, citing the name of the victim and the circumstances leading to her death.
She went on to say that it was hard for journalists to pursue the full-circling of stories on drug-related crimes for police records have been kept away from them. The prosecution of cases has gone slow and too chaotic with the overwhelming incidences of murders, she said.
Asked if Philippine journalists were frustrated or fearful in their coverage of the crime stories in the Philippines, she said both, but more on fearful because of the constant vicious attacks made by trolls online, aside from the real physical threats that have always abound with journalistic work.
At the international gathering of feminist organization AF3IRM where Robles was one of the panelists, the IAPPA crew, Pong Allerta and Erma Aspillaga, followed her through on October 21 Saturday, in order to continue debunking her statements against Duterte. The two were barred entry for the women’s gathering was not a public event.
In California, Robles has had experienced being heckled but has nonetheless responded to tough questions squarely as regards her journalistic work and her new book. (Photos by Lambert Parong)