Duterte’s bogus anti-racism amid dangerous anti-Chinese bigotry
It’s a new low in the Duterte era. The leader who inspired mass killings, denigrates women and poor Filipinos, told soldiers it’s okay to rape and kowtows to the Chinese Communist Party — that president now claims he’s upset about racism against the Chinese.
The hypocritical farce doesn’t help one bit in dealing with the other brewing crisis triggered by the coronavirus panic: a troubling wave of bigotry against the Chinese all over the world — including the Philippines.
This is a time for precise, sharp, judicious language. But don’t expect that from the likes of Duterte or any of his allies.
Imposing restrictions on travel at airports and borders is sound and smart policy at a time when a pandemic is spreading. Duterte obviously has been reluctant to do that because it would upset the Chinese Communist Party, not because he is against racism.
The situation in the Philippines is clearly unusual. The travel ban would be against a country whose government has used aggressive policies against the Philippines — policies that Duterte has embraced.
I’ve been home twice over the past year and a half and saw the growing presence of Chinese nationals in Manila and beyond. It’s not surprising and even understandable for people to react with anger and frustration with foreigners, especially those who stand out for bad behavior.
But one thing history has shown us is this: sweeping statements against any people or community, especially when magnified on social media, can easily spin out of control and morph into bigotry — sometimes dangerous bigotry.
I wouldn’t brand my friend, the veteran journalist Ceres Doyo a racist. But her recent column 7 Deadly Plagues is troubling.
“Among Filipino citizens, there is a rising bias against Chinese nationals who have/had been coming in droves and bringing in with them—in a manner of speaking—plagues, pests, and pestilences,” she wrote.
“Plagues, pests and pestilences.”
We’ve heard that kind of language before, used to portray a people or a community as dirty or inferior or both.
It was used against blacks, Latinos and Asians, including Filipinos, by whites throughout US history.
It was used by the Nazis to denigrate the Jews.
In the 1990s, similar language was used to describe the Chinese in Indonesia when they became the targets of violent demonstrations after some people blamed them for the Asian financial meltdown.
I met some of those who managed to flee to the San Francisco Bay Area
“We were afraid to show our faces in public,” Ah Hua, a 31-year-old Chinese Indonesian told me, choking back tears, as he recalled hiding in their home from violent mobs roaming the streets of Jakarta.
It only takes a small spark to ignite a wave of racist violence. That’s why people who have any degree of public presence and influence — political leaders and even known commentators — need to choose their words carefully in expressing frustration, even outrage, with Beijing’s increasingly aggressive and arrogant posture.
It must always be made clear that Duterte and the Chinese Communist Party are the problem — not ordinary Chinese.
But the opposite has happened recently.
I’ve written about National Artist F. Sionil Jose’s disturbing comments about Chinese Filipinos. This includes a 2019 column in which he praised the way Vietnam “applied a simple solution to its China problem.”
“The Chinese were simply expelled and their properties were confiscated,” Jose writes. “Several Chinese establishments were set up through the following years, but during the riots some three years ago, when China set up an oil rig in Vietnamese waters, to which the Vietnamese objected furiously, the Chinese factories in Vietnam were burned.”
“Vietnam is a very good model,” Jose said.
In 2018, Inquirer columnist Solita Monsod also made the stunning claim in a column: “I have often observed, Reader, that a Chinese-Filipino will never ever state unequivocally that he/she is a Filipino first, and a Chinese second (meaning, his loyalty is to the Philippines).”
These comments feed the paranoia being peddled by some Filipinos not just against ordinary Chinese, but also Filipinos of Chinese descent.
They have been targeted by people who do not bother to make a distinction between ordinary Chinoys, many of whom are even more loyal to the Philippines than Duterte and his cohort, and the Chinese groups and individuals who are benefitting from the Duterte regime — the Chinese Communist Party and political and business leaders in the Philippines who happen to be Chinese.
It is critical for everyone, particularly people with influence, to speak out loudly against bigotry, while condemning the unholy alliance Duterte has forged with groups and individuals who happen to be Chinese.
It’s important to remember that, in this crisis, the Chinese are victims too.
In fact, one of the martyrs of this evolving global tragedy is Chinese: Li Wenliang. He was the doctor who tried to warn the world about the virus in December. The threat was real, but the Chinese Communist Party ordered Li Wenliang to shut up.
The political analyst and Asia observer Ian Bremmer shared a translated version of the official document sent to Li Wenliang. It said: “If you insist on your views, refuse to repent and continue the illegal activity, you will be punished by the law. Do you understand?”
Li Wenliang was detained and subsequently became infected. He died last week, sparking outrage even within China.
There are probably other Li Wenliangs in China, physicians, community leaders, activists who are trying to do the right thing, not just in connection with the corona virus but also other issues. And they may be willing to reach out to other nations to do the right thing.
And they may even be eager to reach out to Filipino health care workers, sensible political leaders and activists who have grown tired of the Duterte government’s inaction, and may even be opposed to Beijing’s aggressive posture in Southeast Asia.
But that may be harder to do if would-be allies in China hear mainly vile, hateful language not just against the power-wielders in China and the Philippines, but the Chinese people themselves.
Why look for potential friends and partners in a country where the prevailing belief is that the Chinese bring only “plagues, pests, and pestilences?”
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