Philippine Elections 2022: The New Normative Order.

AuthorCurato, Nicole

For decades, Philippine politics was organized around a normative order that prized democracy over authoritarian rule. A normative order, as it is commonly used in sociology, refers to the shared beliefs about what people can and cannot do in public life. People who transgress the normative order are stigmatized for poor behaviour or even punished for disrupting social order. In politics, a normative order dictates the nation's values and aspirations. It distinguishes good from bad politicians. It draws a line between virtuous citizens and the vile.

The Philippine's democracy-centric normative order is most pronounced in stories we were told about the EDSA People Power Revolution. In 1986, a mass uprising ousted President Ferdinand Marcos from power after more than 20 years in power. The protest along Epifanio de los Santos Avenue--known colloquially as EDSA--paved the way for the restoration of liberal democracy. In February 2022, on the 36th anniversary of the revolution, Senate President Vicente Sotto III described People Power as the "symbol of courage and unity, a light of truth that gives us a sense of freedom". (1) Vice President and opposition leader Leni Robredo called it "a story of love". (2) She spoke of the young and old who came together in peace, of kneeling nuns and soldiers who wept as rosaries were hung on the barrels of their guns. Even then President Rodrigo Duterte, who rarely disguised his contempt for democratic rituals, still found it necessary to pay tribute to those who "fought to uphold democracy". "Let us honour and thank those who continue to keep alive the legacy of this largely peaceful and non-violent revolution", he said. (3)

These statements, among many others, form the moral arc of the nation's post-EDSA normative order. While the Philippines has an uneven track record of defending human rights, upholding press freedom and electing morally upright politicians, the aspiration to defend freedom against tyranny was a largely uncontested ideal. Institutions like the anti-graft court (the Sandiganbayan) as well as constitutional provisions on term limits are manifestations of a normative order that seeks to protect the nation from the abuse of political power. These reforms are far from perfect, but they were put in place as safeguards to prevent the return of dictatorship.

This normative order was, however, upended less than three months after the 2022 anniversary of the People Power Revolution. On 9 May 2022, Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. and Sara Duterte were elected into Malacanang Palace. The decisive victory of the Marcos-Duterte tandem signals the complete breakdown of the moral arc that gave meaning to the Philippines' contemporary democracy.

The breakdown did not happen overnight. Duterte was able to maintain a "very good" public satisfaction rating throughout his six-year tenure, demonstrating that it is possible for a Philippine commander-in-chief to condone human rights violations of genocidal proportions at no political cost. (4) Terror was present in the lives of families who experienced police brutality during Duterte's drug war, but, for others, that same terror brought them freedom from drug-related violence. The Philippines entered a new social contract under Duterte's Hobbesian world, where people's freedoms depended on the President's right to take them away. (5)

The People Power normative order was further corroded by President Duterte's endorsement for Ferdinand Marcos Sr to be buried at the National Heroes Cemetery, where plots are...

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