Maleficent state and bogus independence


bu-op-icons-sarahIn his book “The Nervous System” (1992), Anthropologist Michael Taussig equates maleficium to state fetishism. If ever these concepts sound obscure, Taussig laments that it is because they have been “so studiously, so dangerously ignored… (1992:11).” Marx renders fetishism plain and clear. “By fetishism, Marx was referring to the various masks, disguises and distortions of what is really going on around us (2014:35). The “peculiar sacred and erotic attraction, even thraldom combined with disgust, which the State draws for its subjects” is none other than State fetishism or the maleficent State at work.

From mask to instrument

Such characterization of the maleficent state is reminiscent of Nietzche’s construction of the “social structure of might as good and evil intertwined in the double helix of attraction and repulsion.” It has to be understood that the State is an organic unity that is greater than the sum of its parts. It is widely accepted that state power is an embodiment of reason and civilization. Yet this belief also largely depends on people’s sustained recognition of State power in all its distortions and disguises. State power is a historical human invention. Yet it now exists as an insurmountable entity exerting power over people’s lives.

Is State power, then, mere fiction? Taussig cites Philip Abram’s analysis: The state is not the reality which stands behind the mask of political practice. It is itself the mask which prevents our seeing political practice as it is…” Through its repressive apparatus—the army, the police, the prison system—the State tries to convince everyone that the violence it inflicts upon its victims is legitimate and necessary. The State’s dispensation of violence affirms Weber’s depiction of State power having the monopoly over the legitimate use of violence.

The aforementioned depictions have only explored the dimensions of State power. As to why State power functions as a mask “which prevents us from seeing political practice as it is,” and for whom and for what does it exist in this way is only resolved in Vladimir Lenin’s categorization of the State as an instrument of class rule. This means that the State is not completely over and above the people. It is an entity that has been captured by a group of people belonging to a particular class.

In the history of the modern world, this is the capitalist class which constitutes the ruling elite in all capitalist countries. The class character of the State explains the double helix of attraction or thraldom and repulsion that subjects have for it. If it were a mere instrument of repressive power, it would have been subjected to endless series of hijacks by invested parties. But since it is being seized by the bourgeoisie, the State signifies as much as it promises to its constituents a share in the symbolic power of this class and all its claims to slick culture, comfort, and civility.

Those who have hijacked the State are able to define what is there for people to aspire. The purported relative autonomy between the capitalist class and the State is a distortion of State power. The invisible hand of the market can only rule because under capitalism it is indivisible from State power. It is not the case that multi-national corporations and financial institutions have overpowered States. Their rule is State-sponsored. The State is not a rival but an instrument of the economic elite.

State Crimes in Non-Capitalist Formations and Colonial Mentality

The Philippine State is client to its imperialist patron, the United States. Towards the end of the 19th century, the crisis of capitalism was in full swing and required creative retooling. Through the Monroe Doctrine, Imperialist US divided the globe into the Old World and the New World. It presented itself as a defender and protector of Latin American independence from European colonialism (Spain and Portugal) after the people of Bolivia and Peru fought and won their struggle for national liberation.

It was also in this period that it aggressively annexed Hawaii against fierce opposition. Its own declaration of Pax Americana or Pan American Peace was no more than a scheme for unbridled expansion and intervention . After its victory in the Spanish-American War, the US immediately took hold of Puerto Rico, Cuba, Guam, and in particular, the Philippines after the revolt of the masses led by Bonifacio’s revolution against Spanish colonialism.

Pax Americana had continued to be a mechanism for so-called enforcement of homeland peace and security in the beginning of the 20th century. This allowed it to make a case for American Exceptionalism as it subjected its colonies to genocide. In his book “General Geography of the Philippine Islands,” Manuel Arellano Remondo avers that “… [Philippine]population decreased due to the wars, in the five-year period from 1895 to 1900, since, at the start of the first insurrection, the population was estimated at 9,000,000 and at present (1908), the inhabitants of the archipelago do not exceed 8,000,000 in number.”

After the two imperialist wars (WW I and WW II), the US has since been catapulted to the status of a world superpower. It had managed to control the political, military, cultural, and economic affairs of its colonies by reaping the fruits of its post-war plan. With the loyal assistance of its allies from the local Philippine comprador, the US has maintained a puppet government engaged in state crimes.

State crimes are everyday assaults on the lives of Filipino masses that the comprador class regard with immense mistrust and disgust. The compradors and citizens who ideologically identify with the former sans their political and economic power look upon the poor with the unmistakable eye of the colonizer. They look intently and see the poor swamped in indolence and barrenness. Some people call this arrogance. But at this point in the history of domination and resistance, we have no more use for psychologisms to explain away habits of thought and conduct that are anyway programmed and reinforced by state policies.

If ever the poor suffer destitution and indignities with unbelievable self-possession as signalled by that proverbial Pinoy smiling face, it is on account of sanctioned rules on civility. The practice of mass demonstrations is not a default disposition of the dispossessed. After all, this is a regime that cannot be divorced from the Mendiola Massacre of 1987 and the Hacienda Luisita Massacre of 2004, where militant farmworkers were brutally attacked and killed.

For the past month alone, Filipinos were pummelled to the ground with a battery of lies masked as EDCA or the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) touted as an advance in strategic partnership between the United States (US) and the Philippines points clearly at the nature of this alliance. For Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Gen. Emmanuel Bautista, “the Edca was a creative way to establish deterrence and avoid conflict and face challenges to national security.” The General also unabashedly claims that it is meant to “operationalize the country’s Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) with the United States, which serves as a deterrence to any armed aggression.” This brutal frankness about the country’s military entanglement with Imperialist America is actually saying that “War, as always, is a joint venture. Uncle Sam wants you. Get Ready for War!”

And when Uncle Sam says war he does not only want profuse gore and maximum death toll, he wants profit, and natural resources, and territories. Crucial to his status as a superpower, Uncle Sam needs to be awed and obeyed after all that carnage. General Emmanuel Bautista and President Noynoy Aquino are the perfect subjects of Uncle Sam’s maleficent power. As colonial subjects, they will continue to wield power to convince everyone that indeed, the majority of the Filipino people are swamped in indolence and barrenness. They need the kind of Edca protection that doubles up as a behaviour modification program, an ideological offensive. An attack on the dignity of the Filipino people is required to violate national sovereignty.

Frantz Fanon rightly asserts that it is the colonized people’s involvement and contribution to the national liberation struggle against colonialism that affords them a strong sense of entitlement to dignity. And they realize that the empowerment of the local elites leaves much to be desired. The comprador elites led by President Noynoy Aquino implement an export-oriented and import- dependent economy that subjects the Philippines to the IMF-WB’s Structural Adjustment Program proven to be anti-development and anti-people.

Aquino often boasts of what turns out to be the regime’s flagship program—Public-Private Partnership (PPP). PPPs highlight the importance of corporate tie-ups to promote the common good. The pork barrel scandal exposes that a significant amount of the national budget is allotted to the profit-making schemes of bureaucrats. PPPs are necessary for politicians to maximize their loot.

NGOs like Gawad Kalinga is now touted as an ideal model of good citizenship where private individuals and corporations come together to purportedly provide decent housing for the poor. Worse, the State has managed to make the people’s right to decent housing sound ridiculous and bratty.

The peddling of PhilHealth cards is ever more intensified of late and projected as an opportunity for every Filipino to avail health discounts from hospitals and other accredited health care institutions when the government is supposed to deliver public health service.

No less than the country’s State University, the University of the Philippines, practices a tuition scheme that condones state neglect of public education. The UP administration is firm in its neoliberal stand on education. Tertiary education is not a public good. Silly as it sounds for any administrator of a public university to think and rule along those lines, the same bureaucrats push their arguments to higher level of absurdity by claiming that as a private good, tertiary education should be paid for by the students.

Of course, at this point, they cease to be students but moneyed clients who can afford to buy a UP education. This while at the same time claiming that the State still subsidizes student tuition significantly. So why ever assume that tertiary education is a private good? That assumption unwittingly exempts students from social responsibility. As clients or consumers of a private good like tertiary education, what will make them duty-bound to serve the people after graduation? Before charging today’s youth of apathy and market-driven choices, consider that the imposed neoliberal policies by government and the State University don’t give the youth much of a choice to begin with.

But what about the rich students, so the bureaucrats argue, why will government subsidize their education? That some students are born to wealthy families is an accident of their biographies. They are not the kind of rich who consciously climbed up the bureaucratic ladder through self-ingratiation and with reckless abandon of dignity and common decency.

There is no essential correspondence between class origin and class consciousness. If the same Socialized Tuition System was applied to UP during the time of Jose Maria Sison, alumnus and former faculty of the University and founding chairperson of the Communist Party of the Philippines, he would have been bracket A/millionaire’s bracket. What about UP’s rich students? They move both ways—forward and backward. There is no good reason to align a whole institution’s orientation to the neoliberal agenda. A public university must serve the people. The orientation of tertiary education as a public good is crucial for this purpose.

That the neoliberal agenda is in full swing in state institutions is symptomatic of the persistence of colonial mentality. The mentality that absolves the State of all its violations of basic rights of the people, the kind that accepts that these rights are privileges and/or the rewards for hard work, and thus, those who are deprived of it are lazy to begin with is the same sensibility that will find justification for Edca.

Fanon’s reference to the entitlement to dignity as a by-product of participation in national liberation struggles is for him a prerequisite for sovereignty: “Above all, the people must feel deserving of dignity, and therefore of sovereignty.” The government’s strict implementation of neoliberal policies functions as rehearsals for favourable reception to outright display of US military belligerence such as Edca.

It took a state visit to implement Edca. At the height of the debates for and against it, and in the 2-day visit of Obama in the country, no government official, save for the Makabayan bloc in Congress, took to the streets to stand against it. It took an international platform like Al Jazeera to produce a succinct and lucid description of Edca by featuring an article by Jose Maria Sison:

“The VFA allows the rotational presence of US military forces and their operations anywhere in the Philippines for any length of time to train and inter-operate with the Philippine armed forces, use their facilities and retain jurisdiction over criminal cases, including capital offences, involving US troops. EDCA is now widely considered far worse than the VFA as it allows not only unlimited increase in the rotational presence of US military forces but also the building of US military bases and stations in areas of the Philippine armed forces, thus reducing Filipino troops to mere perimeter guards at the Philippines’ expense.”

General Bautista’s view of Edca as an opportunity to push the logical conclusion of the Mutual Defense Treaty vis a vis Jose Maria Sison’s factual comparison between the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and Edca are not just two competing perspectives relative to one’s position in the social field. Between these two positions is an intense contradiction. Logic compels that two statements completely opposed to each other cannot be both true. The Philippines as a neocolony of US Imperialism is the context in which US military expansion and intervention is taking place in the country in the age of nation- states. This context makes the statement of General Bautista false.

There is no good reason to cut ourselves from the national liberation struggle of Bonifacio. The shameless lies of the General as well as the President’s enforcement of political and economic entropy is the reality of our own prehistory. The struggle for national liberation in the time of Edca and the pork barrel scandal is the political expression of class struggle. The making of history begins not just with the struggle against an imperialist master. In semi-feudal and semi-colonial societies like the Philippines, the struggle must also necessarily be for the demise of the colonized comprador. (

Frantz Fanon. 2004. The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Press.
David Harvey. 2014. Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Jose Maria Sison. “US and Philippines: How strategic is the partnership?” in
Michael Taussig. 1992. The Nervous System. New York: Taylor and Francis

Sarah Raymundo is a full-time faculty at the University of the Philippines-Center for International Studies (UP-CIS Diliman) and a member of the National Executive Board of the All U.P. Academic Employees Union. She is the current National Treasurer of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) and the External Vice Chair of the Philppine Anti-Impeiralist Studies (PAIS). She is also a member of the Editorial Board of Interface: A Journal for Social Movements.

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  1. · Edit

    You have very good command of the English language. But may I suggest you try a more simple writing style? Clarity is lost when one tries to impress rather than express.

    My take-away is that you believe there is some grand evil plan keeping the oppressed oppressed? Perhaps. But it is my opinion that there is no such grand plan. Events happen, power vacuums are created and the lucky or powerful fill them. Your political dynasties come to mind.

    And at a time where the US influence in your region is at its lowest point in decades, how does the US figure in the blame-game?

    If you are sincere in looking for answers, look no further than the book, “The Irony of Democracy”. Your huddled and noble masses would tear themselves apart were it not for the elites governing them.

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