In February 2018, writer Patrick Symmes
contacted me for an interview. I’m sharing my answers to his questions.
PATRICK SYMMES: Who are your typical Facebook followers in the Philippines, and how many social media followers do you have?
SASS ROGANDO SASOT: As of writing this (3 March 2018), I already have 610,539 FB followers. According to the FB-provided stats of my Page, 400,000 + are based in the Philippines; while the rest are abroad. 46% of these 400,000 folks are women; while 54% are men. For both genders, most of my followers are within the 25-44 age bracket. Education wise = 81% of them are university educated; while 10% have postgraduate education.
PATRICK SYMMES: Not forgetting your academic degrees, some people told me they identify with you because you had to seek opportunity abroad, and being transgender. Is that factually correct? Do you see a connection between your personal story and ability to reach people?
SASS ROGANDO SASOT: Just like any Filipino in the diaspora, I left the country in search of better opportunities. As a transgender woman, part of that search is finding a country where my being a woman is to a large extent validated. I’m not sure how many of my followers relate to me as a transgender woman, but I’m sure a substantial number relate to me as a Filipino in search of a country conducive to the flourishing of our being.
I don’t really know if my personal story is connected to my ability to reach people. I seldom talk about my personal life in my blog as I focus more on political issues. My readers only find out about my personal life (e.g. family issues) whenever my detractors bring them out in the open in order to discredit me. Some of my followers are even surprised that I’m a transgender person. More than my personal story, I think it’s my ability to discuss complex issues in a simple way that’s connected to my ability to reach people. This is an ability I developed during my a decade or so of transgender rights activism.
PATRICK SYMMES: What are you goals with For the Motherland and your other efforts? What are you trying to mobilize people to do? Have you reached Duterte himself with your activism?
SASS ROGANDO SASOT:
RJ Nieto of Thinking Pinoy
encouraged me to open an FB Page in August 2016 after my personal FB account got suspended several times since July 2016. During that time, I was one of social media personalities defending the South China Sea position of the president. His South China Sea position was actually the decisive factor why I supported him. When Duterte spoke during the June 2015 Asia CEO Forum
, I was surprised of his stance towards the SCS crisis. He understood the dangerous geopolitical position of the Philippines.
During the campaign, Duterte kept on mentioning his proposed conciliatory approach towards China. I was thrilled because, for me, he would seriously turn the tide of history. Historians of international history have all been predicting that a new world war is looming, and the SCS is one of the potential flash points. Duterte saw that danger and is trying his best to nudge our country away from it. We wouldn’t fully realize the significance of what he’s doing until we get to enjoy the benefit of hindsight.
My main goal for my blog is to promote the foreign policy of neutralism akin to what Finland adopted during the Cold War, and which I believe Duterte would like to do. As time went by, my blog evolved into promoting other ideas such as bureaucratic reforms and constitutional reforms — the shift to federal-parliament system. I’m also supporter of the legalization of medical marijuana. Fortunately, my interests are aligned with the interests of Duterte so I don’t really need to lobby him for it.
PATRICK SYMMES: Many Duterte supporters told me his election was a “revolution” that the country really needs. What is the nature of that revolution? What does Duterte offer that previous presidents did not?
SASS ROGANDO SASOT: As an international relations scholar, for me, the revolutionary step he did was to delimit the influence of the United States in the Philippines. He was the first president in recent memory to have done that. The closest Filipino statesman to have promoted the same foreign policy of neutralism was Senator Claro M. Recto, in the 50s. Understandably, declassified US State Department documents considered Recto “dangerous” to US interests.
The Portrait of a Cold Warrior
, the memoir of Joseph B. Smith, a former CIA operative who was once based in Manila, mentioned that because of this, the CIA undermined Recto’s political influence.
PATRICK SYMMES: What is your explanation for the high death toll during the drug war? Is Duterte’s strategy successful? Should he continue with this?
SASS ROGANDO SASOT: First of all, what’s your basis in saying that there’s a high death toll? This war on drugs kept more people alive than it killed. The last official statistics as of February 8: over a million surrenderees — all alive. 121,087 arrested — all alive. 4,021 died in anti-drug operations. The number of people killed is less than 1% of the total number of people who got apprehended and who voluntarily surrendered.
Nevertheless, I can see three reasons behind the killings:
One, drug pushers are armed. They have to carry guns in order to protect themselves from rival gangs and even from the police. Thus, when they get apprehended by the police, they fight back. The police, of course, had to protect themselves.
Second, drug organizations do the killings for several reasons. If a drug pusher cannot remit, they get killed by the drug organizations. If they have the potential to rat out, they get killed. Furthermore, drug cartels also unlease violent propaganda against a government committed to suppress their business. This is very likely in the Philippines, which is a major hub in the geoeconomics of narcotics trade. In Narco-Propaganda in the Mexican “Drug War”: An Anthropological Perspective
, anthropologist Howard Campbell called drug syndicates’ unleashing of terror “a spectacle of symbolic/orchestrated violence for public view.” This spectacle involves dreadful public display of brutally murdered bodies, bearing handwritten messages, which are “frequently calculated for maximum propagandistic impact,” Campbell explained. “The victims of drug killings are deliberately dumped in open view…The appearance of murdered corpses or the deposition of bodies is often timed in order for them to be covered in specific time slots on local television shows.”
The media has forgotten that the killings that are happening are within the context of a state-drug cartel conflict. Have you ever read any news article considering how the drug cartels in the Philippines are fighting back? I haven’t. Why? Is it because drug cartels in the Philippines are kinder? I wrote about how drug cartels fight back before in my column in The Manila Times, please refer to these articles:
And third, Duterte himself admitted that some of the police are involved in the illegal drug trade. So it’s highly likely that they liquidate those who could rat them out. In fact, during the senate hearing on the extrajudicial killing in 2016, one witness mentioned that her parents, who she admitted were crystal meth pushers, got their supply from the police. Her parents got killed by the police after they intended to stop being drug pushers.
PATRICK SYMMES: Many surveillance videos from Manila and elsewhere have captured footage of the summary executions of drug addicts, dealers, and others. Some videos show uniformed police officers doing the killing. In many other cases there are large teams of men (not in uniform) who appear to act like police, for example using surveillance and intelligence tips, and carrying out military-style raids. Do you believe that police officers are involved in the killings? To what extent?
SASS ROGANDO SASOT: Refer to my answer in #4. Duterte himself admitted that some of the police are involved in the illegal drug trade. So it’s highly likely that they liquidate those who could rat them out. Or as I mentioned, drug syndicates do unleash violent propaganda against a government suppressing their business in order to deligitimize its campaign. Those situations might be happening because of that. But I won’t dismiss the fact that there are police who are violating their duty.
PATRICK SYMMES: Every president has the legal duty to uphold rule of law. Duterte has often spoken of protecting officers and soldiers who kill drug dealers. When he talks this way, Is he encouraging extrajudicial killing?
SASS ROGANDO SASOT: You took it out of context. Duterte’s instructions to the security forces is very clear: Only kill if their life is in danger. That’s Duterte’s instruction the moment he started talking to the police:
It’s within the rule of law for the police to defend themselves if their life is in danger. Duterte never ordered the police to kill arbitrarily.
Duterte will only protect police officers who killed in the context of defending themselves in the performance of their duty.
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