ASIA Sentinel, a regional Asian website founded 11 years ago in Hong Kong by four veteran expatriate journalists after the demise of Asiaweek and Far Eastern Economic Review (as a weekly), may have set off a storm with its latest major post entitled, “Duterte, the Philippines and a Psychopathic Reign of Terror.”
It is not the first nor probably the last to talk of President Rodrigo Duterte’s “reign of terror”. But it is certainly the first site, and a foreign one at that, to call him “a psychopath drunk on killing.” The highly influential New York Times has run a pictorial of several pages captioned, “They are slaughtering us like animals,” and thundered in an editorial saying, “Duterte must be stopped.” But no one until now has dared to call DU30, in print, stark, raving mad.
The Sentinel is a high-powered site co-founded by John Berthelsen, a former correspondent of the Wall Street Journal and former managing editor of The (Hong Kong) Standard, who is its current editor-in-chief; Philip Bowring, former editor of the Far Eastern Economic Review and columnist on the International Herald Tribune, who is its consulting editor; Lin Neumann, former executive editor of The Standard , who is its executive editor; and Anthony Spaeth, former Asia regional correspondent for TIME magazine, who has joined Bloomberg after helping organize the site.
Except for Berthelsen, whom I know only by reputation, I have worked with all the others in my previous incarnation as information minister and contributor to some international organs, and am familiar with the quality of their journalism. They are tops. The site takes pride in its strong coverage of Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, and the rest of the region. But this is the first piece which I am sure will provoke the anger of our tough-talking, pistol-packing President.
A new Pol Pot?
“It is time for the Philippines to face up to the fact that its President, Rodrigo Duterte, is a psychopath drunk on killing,” says the opening paragraph of the Sentinel article. “The reign of terror he has initiated and promoted has in just one year claimed more victims than the Islamic State, al-Qaida and other Islamist terror groups have in the whole of Southeast Asia and the Western world in 20 years—-including the 3,000 dead in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001.”
This refers to the rash of recent killings—81 in three days in Metro Manila and Bulacan alone, including the 17-year-old high school student Kian Loyd de los Santos, who has become a symbol of the 7,000 or 8,000 or so who had been killed since July 1, 2016. The article recalls DU30’s stint as mayor of Davao City, who had given the local police a license to kill, and quotes him as saying, “There’s no due process in my mouth…you can’t stop me and I’m not afraid, even if you say I can end up in jail.”
In the article’s view, DU30’s drug killings had given the Philippines a reputation for barbarity on a scale not seen since the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot flooded Cambodia with the blood of its victims. From 1975 to 1979, when an invading Vietnamese army deposed Pol Pot, 1.5 million out of 7 to 8 million Cambodians perished from starvation, execution, disease or overwork. In one detention center alone, only seven survived out of 20,000, according to published accounts. By comparison, nobody is reported to have died of a slow death in the hands of DU30’s policemen and vigilantes.
While the poor and powerless are killed, “the elites are undisturbed if they wish to indulge in cocaine reveries,” says the article; they are “protected by the high walls of privilege.” And while the churches and other sectors have raised their voices in protest, “the mainstream business and academic communities are silent, preferring to comment on steady GDP growth numbers, promises of infrastructure spending, and the government generally following conservative macro-economic and financial policies,” observes the article.
Isn’t DU30 a user too?
“What lies behind this lethal drug campaign, one asks,” the article continues. “The first clue may be that Duterte himself was—and maybe still is—a drug user. He has admitted to past over-prescription use of the drug Fentanyl, an opioid far stronger and more addictive than shabu, the most common and cheapest street amphetamine. Fentanyl and similar opiods such as Oxycodone are the illegal drugs of the rich, available from doctors on prescription and at a cost far in excess of shabu.
“Whether or not he still takes Fentanyl or similar drugs, it is clear that by his own definition of drug users he himself should have been gunned down by police or vigilantes a long time ago,” says the article.
“What will come of this?” the article asks in the end. “Duterte appears to have frightened Filipinos into mass acquiescence in coldblooded killing on an unprecedented scale. But this is a tragedy with its roots in the use of assassination and murder as a tactic by the government (and the communist Left) for decades. If they are to restore the decency and good name of the nation, Filipinos will ultimately have to come to terms with themselves.”
I make the same point in my column on Wednesday, August 23, (“A narco-state—and a killer too?”), but I fear an angry storm from Malacañang is unavoidable. It is not in DU30’s nature to ignore any perceived offense. And this is certainly one. DU30 has confessed a number of ailments—severe migraines, Barrett’s esophagus, Buerger’s disease, etc.—all of which are non-life-threatening and apparently treatable, so he doesn’t mind talking about them. But he will not suffer any suggestion that he’s sicker than he says he is, or that he is “insane.”
In response to what I have written, DU30 has admitted visiting Fuda cancer hospital in Guangzhou, China, but says he has no cancer and trivializes his visit to the hospital by saying he had gone there to have his circumcision fixed. Fuda has resolved this issue by opening a branch in Manila, reputedly specializing in thoracic cases.
Mental incapacity documented
With all the trolls and bots poised to protect DU30, Asia Sentinel must brace for attack. But the site should be able to show it did not merely want to provoke DU30 when it suggested he was mentally cracked. Since any President’s mental health is completely material to the nation’s well-being and the rational conduct of government, the site should be able to show it wasn’t engaging in any trivia, which is casually traded in Manila’s text messages. In certain circles, they talk about “Bal” (shorthand for “baliw” or “crazy”) when referring to this colossal person of interest.
The Sentinel article has opened the window of opportunity to confront the mental health issue openly and objectively, with the full participation of the President. We should now seize it.
Since the psychological profiles of the 2016 presidential candidates were never considered, and DU30 has not undergone any psychological examination after becoming President, the public has no general knowledge of any expert medical finding on his mental capacity or lack thereof.
But there is one such medical finding, which Judge Pablito Rojas of the Regional Trial Court Branch 70 in Pasig used in January 2000 to rule in favor of a petition by Elizabeth Zimmerman Duterte to annul her marriage to then-Congressman Rodrigo Duterte. The judge declared the marriage a “nullity” on the recommendation of Dr. Natividad Dayan, a clinical psychologist assigned to the case.
Elizabeth married DU30 in Digos, Davao del Sur on September 8, 1973. She bore him three children— Paolo, on March 24, 1975; Sara, on May 31, 1978; and Sebastian, on November 3, 1987. But she complained of his constant womanizing from the first days of their marriage, his volatile temper, his being a “control freak” and being emotionally abusive. She said he flaunted his infidelities by presenting his other women as “Mrs. Duterte” to his friends, and publicly humiliated her with insulting remarks. Their conjugal life suffered after Sarah’s birth, hence the nine-year gap between the second and the third child. She said she got pregnant a fourth time, but he doubted the paternity of her unborn child and demanded that it be aborted. In July 1998, they decided to separate.
Dr. Dayan diagnosed Elizabeth to be suffering from severe stress because of her marriage, and that she would suffer further if she remained married. She recommended the termination of her marriage.
As for Rodrigo, Dr. Dayan diagnosed him to be “psychologically incapacitated to handle essential marital obligations. He is suffering from a narcissistic personality disorder with aggressive features with his gross indifference, insensitivity, and self-centeredness, his grandiose sense of self and entitlement, his manipulative behavior, his lies and his deceits, as well as his pervasive tendency to demean, humiliate others and violate their rights and feelings. From all indications, Rodrigo’s personality disturbance, which constitutes his psychological incapacity, is deemed serious, incurable and without antecedents.”
Dayan found him to be “a highly impulsive individual who has difficulty controlling his urges and emotions. He is unable to reflect on the consequences of his actions, and tends to do things out of pure impulse and passion, with utter disregard of the effects his actions may have on himself and others. Immediate gratification of his needs and desires is always expected; any delay can upset him a great deal.
“Such lack of self-discipline often leads him to engage in unhealthy or destructive behaviors. However, he is not apt to see his behaviors as such, and instead sees these as merely exciting and challenging. He has a poor capacity for objective judgment. He fails to see things in the light of facts, or at least from the point of view of most people. He interprets his actions solely from his own viewpoint, which is blemished by his personal needs, biases, and prejudices.
“Outwardly, Rodrigo is keen to be competitive, dominating, and controlling. Quite opinionated, he refuses or is unable to appreciate views and opinions of others. He tends to judge people outrightly without exerting effort to know them better. While he is proud of his independence, power and toughness, people usually find him intimidating. With a grandiose sense of self-worth, Rodrigo feels far superior to others. And he expects recognition of his superiority.
“He enjoys praises, attention and adulation. He feels entitled to a lot of things. He sees relationships in terms of what others can give him rather than as exchanges. Inclined to be exploitative, he takes advantage of others’ weaknesses. For all his wrongdoings, he tends to rationalize and feel justified. Hence, he seldom feels a sense of guilt or remorse. At worst, he can even blame others for the injury he inflicts on them…
“All said, Rodrigo is predisposed to fail in marriage. He cannot remain committed to a person or a relationship. Obligations of a marriage can be highly stressful to him. As it is, he reports a high level of marital distress. He expressed strong feelings of alienation and anger toward his spouse…,” Dayan said.
Acting upon Dayan’s recommendation, the court granted Elizabeth Zimmerman’s petition and declared her marriage with Rodrigo DU30 a nullity, pursuant to Article 36 of the Family Code.
A failure in marriage, a presidential success?
Having failed in marriage because of a serious psychological disorder, was DU30 predisposed to succeed as despot with the same psychological defect? Or was he not simply disposed to replace his infidelities to his family with greater infidelities to the state, which demands utmost loyalty to the rule of law, due process and human rights? What constitutional authority now can declare the nullity of DU30’s short-term contract with the brutally exploited State?