[With this maiden column of Susan “Toots” Ople, The Manila Times will henceforth publish “Policy Wink” every Monday. Ms. Ople is founder and current president of the Blas Ople Policy Center (BOPC), which assists distressed overseas Filipino workers in various parts of the world. She co-anchors a popular daily radio show, “Bantay OFW,” at dzXL’s Tatak RMN.]
HE’S not the Palace type. The opulence and size of it would dwarf his insane curses, and the itchy wardrobe it requires will be his bane. Incoming President Rodrigo Duterte, who comes by many names—Digong, Rody, and the more social media-friendly DU30, turns President on Thursday. The day when 100 million Filipinos get to actually call him “Mr. President” is the day of metamorphosis, not just for him, but also for all of us.
He does not even need to proclaim that we are his bosses. That is not the kind of relationship he seeks. My reading of the man is that rhetoric is just the means to the end, that metaphors are bothersome. He likes action. He likes getting things done. Of course, he prefers doing them at night.
Some say the media had met its match in Digong. The lesson was swift and delivered without exceptions. All media will have to hook up with the Presidential Communications Office for live coverage. He stood his ground, and the loquacious commander-in-chief won his case without much argument. That is Digong, his friends say. Live with it.
The political elite who believe in the prim-and-proper way of throwing daggers made some fuss about separate inaugurations and his non-appearance in proclamation rites in Congress. What cheek! Why has he not offered a post to incoming Vice President Leni Robredo? How divisive! Look at the members of his Cabinet! He doesn’t want to hurt Bongbong’s feelings? (Insert facepalm here.) Well, get over it. Hypocrisy is not his middle name.
I like our new President. He tells people in government to live simply. He shuns cult-like adoration. He makes fun of everyone including himself. He knows who he is. More importantly, he knows what he doesn’t want to be—pretentious and corrupt. That is the essence of intellectual honesty.
Many of us grew up in the wishy-washy world of governance communications, where the motherhood became the norm. He is the exact opposite. “If you kill my country, I will kill you.” The poor chuckle, the rich looks around and checks the surveys before delivering any response. Did he really say that? No wonder he won hands down. He has an endearing quality that comes from being a man of the streets, someone who passed the exam but never topped the class. That kind of Everyman whom we like to shoot the breeze with, a raconteur that keeps everyone up at night. Rather than delivering a lengthy speech on responsible mining, he named Gina Lopez as Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The deed is the message.
So what metamorphosis do we await? Of course, there will be a more ceremonial Duterte, the one who will suffer through the itch, and be tamed by the teleprompter. And then, there will be the midnight Duterte—as witnessed by sleepy members of his Cabinet, with stolen shots finding its way to social media, presidential humility in action. I hope that the Presidential Security Group would allow him to ride his bike, from time to time, while we sleep, so he can sniff the foul air where poverty dwells. Then there is the furious Duterte. That side is eminently reserved for the corrupt and criminal, for bullies and brats. He is with the Left but not a Leftist. I wonder what kind of effigies the Left will make—one with leis, perhaps?
What about our own metamorphosis? We need to do more and malign less. Do more means obeying traffic rules, treating employees better, paying taxes and becoming more concerned about our national life. We have an imperfect President out on a mission to clean up the bureaucracy, restructure government, improve social services and keep our streets and homes safe. We need to help him do all these things. And like him, we must be candid, stubborn, and firm when things go awry and excessive force is used to open doors when just turning the knob would do.
On June 30, we look forward to a Mindanao-inspired sunrise, to a presidency won by a million curses. We await the metamorphosis, when Duterte grows into the presidency, and we grow into a stronger, more progressive nation. Good luck, Mr. President!