From a personal realm, I admire Mr. Duterte. He defies tradition, shatters orthodoxies, and he wants to take the country to a path never taken before. Just to untangle the country from its old and deep ties with the liberal global order is an exciting — though risky — one. He has even upped the ante. Recently, in a state of pique, he threatened to pull the country out of the United Nations.
Frame his pull-out threat from this context: The country was a founding member of the UN and our own Carlos P. Romulo once presided over the UN General Assembly. Our ties to the UN has been one of the sacred givens of our international relationship.
Even non-believers of the UN want to be part of the UN, in part because their dictator-leaders want a backdoor way of acquiring a visa to the US, and perhaps shop (using illegally amassed dollars) at the Big Apple. Mr. Duterte will have none of that.
His admonition to the Senate against ratifying the Paris Accord on Climate Change, so as not to rein in his dream to make manufacturing viable, is one big proof that he does not really care about global comity when national interests is impaired by that comity.
Viewing his leadership through the prism of Mr. Aquino’s orthodoxy and the previous administration’s fixation with the usual GDP growth and credit upgrades, Mr. Duterte is also forcing the nation to take leadership decisions seriously. Ordinary Filipinos used to take their presidents for granted, given the relative orthodoxy of their governance. From Mrs. Aquino to Mr. Aquino, it was the same old, same old pursuit of growth and the dream to make it to “economic tiger status.”
This time, the president is different.
Mr. Duterte has combined his unorthodox view of our global relationship with a domestic policy never tried before. Law and order issues are first and foremost, and eliminating criminals with extreme prejudice, drug lords first and foremost, is a natural part of that process. From Mrs. Aquino to Mr. Aquino, economics was first and foremost and law and order was always in the back burners of policy priorities. Mr. Aquino, indeed, launched his own war, but it was a one-sided corruption campaign that primarily targeted his political enemies. The proliferation of vice lords — from narco to gambling lords –- never bothered Mr. Aquino a bit, and it was that opening, a nation tired of the chaos and anarchy, that the Duterte campaign deftly recognized and exploited.
And this is the best part — Mr. Duterte has high approval and appreciation ratings. The nation, on the whole, favors the governing principles of Mr. Duterte.
The heady mix of unorthodoxy, high approval ratings, and a fresh approach to governance has had the effect of muting all criticisms, partly because Establishment Politics does not know how to react to a president in the mold of Mr. Duterte. The main reason is political cowardice. No one wants to confront an unorthodox and popular president — even on the issue of extrajudicial killings.
But that should not be the case in a democracy. For democracy to flourish, bomb throwers and dissidents are a must.
Even the sainted Nelson Mandela had his staunch critics during his term as the post-apartheid leader of South Africa. Even the late Cory Aquino, during the euphoric years after EDSA 1, was not spared from criticisms.
Enter Senator Leila de Lima, an outspoken critic of Mr. Duterte dating back to his Davao City years. As the supposedly brave men of the two chambers of Congress gave Mr. Duterte full governing leeway, Ms. De Lima became the solitary voice in the mainstream political establishment to question aspects of Mr. Duterte’s war on drugs.