I was with Chairman Chito Gaston of the Commission on Human Rights at the Kapihan sa Anabel (in Quezon City) last Saturday when he said he would investigate Mayor Rodrigo Duterte’s reported claim of having killed 1,700 police characters over the past so many years. I had no problem believing Gaston, but I had difficulty believing the mayor. How could anyone possibly kill all those people in a city like Davao and still go around on his motorbike without provoking a shooting war and getting bumped off by his victims’ surviving relatives and friends?
I told Gaston that unless he came up with the evidence, he would have to criminally charge Duterte with trying to impersonate the Khmer Rouge butcher Pol Pot or the English hangman Albert Pierrepoint. This is precisely my problem with the good Mayor. His claims are simply unreal and incredible. This was not the Duterte I thought I knew from years before.
In one of my successful senatorial campaigns, Duterte once asked me to ride tandem with him, at the back of his motorcycle, as we drove around; it was his way of endorsing a candidate. On a couple of other occasions, we dined at an unpretentious seafood restaurant in Davao, and talked about nothing in general. I was completely unprepared to see him morph into the character that he has become, as far as the social and anti-social media are concerned.
It appears that some publicity quack has sold him the idea that some people like watching and listening to a mean-looking, tough-talking, foul-mouthed character who has no second thoughts about decapitating petty criminals and deflowering scantily dressed maidens. Big crime is the solution to petty crime; the next President should be the personal reincarnation of the death sentence. It’s all cheap entertainment and cheaper propaganda: where PNoy famously plays the video game, “Digong” has become its main character. The media has created an improbable “persona” he must live up to, and his fans are enjoying it.
Duterte is gaining so much mileage, playing to the crowd. This is the crowd outside the political mainstream, whose existence is rarely noticed by the political, economic and social elite, so they try to draw attention to their dismal condition by means of the profanities and cuss words which Duterte supplies. “It’s been (with all due apologies) a ‘putang-ina’ life for such a long time, and we’ll get even with all the ‘putang-ina’ by supporting Duterte for president,” one of them put it. That is their threat, and it’s more than a threat.
It is the first expression of revolt. Duterte has recognized this, and so he says the most outrageous things; and the more outrageous he is, the more they cheer him. He is performing for them and the internal applause he hears seems deafening. No one can say if Duterte himself believes everything he is saying, and not even his rivals seem to care. In my youth, I used to listen to a local demagogue who told all the lies that had the crowds entertained, and when a zealous rival complained about his lies, he said, “The trouble with you people is that you want to believe everything you hear. That is quite stupid, for I don’t even believe what I’m saying.”
Now, even Mar Roxas has fallen into the trap. He has challenged Duterte to a slapping match for casting aspersion on his education at Wharton. This debases the non-existent presidential debate, without giving Mar any chance of being able to “out-thug the thug.” When people normally talk of a Wharton degree, they usually refer to a post-graduate degree, which allows one to walk the corridors of business and finance.
To the best of my knowledge, Mar has an undergraduate degree, not a post-grad. Duterte, therefore, will have to do the slapping if he so chooses, instead of being slapped. But while degrees are helpful and look good in one’s professional resume, a real intellectual ought to be able to rise above, or even without, academic credentials.
The critical word here is “rise. Both must rise. Mar must rise out of his “burgis” (bourgeois) mold and image, and Duterte must rise from being a mere cuss word to being a genuine light to the masses. Mar will not be helped by any of the inane TV ads that try to picture him as someone he is not; Duterte should be able to project himself not only as someone who represents the frustration of the masses but above all as someone who seeks to raise their vision of the nation and themselves.
To many analysts, B. S. Aquino 3rd has been the most unworthy president in the nation’s history, bar none. We cannot afford to have a new president who will make us miss this incompetent megalomaniac after he is mercifully gone. The trouble though is that although we had to wait for Aquino to get to Malacañang to see if he was sane, “Digong” seems determined to convince everybody that they don’t have to wait for him to get there.
After listening to him curse the Pope, brag about his polyamorous sexual exploits, casually voice support for the highly controversial Bangsamoro political entity, for same-sex “marriage,” and other things, some people who would insist on subjecting PNoy to a psychiatric test now seem ready to propose an exorcism for the “macho” candidate. But such seems to be Duterte’s impact on the 2016 elections that one cannot seem to say any negative thing about him without provoking an impassioned reaction from an unexpected bystander.
Duterte’s merits or lack thereof will not be settled here. Duterte has to make his best qualities known to as many people as possible. But he must educate himself and others on the basic issues about governance and nation-building. He must help un-confuse our highly confused population. For instance, many like Duterte because he is supposed to be a “brave” leader. But they cite his reported “brutality” as the shining proof of his bravery and courage. The unschooled and unlettered must be made to see that just as civility is not weakness, brutality is neither courage nor strength.
Many others like him because he promises to shift to a federal and parliamentary government, which they believe is an improvement upon the presidential unitary system. Again, the unschooled and the unlettered and even the college educated must be made to see that such change requires an amendment or revision of the Constitution, and it is Congress and the Filipino people, not the President, that can propose such amendment or revision. There are a few other issues. In short, he must tell his supporters that he is running for President only, not for Superman.
He must be forthright and candid enough to declare that his crimes and sins, which he must atone and do penance for, are not at all qualifications for high office, which make him worthier than the others. They are proof that he is as human flawed and as imperfect as anybody else, but that because he wants to serve, he promises to make sure that any reform he wants to see for his country and people will first begin with himself.