Think before you speak. That is the sage advice people around newly-declared presidential aspirant Rody “Digong” Duterte should keep reminding him. That, however, might be quite difficult for the colorful and controversial Davao City mayor, especially since he’s trying to project a tough guy image to match his anti-crime, anti-drug, and anti-corruption campaign rhetoric. But if he doesn’t tone down his crude and foul-mouthed spiels, his self-destructive strategy will later definitely take a toll on his poll numbers although his survey ratings now are still very good for him.
Already, Duterte faced an angry public backlash for cussing out the Roman Pontiff during his declaration speech last week as the presidential standard-bearer of PDP-Laban. It was an ominous start to what should have been an easy campaign.
Before he started opening his mouth, Duterte was the top choice of Metro Manila voters for president, based on a Pulse Asia presidential preference survey. The privately commissioned survey, conducted weeks before Duterte declared his candidacy, showed that 34 percent of the respondents would vote for him if the elections were held then.
Of course, Metro Manila is not the Philippines. And his poll ratings are not predictive of the final election results. The way we see it, the more crucial survey will be the nationwide poll a month or so from now, after the public has had a chance to scrutinize him more closely. The results will give voters (and potential donors) an idea as to whether the Davao City mayor’s presidential campaign is sustainable over the long term or a flash in the pan.
Look at Senator Grace Poe. Three months ago, her lead seemed insurmountable. But now facing a deluge of legal challenges plus a recent setback before the Commission on Elections (Comelec) which had disqualified her for lack of residency, Poe has seen her survey numbers take an alarmingly steep downturn.
There’s no doubt Duterte’s survey numbers will take a hit, too, especially after he makes more mistakes like the Pope Francis fiasco. But whether his ratings will slide remains to be seen – or heard.
But it would be wrong for Duterte’s opponents to ignore what made him so appealing to a lot of Filipinos in the first place. Most politicians nowadays appear so scripted and polished that a candidate like Duterte who blurts out his opinion without seeming regard to what other people think or say appears genuinely authentic, even if what he says goes against most people’s innate sense of morality and justice.
For many voters, the curse-filled rants unleashed by Duterte against an inept government that has failed to stop rampant criminality, corruption and the proliferation of drugs ring true. His expletive-laden response to the needless hardships foisted on our countrymen by an insensitive administration echoes the frustration and sentiments of many Filipinos.
For others, Duterte’s outrageous off-the-cuff remarks make him the Filipino counterpart of Donald Trump, the self-promoting American real estate mogul who has become the top contender for the Republican presidential nomination.
The comparison is not farfetched. Both men seem to speak their mind to the point of crudeness.
Donald Trump once suggested that the face of Carly Fiorina – his opponent in the Republican race – would make her unelectable. Trump also sparked outrage in the Latino community after accusing undocumented Mexicans immigrants of “bringing drugs.” He also said, “They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”
The presidential bet from Davao, on the other hand, made no bones about his womanizing ways. Even after admitting having two wives and two girlfriends, Duterte says he won’t stop entertaining women if he is elected president. Duterte says, “I will open all the books of Malacañang. If there are beautiful women waiting outside, I will open the door to my room.”
Both Trump and Duterte aren’t shy about proclaiming their successes.
Trump, who treats humility as a weakness, said that “I’ve done an amazing job” as a businessman. He claims he’s qualified to lead America because “Everything I’ve done virtually has been a tremendous success.”
Among Duterte’s oft-repeated lines is how he transformed Davao into a drug-free and crime-free city where “your beautiful wife or beautiful daughter can walk late at night until the wee hours of the morning in any street without being molested or hurt.”
They both offer simplistic solutions to complex problems.
To stem the tide of illegal immigration, Trump wants to put a wall along the southern border and let Mexico pay for it. Duterte, meanwhile, promises to “eliminate” the country’s drug problem, warning that more funeral parlors should be put up to accommodate drug pushers. Duterte’s quick fix to keep our cities safe? “Kill them all (criminals).”
Like Trump, Duterte is clearly feeding on the pervasive disenchantment of voters with politicians who have made a lot of promises but always fail to deliver. As long as they feel that way, many Filipinos are going to be tempted to elect someone who believes that the end justifies the means. And this is what many folks find alarming.
Lyndon Johnson once said: “It’s not doing what is right that’s hard for a President. It’s knowing what is right.”
That discernment, we foresee, will remain a challenge for Duterte, notwithstanding the admonition of Archbishop Romulo Valles last Saturday.