IMAGINE a media that would skip coverage of three prominent personalities for a week: President Duterte, Senator Trillanes and Senator de Lima. We all know what that media would look like.
Timid. Devoid of the element of shock and awe. Civil to a fault. Coverage of politics by prime-time news would stir the least interest from viewers. What about the print media? Without the three on the front pages, they, indeed, would fit the role of fish wrapper for the next day. A “lamestream media” if there is ever really one.
There would be a calamitous result. Less viewership for TV news and less print runs for the major newspapers. Meaning, a commercial loss.
In a literal sense, there is one famous fighter in politics and he made billions out of his career in the ring. Fans have lost track of Senator Pacquiao’s division wins because they have been so many, perhaps as many as the mansions he owns in the country and elsewhere. The fighter image dissipates when he starts quoting the Scriptures to push for the death penalty, or harangue some anti-LGBT causes, unaware that the best man in the world to quote the Scriptures—Pope Francis—has stood squarely against the death penalty and has avoided making statements against people with different sexual orientations.
Mr. Pacquiao is a “man in full” inside the ring but an utter lemon in the other world he wants to inhabit—politics.
He can’t simply thrive, get recognition even, in a political milieu dominated by President Duterte and his two arch enemies, Senators Trillanes and De Lima.
President Duterte sucks all of the oxygen in every room he enters. The previous President, Mr. Aquino, got the attention he deserved as President of the realm, but with Mr. Duterte, it is different. He gets 100 percent of the attention and all the rest in a room he enters––whether they are billionaire-plutocrats or army generals—are reduced to lesser, can-be-ignored mortals.
How can a senior citizen-leader with no imposing personality dominate that much? Mr. Duterte looks like your average senior citizen, does not have a Sandhurst bearing, dresses like an elder who has not heard of Ascot Chang.
The reason is quite clear. Mr. Duterte is a heretic who has no time for the niceties of your usual President in an standard-issue liberal democracy. That standard-issue President always aims for political correctness, values compromise and middle ground, pushes for legislative priorities that do not stray into the boundaries of accepted political practices. Mr. Duterte is a different President.
He cusses and curses, is bored of written speeches. His rhetoric speaks not of a hopeful world in the 21stcentury but of a drug-addled hellscape of addicts and pushers. His favorite verb is “kill” and his most quoted sentence is “I will kill you.”
Mr. Duterte does not tolerate either dissent or criticism. What names did he call Mr. Goldberg and the UN people? More, his priorities are fresh priorities: the bloody war on drugs, the pivot to Russia and China, the return of the death penalty, the fresh push to manufacturing and his efforts to deodorize the Marcos stink. The pivot away from the US, the country’s main ally for more than a generation, is one foreign policy never tried before.
The EJKs of Mr. Duterte, routine to him, have grabbed global attention for the sheer audacity of the policy and the number of the body count. The New York Times stories on the EJKs of Mr. Duterte, not even a year in office, are more than the policy coverage of Mr. Aquino’s six years in office.
Senator Trillanes first gained national attention as a mutineer. The Oakwood Munity led by Trillanes failed in the strategic sense but that was enough to catapult the young Navy officer into the Senate. Instead of lying low and settling down in the supposed august chambers of the Senate, like what former coup plotter Greg Honasan did, Trillanes remained an agitator and a bomb thrower. He is currently the arch enemy of President Duterte and he is unmoved by his opposition to the popular President.
Do you want the most graphic anti-Duterte quotes? Go to the senator. Do you want bank records on the supposed billions of the Duterte family? The go-to man is the senator. Mr. Duterte’s reputation as a killer and a tough man has failed to impress Mr. Trillanes.
Just look at the expression of the President when answering the bombs thrown by Trillanes at his direction, and you will see an exasperated man whose patience has been tested to the limits. Of all his critics, it is Mr. Trillanes who gets on the nerves of Mr. Duterte.
Mr. Detente’s clash with Senator De Lima, the inquisitor of the supposed Davao Death Squad in the previous regime, was bound to happen. The problem is this. Mr. Duterte’s people probably expected Senator De Lima to melt down, wilt and retreat after a barrage of legal actions against her. Everything, including the kitchen sink, has been thrown in the direction of the senator.
Instead, she fought back with tenacity and grit. And tactically, she has found alliances with the other anti-Duterte groups, from the prominent leaders of the Church to the groups opposing the resurrection of the Marcoses.
More articulate than Mr. Trillanes, her verbal fireworks have not only seeped into the nerves of Mr. Duterte’s people. They have been making headlines. Now detained in a cell fit for a sub-human, Senator De Lima is freer than ever to plot her future political plans.
The President and the two senators have instructions to the lesser lights in politics who want to live headline-grabbing lives. Fight. Relentlessly. And spend not a moment wavering.