Rodrigo Duterte is like the grain of sand that agitates the oyster of Philippine society, so this oyster can finally produce a pearl.
When Rodrigo Duterte was a school boy, he must have been taught that the Philippines was the Pearl of the Orient.
By the time he took his oath of office at the age of seventy one, rather than a pearl, he took over a nation wracked by an entrenched illegal drug menace, plagued by the one of the world’s longest running secessionist movements and the only remaining communist insurgency, and a government known by its own people to be inept in delivering basic services and corrupt at all levels.
He has to preside over a national economy with a small beautiful face with modern skyscrapers decorated by investment grade trimmings but belonging to a bloated body of crowded slums of unemployed and underemployed people unable to translate fertile masses of land into affordable nutrition. He has to contend with decades of policy failures and corrupt implementation that has caused millions of his countrymen and women to be economic refugees in countries which put their own economies in order.
He is presiding over a nation that has chosen to export labor rather than import employment.
Righteous violence in the right side of the law is etched in Duterte’s memory by life and death situations throughout his career. He has crossed that threshold many times while most of us have the luxury of simply contemplating this moral dilemma.
He seems to be fired with passion and intensity caused by the emotional luggage of grief and anguish of numerous victims of criminals who have crossed his path.
But diligent efforts in researching his speaking engagements before he was a presidential candidate will reveal something. This man is not your ordinary street thug who got himself to be a Mayor and now President. He is widely read, has extensive stock knowledge of a broad range of security and development topics and has a good command of the English language and vocabulary.
There are those who think that his rude language is his political weapon of choice.
He uses psych-war tactics by unleashing verbal shock weapons that have smashed dainty diplomatic niceties, stunned world leaders and have driven a female senator to hysterics.
Whether we like it or not, we have a revolutionary President.
His revolution has started. The oyster is indeed being agitated and even irritated. The revolution is bloody and painful.
His violent campaign against the drug lords and pushers and the Abu Sayaff is a stark contrast to his peace campaign with the Moro Bangsa and the NDF/NPA.
Lost in the noise of perceived human right violations is that fact that in less than a hundred days, Duterte has caused the Moro and NPA guns to be silent throughout the land for the first time in at least sixty years.
Government agencies are now serious in cutting down red tape and corruption.
The long lost voices of Federal advocates have found a champion who will finally provide a pathway towards the establishment of the Federal Republic of the Philippines.
He is leading us to uncharted waters in the geopolitical world. He is shifting to a neutralist position between the two superpowers. He believes that if we end up fighting on the American side, they may just abandon us and make Palawan the new Bataan. Only time will tell whether we will break up the minor mistress relationship with the Americans only to fall into the embrace of an eight hundred pound gorilla romping around in our backyard.
The counter revolution has also started. Every time, Duterte puts out his rude language, the “cringe and squirm” audience in social media seems to increase.
There is a gathering coalition of non-believers. There are the vociferous champions of the rule of law. There are the yellow remnants unwilling to move on, ever ready to exploit any crack in Duterte’s armor. There is the Que Horror crowd merging with the How-Dare-You-Offend-My-Convent-School-Sensitivities crowd.
There is surplus of local and international bleeding hearts ready to scream outrage when a drug suspect is gunned down, but a puzzling shortage of public sympathizers for policemen and soldiers who are killed while arresting drug suspects caught en flagrante or pursuing the Abu Sayaf.
Duterte’s vision of that new Pearl is clear. The people elected him because they yearn for strong leader who knows where to bring us and how we are to get there. Maybe, just maybe, we will finally join the ranks of countries that have brought safety, security and some widespread prosperity to their people.
The country is now in the historic crossroads. We must find ways to take advantage of this rare politically disruptive leader. We have to suspend our normal expectations of a Presidential attire and vocabulary for the next six years.
Who knows? Maybe underneath that rough stone lies a polished diamond of a true national leader who will finally produce the pearl of a country that we were once called.
The author, Art Aguilar, a Harvard Kennedy School alumnus has worked abroad and in the Philippines, both in the private and government sectors. He is a past President of the Management Association of the Philippines and a past President of the Harvard Club of the Philippines. Views expressed herein are purely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the said organizations.