An anxious reader has asked me to be “a little more helpful” to President Duterte by writing him a private memo on governance and foreign policy. It’s all I have lately been writing about; but the writer wants me to do something exclusively for the President. A most unusual request.
The writer fears that the President, whom he obviously deeply admires and strongly supports, is ranting too much against the United States without any just or acceptable cause, and that, as Manila Mayor and former President Joseph Ejercito Estrada recently warned, he may be in danger of being removed, like Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, and Estrada himself in 2001. Would I not do my share to save PDU30 from this fate?
A growing number of observers seem to share this fear, but obviously not PDU30 himself. In fact, he has challenged the CIA to oust him, but the US has declared there is absolutely no basis for such talk. The US hunts down international terrorists and criminals around the globe, but not small-town despots who kill barefoot drug suspects, who rail against God, the Pope, the US president, the UN Scretary, the European Union and various church prelates in a language that is completely alien to, and the exact opposite of, civilized speech.
A little mad maybe, but no Osama bin Laden
Some people have begun to suspect that DU30 is afflicted with the same incurable disease that afflicted Napoleon, Josef Stalin, Adolf Hitler, and other megalomaniacs whom the world had no difficulty calling “mad.” But nobody has been brave enough to suggest that DU30 is another Osama bin Laden, Maomar Qaddafi, or Saddam Hussein who should be terminated with extreme prejudice. Serious analysts, including former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, the country’s longest serving defense secretary, who was asked this question in a press forum on Wednesday, see no reason to fear that DU30 would end up like any of these despots.
Who would replace him is the more serious question; it raises the graver danger to the country and to everybody else.
No need for memos
My anxious reader seems to believe I have something to say to DU30, which I have not said on this page before. That is an illusion. I believe I have said everything I needed to say on the subject, and writing a private memo–even assuming he would read it–is simply out of the question.
I used to write memos to President Marcos when I was in the Cabinet (1969-80), and I wrote at least one unforgettable memo to Estrada before he fell in 2001. It was part of my job as Marcos’ information minister and spokesman, and I got away with my audacity only because although Marcos never suffered fools gladly, he also never rejected any idea, no matter how foolish, before he had heard it. But I resigned from the Cabinet six years before he fell.
In the case of Estrada, I wrote to suggest the creation of a crisis committee, which should have been created months ago, in the face of the gathering storm threatening his removal. I was the Senate Majority Leader, and not a member of the Estrada government, but as a close personal friend I was appalled by the fact that while Erap’s enemies were actively moving fast to oust him, his Cabinet and other supporters just sat inside the Palace, looking at the ceiling or at one another, saying or doing nothing.
Where DU30 has succeeded
The situation under DU30 is nowhere like that under Marcos or Estrada, at the height of their respective crises. There are no visible forces moving to oust him. He continues to curse the US and talk of expelling the US forces from the country, in response to the US criticism of his drug killings. His popular support as President has obviously been eroded, particularly among the thinking classes in Luzon, the Visayas and even in Mindanao.
But because he has coopted all the propaganda fraudsters in the country, all we hear is the myth created by the bogus and hare-brained surveys proclaiming his alleged popularity.
The absence of a political opposition, the continued weakening of the various institutions, and the persistent intervention of a fraudulent media feeding the nation with sensational headlines have allowed DU30 to dominate the daily conversation. He has reduced the national narrative into one running police story—-that of drug killings—-where the State has become the instrument of death and nothing else.
This created unprecedented problems for our civil liberties. When the US, the UN, the European Union and the international organizations began to show an active interest in the killings, DU30 went ballistic, and our foreign policy became an active mine field. This exposed DU30 to his first real test as the leader of a democratic and republican state.
Where he has failed
And, as former President Fidel V. Ramos put it in a similar context, he has failed the initial test. The first test is one of character: he has revealed himself as a man unprepared to listen to any opinion or idea that was not his own, especially if it offered a different set of facts or analysis of the facts. He seems to believe the presidency has clothed him with revealed knowledge of everything, and he does not have to turn to anyone for anything. But he sees the big wide world through the lens of the mayor of Davao, talking to no one but the people of Davao.
He could not stand dissent or criticism. He is not the first president to behave in this manner, but he seems to be the most intolerant. Cory Aquino, who may have spent more time playing mahjong with her friends than studying state papers, famously said, “I hate unsolicited advice.” In the case of DU30 he has succeeded in so terrifying everybody else that no one would dare offer him any unsolicited advice. In Cabinet meetings, he is reported to be the only one who talks.
In the case of Erap Estrada, he cut off his household staff, who tried to meddle in serious state matters, with the curt remark, “Mag presidente muna kayo.”–(Get yourselves elected President, first.) But he proved pliant to the advice of his Cabinet members on matters falling under their special competence. DU30 does not have to remind anyone of who he is and who they are–he is not just the State, he is above it.
This is such a great disorder that my anxious reader does not believe it could last. It is bound to crumble, and DU30 with it. This is the reason he wants even an inconsequential public advocate like this writer to write the President a private memo to help. There is no need to write the President a memo, everything has already been said. But I will repeat it.
Just be true to yourself. Despite the fact that you are the President, you have nothing which you have not received. Do not be mesmerized by the power you have decided to arrogate unto yourself. Like the least of your people, without God and your people, you are nothing. You have made too many enemies from Day One as President, and you have become your worst enemy as of now. Try to make some friends. You were given the presidency to make friends for your country and for yourself. Don’t waste it. Don’t make enemies of your friends.
Like China, America should be your friend. Despite everything you have said about Americans, try to take a position that is equidistant to the United States as the dominant world power, and China as the emerging regional power. This is what some of your more level-headed friends are hoping you would do. Myself included.
Our government could then still be an instrument of peace and cooperation rather than conflict or confrontation; it could help stabilize the geopolitical order.
There are those who believe that for big-power rivalry and maritime disputes in the South China/West Philippine Sea to end, China and all the states washed by that great sea should perhaps waive their individual territorial and sovereignty claims and put them together in the service of all mankind. It sounds utopian, it’s like a dream. But we should all dream, until we run out of dreams. Why don’t you join that dream?