I did not get the word from Plato or Aristotle, the fourth century BC Greek philosophers, who first wrote about democracy. I got it from a friend this Christmas, who thought the word best describes the Philippine government under the past president B. S. Aquino 3rd and President Rodrigo Duterte. The word is kakistocracy.
It is Greek in origin, but came down to us from Europe in the 17th century. It derives from the Greek kakistos, meaning worst, the superlative of kakos, meaning bad, and it means “a government by the least qualified or worst persons.” Other than North Korea, South Sudan, Armenia and a couple of others, not many countries are listed as such. So the word is not much in use. But my friend believes DU30 has spent the last six months trying to convince the world we had become one.
The three coequal and coordinate branches of government that used to characterize our democracy no longer operate. So we have ceased to be a democracy. President Rodrigo Duterte has placed himself on top of the entire constitutional structure, rules by whimsy through sound bites and half-baked declarations, and speaks as the lone authority for the entire government, which is himself. There are no degrees of excellence in the bureaucracy or the Cabinet.
He decides what is legal and what is moral; what he says, as in the killing of Mayor Rolando Espinosa of Albuera, Leyte inside his detention cell in Baybay, Leyte at four o’clock in the morning, cannot be overriden by the law, as the courts see it, or the bare-faced facts of the case, as perceived by the clearest lens.
My friend believes that DU30 by himself has turned our muddling democracy into a kakistocracy.
A passion for killing
DU30 has killed and likes to talk of killing. He indulges in profanities and obscenities like it was his second nature, and talks about weird things he has not quite sorted out in his mind, then calls the media “crazies” or “fools” for quoting him. Maybe they are. Indeed, they are. For why should any sane person quote any bumbling politician who claims God had spoken to him while he was 30,000 fleet up in the air on his way home from Japan, without ever wondering whether the insomniac was on drugs or plainly delusional? But if the media are crazy, what about him? What makes him do what he does and say the things he says? It’s not anybody’s idea of normal.
No one ever had accused DU30 of killing anybody before he started bragging about the killings he had done either as prosecutor or as mayor of Davao. In an interview with the local Esquire magazine, in March 2015, before he ran for President, he said he had never killed any innocent individual, but “killing criminals is not new to me,” he said. “I will not allow criminals to play with the lives of people, I play with the lives of criminals.” As a 17-year-old he first got involved in a rumble at a beach party, he recalled; it wasn’t a killing, “but maybe I stabbed somebody to death—-something like that,” he said. There were other incidents where he said he had given the orders that led to the killing. But he insists he is no killer.
The health issue
In a recent Malacañang forum, DU30 spoke about his constant migraine, Barrett’s esophagus and Buerger’s disease, and his regular use of Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, which is said to be 50 times stronger than heroin, and used by doctors to treat cancer patients, in order to control the pain in his spinal column. His revelation about his use of Fentanyl prompted Sen. Antonio Trillanes 4th to call him a “drug addict” who should surrender to the police for rehabilitation under his ongoing war on drugs. Sen. Panfilo Lacson and others called it a “national concern” and demanded that his medical records be released to the public.
At first, DU30 denied any suggestion of addiction, saying there’s no monkey on his back. Then he was quoted as saying he had merely made up the story, and they were nuts to believe him. This reminds me of an old hometown politician who never told a truth in public: when a neighbor denounced him for all his lies, he replied that nobody had a right to complain because he himself did not believe what he was telling them. This was not the first time the President used this line. In a few instances before, his spokesmen and trolls in the social media said the fault belonged to those who took DU30’s words hook, line and sinker.
Who are listening to DU30?
The trouble is, this does not happen in small-town gatherings alone, in General Santos or in Davao, where those listening to the President are familiar with the storyteller and know only too well when he is simply letting off hot air. It happens even when he is talking to the media, who like to quote everything, or to a mixed audience that includes foreigners, who may be listening to him for the first time. In fact, he sometimes chooses these crowds to make the most controversial statements, without the benefit of prior study or subsequent clarification.
To ingratiate himself to the Chinese, he announced his military and economic separation from the US during his state visit to China. Then he recently used his seven-minute telephone call to President-elect Donald Trump from Davao to assure the latter that he would be working closely with the new Republican administration, despite his announced “separation” from Washington, and his aligning with China and Russia “against the world.” He appeared to have found in Trump a “soul-mate.” For a while there seemed to be quiet fence-mending on the US-Philippine front in anticipation of a reset under Trump.
The latest blast
But when DU30 learned that the Millennium Challenge Corporation had deferred the voting on its proposed assistance to the Philippines, DU30 blasted the US again, this time in the presence of the new US Ambassador Sung Kim, whom he had received with utmost cordiality, if not warmth, much earlier. Under President Barack Obama, the Corporation gave the Philippines a $454 million grant, after President B. S. Aquino 3rd promised to force the enactment of the Reproductive Health Bill, which the Filipinos had opposed for the last 15 years. It appears that a renewal of the MCC grant was now being premised on the human rights record of the DU30 government.
Evidently pissed, DU30 said he did not need a few million dollars aid from the US when China was ready to give him $50 billion. Then he renewed his threat to abrogate the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement, unless the US was willing to pay for the privilege of US forces visiting here. However DU30 made no mention of the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which allows US troops and facilities to be stationed inside Philippine military bases.
Both the VFA and EDCA are rent-free. So was the 1947 US-Philippine Military Bases Agreement, which expired in 1991. But the Marcos government succeeded in winning compensation from the US for the use of the bases in the 1980s, through the Economic Support Fund. The two governments worked on it through diplomatic negotiations, without Marcos raising the issue in such vulgar tones.
The US responded calmly to DU30’s latest blast by reiterating its willingness to work closely with the DU30 government without any hint of nursing any grievance. The fact that DU30’s threat of abrogation was limited to the VFA alone, without any mention of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, which is the mother treaty, and EDCA, which allows the permanent deployment of US facilities and forces, is a clear softening on the part of the autocrat. This is why Washington can afford not to look disturbed at all by the latest polemic.
Ignoring the source of quotes
In that sense, the US may have found the secret of responding to DU30’s political broadsides. Don’t take everything DU30 says literally and seriously. It’s all for the benefit of the mob. Wait for the next headline and the sound bite. And try to get an inside track on the real thinking of the President. It is the media, though, that remain stuck with the problem. Since they have been called crazies and fools for quoting everything DU30 says, without asking him first whether or not he means what he says, they will have to find a much more intelligent way of covering the presidency.
Prior to martial law, when some Manila newspapers decided to sympathize with the Leftist insurgency and take a strongly partisan position against the Marcos government, they decided to airbrush the President’s official statements on the most important issues, claiming they already “knew the truth” and that what Malacañang was saying was not the truth. As presidential press/information secretary and spokesman at the time, it became my duty to remind the publishers and editors of these newspapers that their duty was to report what Malacañang was saying on the issues, and allow their readers to decide whether or not to believe what was being said. The newspapers had the right and the duty to state very clearly what they believed and did not believe, but only after reporting what Malacañang said.
I did not always win the argument. But I believe that experience could provide a helpful guide to our mass media, who have to continue reporting what the President says in his midnight or early morning conferences and still risk being called crazies or fools by the very source of all the crazy quotes. Are they prepared, even just for once, to not report any of the sensational things the President is saying to impress his barrio crowds? Are they prepared to do to DU30 what Chino Roces and company were once prepared to do to Marcos?