IT was almost a year ago when former President Benigno Aquino 3rd uttered these fateful words: “The 2016 national elections will be a referendum on daang matuwid.” Well, we all know how that referendum went.
After Filipinos roundly rejected the so-called “good governance” platform of the Aquino administration, the septuagenarian probinsiyano from Davao, who many say is the antithesis of PNoy, was sworn in as the 16th President of the Philippines at noon last Thursday.
Looking slightly uncomfortable in his formal barong—and with the formalities attending the inauguration of the new country’s leader—President Rodrigo Roa Duterte gives off the impression of someone who shuns political pomp and pageantry.
From his very brief but nonetheless profound 15-minute inaugural speech—the shortest ever inaugural speech for a Philippine President—to his powwow with leftist protesters (who were picked up from Mendiola and brought to Malacañang by the Presidential Security Group at the behest of the country’s new President), Duterte’s first acts as the nation’s Chief Executive reeks of unconventionality.
He seems allergic to the perks and privileges of his office. In fact, one of the first directives during his first Cabinet meeting was to put a stop to the VIP treatment usually accorded to the President at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).
“I want the practice of giving a 30-minute hiatus for the presidential plane to take off or land stopped. We should not be treated differently from the other suffering Filipino passengers,” Duterte told Art Tugade, the new Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) secretary.
Addressing his Cabinet secretaries, Duterte said: “Just advise CAAP, if you are given priority to take off, thank them but also follow everyone’s travail. Let’s line up.”
“We should treat ourselves just like any other Filipino traveling… I don’t want any special treatment. There should be no stopping of activity just because [of us],” declared the new President.
It is this down-to-earth and sympathetic demeanor that has endeared Duterte to common folks. He can hardly be accused of gimmickry because this is the same Duterte that Davaoeños have known throughout his long political career as mayor of the country’s “durian capital.” Of course, how his promise of “change” will actually translate into real-world actions and results remain to be seen. But it is a refreshing and hopeful beginning.
Duterte’s unpretentious character is in sharp contrast to his immediate predecessor who obviously had no qualms using perks and privileges of the presidency to brag about the accomplishments of his “daang matuwid” administration until the very end.
Exactly a week before he stepped down, PNoy bestowed (or more accurately, showered) the Order of Lakandula with the rank of Grand Cross [Bayani]—the country’s second highest civilian honor—on members of his Cabinet and favored lieutenants, saying that they were chosen “based on [their]remarkable performance during [his]administration.”
Clearly, the message PNoy wants to put across is that he, too, did such a great job during his six-year term, given the “remarkable performance” of his top officials.
We agree. They certainly did a fantastic job with the MRT-3, the Metro Manila traffic situation, the Development Acceleration Program, the Typhoon Yolanda relief effort, the Mamasapano encounter, and scores of other “achievements.” Ang kapal!!
Give it to PNoy to bastardize our national honors system.
Under Executive Order No. 236, the Order of Lakandula is supposed to be given only to a Filipino: (a) who has demonstrated by his life and deeds a dedication to the welfare of society; (b) whose life is worthy of emulation by the Filipino people; (c) for deeds worthy of particular recognition, including suffering materially for the preservation and defense of the democratic way of life and of the territorial integrity of the Republic of the Philippines, for devoting his life to the peaceful resolution of conflict, or for demonstrating an outstanding dedication to the fostering of mutual understanding, cultural exchange, justice and dignified relations among individuals; or (d) for acts that have been traditionally recognized by the institution of presidential awards, including meritorious political and civic service.
What specific act or deeds were performed by his officials to deserve such honor? What “meritorious political or civic service” did PNoy’s “chosen ones” render to be entitled to the award? None that we could think of.
As a bit of a footnote, we also find it quite ironic that the honors PNoy chose to lavish upon his Palace coterie is actually a creation of his arch nemesis, former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who created the Order of Lakadula after overhauling the country’s national awards roster in 2003.
Although exclusively a presidential prerogative, the wholesale conferment by PNoy of national awards to his own political appointees for doing their job—and badly at that—is in poor taste. It is not only an insult to previous awardees like Hillary Clinton, Emperor Akihito of Japan, etc., but also a slap on the face of millions of Filipinos who suffered under PNoy’s incompetent leadership.
PNoy also said the “awards are meant to raise the bar for all.” In that case, Duterte has no reason to worry. With PNoy setting the bar so low, any improvement, however small, that Duterte can make to the lives of our poor countrymen would already be a resounding success.