AFTER a perfunctory commitment to the rule of law, to the honoring of existing state contracts and to a government of fairness in his inaugural speech, Mr. Duterte was done with his pledges to the bedrock features of our liberal democracy. I was a former prosecutor and I am a lawyer, so I know the law and the tenets of a representative democracy, Mr. Duterte said in exasperation.
The inaugural over and done with, Mr. Duterte easily segued into what his government has defined as the priority agenda: the war on drugs. Instead of the usual speeches on GDP growth that droned on and on for the past six years, the new President has used every important forum to expose “drug-lord-coddling generals” and warn the others to toe the anti-drug line or face the sanctions and the general intensity of his war on drugs.
The determination of his government to push the pushers into oblivion, dragging their political and police coddlers with them into that hell, is now the central theme, the highest calling, the unbroken narrative of the new administration. What an abrupt change from just a few weeks back.
As it is the President who drives the media coverage, primetime TV is now 80 percent about drug-related killings and shabu haul and police generals linked to drugs, rendering their teary-eyed tales of complete innocence. Messrs. Duterte and Bato are not moved by those affirmations of innocence.
All else, meaning, the other businesses of governance, have been relegated to second or third most important news. This is not the presidency as usual or, at the very least, the presidency that we have known since the democratic restoration in 1986.
His speeches, sounding more like congressional exposes than the iteration of the nation’s broad and higher pursuits, have been different, both in context and in tone, from the speeches of past Presidents. The new President has displayed an aversion for occasion-centric speeches, just what he did at the air force event at Clark. He did not talk of the air force’s resurgence, the strategic importance of the air force at Clark, or the importance of the country’s air force to the geopolitics around the West Philippine Sea. He used that forum to name alleged drug-coddling police generals and the drug menace.
When he speaks, Mr. Duterte does not deliver applause lines; he delivers marching orders to his men on the field who then carry out his marching orders, often gruesome. In Mr. Duterte’s view, the enforcements are needed to seek the peace and end the drug-related anarchy on the streets.
The stories of newness built around Mr. Duterte used to focus on where he comes from, and the fact that he used City Hall as a launching pad for the presidency. Indeed, he is the first from Mindanao to win the presidency. Indeed, he is the first LGU leader to seek and win the presidency. In addition, he was the first to use the presidential campaign to disparage CVs and pedigrees. Just be reminded on how he mocked the Wharton training of Mr. Roxas.
Now, this is happening before our eyes. Even on the substantive part, on the policy planks and thrusts of his presidency, Mr. Duterte is now disrupting and upending what used to be the main narratives of our liberal democracy. Welcome to the Age of Digong. The Punisher and The Disruptor at the same time.
Mrs. Aquino spoke of the democratic restoration, her land reform program (the centerpiece agenda), the recovery of ill-gotten and the threats to a newly-restored democracy. She was, by her own recognition, a transition President, whose main task was to restore the country’s freedoms before handling over the reins to the new elected leader.
From Mr. Ramos—Mrs. Aquino’s successor—to Mr. Aquino, all Presidents spoke of broad themes and higher pursuits, and their big, big dreams for the nation.
Messrs. Ramos and Aquino had a common theme, which was lifting a former basket case and economic pariah into the league of the world’s best performing economies. Central to that goal was the guarantee of a government that was committed to fair trade and free market, and linked to the global economy. The accession to the brave and uncertain world of the WTO happened on Mr. Ramos watch. Mr. Aquino did not only get praise for his GDP obsession from our local Big Media. He was routinely praised by foreign economic journalists for his “wonkery” and “technocracy.” His every move seemed to be looking for praise lines from the MBC and the Davos crowd.
Mrs. Arroyo shot to prominence on the basis of her background as a politician with strong economist cred, committed to growth and the global trading order.
Mr. Duterte, in his first few days in power, has shown none of these predispositions and inclinations. Aides say he will remain earth-bound, tethered to an agenda that is by leaps and bounds different from the main themes of all Presidents past.
Messrs. Trump and Sanders and Brexit have shaken the established liberal democratic order in the world’s most sophisticated democracies.
Here, we have Mr. Duterte, The Disruptor.
The verdict on his disruption, whether it will be good or bad for us, will be rendered six years from now. Right now, we can only pray for good and ennobling results, not just the killing fields part.