HE has insulted the Pope, mocked rape victims, and addressed the official representatives of two of this country’s oldest, most important allies with gutter-level disrespect, all of which his deluded supporters have strived to explain away as “authenticity,” or at worst, “taken out of context.” But the latest savage pronouncement of Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte cannot be dismissed so easily.
Speaking to a late-night rally in Manila about his favorite topic – the bugaboo of ‘rampant crime’ that allows him to play on the public’s fears – Duterte said, “The drug pushers, kidnappers, robbers, find them all and arrest them. If they resist, kill them all.” And to anyone who thinks that Duterte’s disregard for due process is out of line, “Go ahead and charge with me with murder, so I could also kill you,” he added.
In case that is not completely clear to everyone, Duterte has just declared that anyone who disagrees with the Law According to Rod Duterte is an enemy to be destroyed.
“Oh, but if you’re not a criminal you have nothing to worry about,” the Duterte supporters anxiously proclaim in his defense. Who can know if they are a criminal or not, if that definition is left to the mind of one man? The only way they can be sure is to be cowed into silent acceptance of every atrocious word and deed of the would-be dictator, which is exactly what the would-be dictator wants.
But if it works and he cleans up crime and corruption, the method doesn’t matter, some might argue. That argument is senseless, because no one can ever completely eliminate crime and corruption; the best anyone can do is ereduce it to a tolerable level by giving people reasons not to commit crimes in the first place, and making it plain to those who still do that they will suffer swift and severe justices if they are caught. There will always be those who believe they are smarter than the erstwhile “crime busting” politician; we suspect that the more criminals are forming that impression, the more this particular “crime buster” speaks in public.
If one looks back across history, the internal threat that makes a convenient scapegoat for all the country’s ills is a key ingredient of despotism. Note that in Duterte’s statements (even the less outlandish ones) about ‘criminality,’ he isn’t discussing it as a phenomenon, he talks about it in terms of its actors, be they petty criminals or crooked politicians; it simplifies the problem, and gives a target on which the people he stirs to a frenzy can vent their anger. In effect, what Duterte is saying – and what his adoring audience is swallowing hook, line, and sinker – is, “These people (the criminals, the corrupt pols) are standing in the way of a better life for you and your country. Eliminate them, and the problem is solved.”
It is not too far a distance to travel from the realm of “criminals” to “anyone who stands in the way of the Duterte program.” Is there anyone who honestly believes or has any level of confidence at all that the mayor knows where the line is drawn, and has any intention, or even the ability, to stop himself before he crosses it? There shouldn’t be, if anyone has been even casually listening to the incredible things he says.
This man must not be President, because he clearly has no intention of being a President, but rather a dictator. While about 30 percent of the population – if the public opinion polls are to be believed – seem to be enthusiastic about the prospects of giving up their freedom to participate in their government and society, the majority of the country is not. It’s high time we listened to them, and not an anachronism whose attitude and views on leadership went out of style about the time the Marcos family boarded their flight to Hawaii.