Today, I will devote my column to a discussion of honesty in public discourse, and to three specimens that are sobering and outstanding.
The first comes from the head of the ruling military junta in neighboring Thailand, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, which I got from an Associated Press report last month.
The second is a vivid quote from Mayor Rody Duterte of Davao City, which former presidential adviser Jess Dureza shared with me by e-mail, via his MindaNow network.
The third is a quote from a bygone time in Philippine politics when political leaders had a measure of gravitas.
1. General Prayuth : “Don’t criticize, don’t protest, it’s no use.”
President Benigno Aquino 3rd will fondly wish that he could also say those words to us Filipinos, especially those of us who make a living by watching, policing and analyzing all his actions, words and decisions as President of the Philippines.
Because we feel we are always being lied to by people in government, including our chief of state and head of government, it’s always bracing when we encounter words from a public official that are frank, truthful, direct, honest and sincere.
I got the quote from an Associated press story that was filed on May 26, just hours after the news conference called by the leader of the coup staged by the Thai army on May 22.
Because the AP story is vivid in detail, I reproduce almost in full below:
BANGKOK (AP) May 26—Bolstered by an endorsement from Thailand’s king, the nation’s new military ruler issued a stark warning Monday to anyone opposed to last week’s coup: don’t cause trouble, don’t criticize, don’t protest—or else the nation could revert to the “old days” of torture and street violence.
Bangkok (AP) May 26—Speaking in his first public appearance since the coup, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha defended the army’s takeover, saying he had to restore order after seven months of increasingly violent confrontations between the now-ousted government and demonstrators who had long urged the army to intervene.
“I’m not here to argue with anyone. I want to bring everything out in the open and fix it,” said Prayuth, who spoke at the army headquarters in Bangkok dressed in a crisp white military uniform.
“Everyone must help me,” he said, adding: but “do not criticize, do not create new problems. It’s no use.”
In a gruff, 20-minute appearance, Prayuth warned the media and social media users to avoid doing anything that could fan the conflict. He also called on anti-coup protesters who have been staging small-scale demonstrations to stop.
“Right now there are people coming out to protest. So do you want to go back to the old days? I’m asking the people in the country, if you want it that way, then I will have to enforce the law.”
Earlier Monday, a royal command sent in the name of King Bhumibol Adulyadej officially endorsed Prayuth to run the country and called for “reconciliation among the people.”…
Thursday’s coup, Thailand’s second in eight years, deposed an elected government that had insisted for months that the nation’s fragile democracy was under attack from protesters, the courts, and finally the army.
The country is deeply split between an elite establishment based in Bangkok and the south that cannot win elections on one side, and a poorer majority centered in the north that has begun to realize political and economic power on the other . . . .
Despite Prayuth’s threat to crack down on anti-coup protesters, soldiers did not use force against several hundred people who gathered again Monday at the city’s Victory Monument and eventually dispersed on their own, vowing to return the next day.
Through a loudspeaker, a soldier taunted the protesters, saying they had been paid to come out. “Can you still call yourselves patriots?” he said.
The soldier also accused international journalists at the scene of inciting conflict. “Do you think they are good for Thailand?” he said, before addressing them directly in English: “Foreign media, you be careful.”
In his speech, Prayuth defended the takeover, saying the army had to intervene because of sporadic violence that began last November as anti-government protests gathered steam. At least 28 people have been killed since then and more than 800 injured in grenade attacks, gun fights and drive-by shootings . . .
After declaring martial law May 20, Prayuth invited political rivals and Cabinet ministers for two days of peace talks to resolve the crisis. But those talks lasted just four hours. At the end of the meeting, Prayuth ordered everyone inside detained, and announced the coup on state television almost immediately afterward.
The junta has ordered more than 200 people—including most of the ousted government—to report to the authorities. They include scholars, journalists and political activists seen as critical of the regime . . .
Some have been released, but others are being summoned daily—including several more late Monday. Other activists have fled or are in hiding, and human rights groups describe a chilling atmosphere with soldiers visiting the homes of perceived critics and taking them away.
Prayuth said the army was taking people into custody to give them time “to calm themselves down” and none was being tortured or beaten . . .
“When summoned, they will be asked about what they’ve done . . . If they are calm and still, they will be released, in three days, five days, seven days,” Prayuth said.
On Monday, the army released ex-lawmaker Suthep Thaugsuban, who led half a year of demonstrations against the deposed government.
There has been no armed resistance to the coup, but a soldier was fatally shot Monday in the eastern province of Trat, where three people were killed in February in a drive-by shooting and grenade attack on a protest rally against the former government . . .
The junta has yet to map a way out of the crisis, but Prayuth said there would be political and administrative reforms. On Monday, he gave the green light for the Finance Ministry to seek billions of dollars in loans to pay debts owed farmers under a disastrous rice scheme instituted by the ousted government.
After the speech, the general took only two questions from reporters.
Asked if he would appoint a new prime minister, Prayuth replied gruffly: “Don’t ask about something that hasn’t happened. It’s already in the plans. Take it easy. There will be one.”
Asked when elections would be held, Prayuth said that could happen when the crisis ends. It “depends on the circumstances,” he said. “I don’t have a schedule . . . as quickly as possible.”
Then he ended the news conference abruptly, saying “that’s enough.”
(End of AP report).
* * *
Interestingly, General Prayuth believes in Gandhi’s principle of enoughness, which was the subject of my earlier column (“Members of Congress need an idea of enough,” Times, May 20).
Let’s hope Prayuth will also know when the Thai military has ruled and governed long enough the affairs of our important neighbor and Asean partner Thailand, and graciously yield the reins of power. People with absolute power notoriously have a hard time grasping and obeying the principle.
2. Mayor Rodrigo Duterte: “I don’t want to go to jail.”
Jess Dureza, former presidential adviser on Mindanao under the Arroyo administration and current chair of the council for print media, sent me this quote from Mayor Rodrigo Duterte of Davao City, which captures in seven words the malaise that haunts the presidency of this country and the dilemma that anyone who seeks the office will inevitably confront.
The colorful mayor of Davao, widely known for his many years of public service and his tough and successful stand against insurgency and criminality in his city, is being urged by various groups to run for president in 2016, because he may just have the chops to capture the popular imagination and to answer effectively the burdens and the powers of the Philippine Presidency
I reprint Jess Dureza’s e-mail on Mayor Duterte’s conundrum below, along with his insightful observations on the breakdown of controls over public funds:
“While several sectors are encouraging Mayor Rody Duterte of Davao City to run for Philippine president, he has a way of saying: “THANKS, BUT NO THANKS!”
His reason: “Filipinos somehow send to prison presidents starting from Erap, now Gloria and who knows, later maybe PNoy too! No, I don’t want to go to jail myself!”
How can you argue against that? End of discussion.
For the first time ever, our country is facing a corruption issue of a magnitude never before experienced with the wholesale involvement of high public officials. While foreign officials resign from their high positions if faced with a controversy, not a single No Pinoy official up to now has resigned—not even a single “leave of absence” while every single day, the list grows longer and longer! Are we now a callous people?
There is something grievously wrong with the system. If Benhur Luy and Janet Napoles did not have a “ falling out,” this scam would not have been publicly known. And many officials may still be merrily helping themselves with the taxpayers’ money. Our control systems just didn’t work. So, how do we fix this?”
Jess concluded his note with some significant data and information:
Countdown to the May, 2016 elections—There are 721 remaining days left to the May 9,2016 national elections. In the meantime, the NAPOLIST issue is still raging with new twists and additional names. Entertaining for all voters! Let’s see if our voters are more circumspect next time.
Filipinos in Facebook— There are now 34 million Filipinos in FACEBOOK. Out of every 10 Pinoys, 3.5 are connected with the Internet. This is a potent force to do national transformation and reform. Information technology can be potent, devastating and deadly. It can destroy as well as build!
3. Juan Ponce Enrile—“The Aquino Administration must stop playing God.”
To the quotes from General Prayuth and Mayor Duterte, I will add a third, and these are the words of Senator Juan Ponce Enrile on the Senate floor on August 6, 1991, when he declared: “The Aquino (Cory Aquino) administration must stop playing God.”
They were said in another time, when another Aquino was president of our country.
Public discourse was more direct and honest then. Politicians said what was in their hearts. Rivalries were out in the open.
Today, once bitter rivals work together in coalition. President Aquino can plausibly say that he has the support of many leading political parties in the country.
The opposition cannot be found anywhere. It is too busy hiding in the shadows, deathly afraid of being seen as opponents of a vindictive and power-drunk president.